Live a bolder life.


Heather Tuckman, PsyD • Clinical Psychologist

How to Choose a Therapist

Who can call themselves a therapist? Anyone, it’s not a protected term!

Types of mental health service providers:

  • Psychologists–Completed doctoral education in psychology and post-doctoral work. After they pass state and national exams, they may become licensed to practice in their field and call themselves psychologists.
  • Social Workers–Completed masters or doctoral level education, may or may not be licensed.
  • Psychiatrists–Completed medical school, fellowship in mental health treatment, and are licensed to practice medicine. They must pass several exams to advance through their education and later pass board exams in their specialty area.
  • Psychiatric Nurses–Completed nursing education at bachelor, masters, or doctoral level and are licensed to practice nursing, usually with additional certification in mental health treatment.
  • Counselors–May have completed bachelors or masters level education plus additional specialized training, but may not have completed any type of fixed training. “Counselor” is an unprotected term, so anyone may refer to themselves with this title, potentially without meeting standardized training protocols. Some states require licensure for mental health counselors, but requirements vary. These individuals may or may not be licensed, and may or may not be supervised during practice.
  • Coaches–Come from many different backgrounds and levels of education. Any mental health professional listed above may also provide “coaching” in a given area. Like “counselor” and “therapist,” “coach” is not a protected term and individuals who call themselves coaches may not have formal training. Reputable coaches receive specialized training and belong to credentialing organizations, but a formal licensing body does not currently exist.

Key questions to ask when you are looking for a therapist…

  • What type of provider are you and are you licensed? ***If they are not licensed, ask if they are working under supervision or have some other type of credentialing.
  • Who do you typically work with (i.e., adolescents, adults, etc.)?
  • Do you have an area of specialty? What percentage of your practice is devoted to this?
  • What is your approach to treatment?
  • What might a typical session look like?
  • What is your fee?
  • What hours are you available? ***Will it be compatible with your availability?
  • Where are you located? ***Destinations that are too far away or otherwise inconvenient make it hard for you to stay in treatment.

Questions to ask yourself at the first session (or soon after)…

  • Am I comfortable here?
  • Can I expect to come here regularly without too much difficulty?
  • Do I feel a connection?
  • Overall, do they share my values?
  • Do I feel safe?
  • Do I feel judged?
  • Are they listening to me?
  • Will they challenge me when I need it?
  • What is the best way to contact you?
  • When can I expect a return call, email, or text, etc.?
  • What will I do if you go on vacation and I need to talk to someone?
  • If it is not working out, can you suggest someone else who might better be able to help me/meet my needs?

How to find a good fit:

  • Get recommendations or referrals from others.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask the provider about his or her background, education, and additional training.
  • Ask the provider if they think that they will be able to help you given the problem as you have reported it. You are just trying to find out if they seem comfortable working on the problem(s) you have presented to them with you. This is no guarantee that they CAN help you.
  • Shop around and talk to multiple providers if necessary.
  • Try it out. Meet with a provider and see how it feels.
  • Try it again if necessary. Sometimes first impressions leave you uncertain. Try it again, and remember that you can always change your mind if it is not working out.

Be a good consumer and a responsible patient:

  • Clear up confusion or misconceptions as soon as possible.
  • Be on time to sessions, and expect to end on time.
  • Pay fees at the time of service or on the schedule you have agreed to.
  • Know your insurance coverage if you plan to use it: benefits, deductible, copay, number of authorized sessions, etc.
  • Do the work in the session! And then, keep working on your own after the session ends.
  • When you are done, terminate treatment responsibly by discussing it with your clinician. Don’t just disappear or fail to return contacts.

Want to know more about what psychologists do and how they are trained? Check out this link from the American Psychological Association.