|Psychiatrist||A psychiatrist is a medical officer who has qualified with a medical degree (MD or MBBS) and has then undergone residency training in psychiatry for several years; working in a hospital set up, seeing patients of diverse range of mental illnesses ranging from mild depression to schizophrenia. Psychiatrists are qualified to provide medical (pharmaceutical) treatment to patients, and also to provide other forms of psychotherapy|
|Psychologist||A psychologist is a person who has studied, often at a doctoral level (with a PhD or a PsyD), about the normal and abnormal development of mental processes and about the types of behavioral interventions that can be used to treat abnormal mental health conditions. They also undergo one or two years of internship in a hospital setting.|
|LCSW||A Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) is a sub-category of social work, and those who are titled with an LCSW have often obtained a master’s degree in social work, followed by special training in the field of mental health which provides them with expertise in psychotherapy|
|Mental Health Counselor||Mental health counselors are those who hold a minimum of a master’s degree in counseling or another closely related field in mental health, and then have undergone a few years of clinical training under the supervision of a licensed mental health professional.|
You may come across any one of the aforementioned types of professionals when it comes to seeking psychotherapy, and there are several important factors to be considered in order to make the best choice of therapist that suits you.
The therapeutic relationship
This is the most important factor that affects the outcome of psychotherapy. The therapeutic relationship, or the therapeutic alliance between the client and the therapist depends on therapist factors as well as your own beliefs and attitudes.
You should feel a sense of empathy, understanding, and hopefulness about the process of therapy while you are with the therapist, for the outcome of the process to be successful.
This may be little difficult at the very beginning of therapy, as you may feel anxious regarding the new type of treatment you receive; but you should be able to feel comfortable and hopeful about your therapy after a few sessions have passed.
You should also feel secure regarding the process, and be sure that whatever the details you provide the therapist are held strictly confidential. You should feel that a secure therapeutic space is being developed between you and the therapist, and that none of the details regarding yourself or the therapeutic process are being leaked out of this secure space.
A competent therapist must have sound academic knowledge, with an academic degree at master’s level or doctorate level. But knowledge alone is not sufficient; a good therapist should have undergone at least a few years of clinical training under supervision in the field of mental health. This training may have been undertaken along with the academic course of study, or as separate post-graduate training. A therapist with these requirements will be certified or licensed under a specific professional body, which may differ depending on the state where the therapist is practicing. You may contact a professional organization, an academic institute, or an online service related to psychotherapy to get these details regarding a therapist.
In addition to the academic, clinical, and professional qualifications, a good therapist should have other skills such as active listening, non-judgmental approach, and adjustable mode of treatment depending on the patient’s specific needs.
The number of years a therapist has worked in a particular field is also of much importance for the quality of therapy being delivered. Therapists with comparatively low level of academic qualifications may treat much better than highly-qualified professionals, depending on the number of years they have worked in a particular field. A therapist might have special interest and additional experience regarding a specific type of problem (e.g. depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders etc.) or regarding a specific mode of therapy (e.g. couple therapy, family therapy etc.). Be open and ask about this directly from the therapist during your initial consultation as this might help you to make the best choice for your need.
This refers to the theoretical approach used by the therapist to treat your condition. There are several such approaches, namely: psychoanalytic and psychodynamic therapy , cognitive therapy , behavioral therapy, humanistic therapy, and integrative or holistic therapy
Psychoanalytic therapy focuses on analyzing the unconscious mind of the patient and the significant events that happened in the past, to identify the root of the problem and provide solutions regarding that. Cognitive therapy focuses on rectifying the current negative thinking patterns of the patient in order to bring about better changes. Behavioral therapy is based on the belief that behavior can be learned through systematic exposure to various conditions, and hence can be used to bring about better behavioral outcomes. Humanistic approach leaves aside the negatives in the past and considers only about the patient’s present condition and potential for improvement, in order to bring about positive outcomes. Integrative approach combines elements from all other methods to bring about better changes in the patient.
Therapists are specially trained to use one of these methods to approach the patient, and you may ask about this directly from the therapist and find out whether it is the best method for your condition. Even though this has an effect on the outcome of therapy, it should be noted that the most important factor that determines the outcome is the type of therapeutic relationship you have with the therapist, i.e. the way you feel about the overall process of therapy.
So consider all the points that have been raised above, and make an informed decision regarding the therapist you are going to choose.