When choosing a therapist, it is important to make sure the therapist is the right fit for your needs. As a survivor, you should choose a person you are comfortable working with as well as someone who is in alignment with your beliefs and values. In addition, there are practical questions to ask about such as fee structures, availability after hours and the availability of alternate therapists in the event of an emergency.
Questions to consider asking include the following:
- Are you taking new clients?
- How much do you charge and do you take sliding scale?
- What level of training have you completed? Are you an LMFT, LCSW or PhD?
- How many years have you worked as a therapist?
- Do you consult with other therapists over cases?
- Have you worked on your own issues and for how long?
- What are your spiritual beliefs and how do you view a Higher Power?
- Are you familiar with 12 Step Recovery programs? What are your thoughts on 12 Step Recovery programs?
- How many years have you worked with trauma survivors?
- What types of therapy do you use with your clients?
- What other forms of self-help do you suggest for survivors?
- What lengths are you willing to go to for your patients?
- How do you deal with a survivor’s suicidal feelings or behavior?
- Do you take emergency phone calls?
- Do you have a backup therapist?
It is important to ask each therapist the same questions. A survivor needs to feel safe and comfortable with their therapist. One suggestion is to schedule an initial session to check out how you and the therapist interact—a “try-out” period.
Another suggestion is to list the characteristics you would like to have in a therapist (e.g. , good listener, supportive, non-judgmental, unconditionally loving). Remember therapists are just people, they have strengths and weaknesses and a “perfect therapist” does not exist. A survivor must understand she/he is at choice in choosing a therapist and is not powerless.
A therapist who has experience dealing with trauma, PTSD, dissociation and twelve-step recovery programs or who is open and willing to learn about these conditions can help a survivor feel they are in good hands and that they can put their trust in that therapist.
After interviewing various therapists, either by phone or in person, it is then important to trust your own intuition and allow the inner child to have a say. Getting feedback from a friend who is objective, can offer advice and has no agenda can also help in the final decision-making process.
Women’s centers and rape crisis centers are good avenues for survivors to find therapists, or for referrals to therapists, as these centers are often more connected with sexual abuse recovery or trauma. In choosing a good therapist, one can also ask survivor friends for referrals.
A word of caution, remember therapists must behave within appropriate boundaries. It is never acceptable for a therapist to pursue a sexual relationship with a client. Nor is it acceptable to coerce a client through the threat of or actual physical force, shame, humiliation or other scare tactics.
“If you decide to report a therapist’s unethical and illegal behavior, there are four different ways to do so. Each option has both strong and weak points. You may choose any one or all of these options:
- Administrative Action – file a complaint with the therapist’s licensing board.
- Professional Association Action – file a complaint with the professional association’s ethics committee.
- Civil Action – file a civil complaint.
- Criminal Action – file a complaint with local law enforcement.”
(Booklet titled Professional Therapy Never Includes Sex by the State of California Department of Consumer Affairs).