Shrink Rap: Tag! You’re It! Choosing A Shrink

Finding the right person to be your shrink, your child’s shrink or your couples shrink is one of the most important decisions you will make in life. Not quite as important as finding the right mate or life partner, but right up there with finding the right person to be your estate lawyer or general practitioner. Unfortunately, most people treat finding a shrink the way they do finding a plumber after a major pipe has burst in the master bath. They rush to the (now soggy) yellow pages and let large lettering, familiarity of last names or placement on the page be their guide.

It isn’t always possible to be thoughtful about choosing a shrink, but the more thoughtful you are, the more successful your choice will be. Being thoughtful means doing a little investigation before the psychological hot water pipes burst.

Word of mouth is important. Whose mouth the word comes from is even more important.

Most people don’t sit around talking about their shrinks. But surprisingly often, the subject of counseling or emotional health comes up. Be alert. File away names of counselors, psychologists or psychotherapists that respected friends or colleagues mention. You might even want to look up these shrinks online. They may have websites or be registered by organizations that screen shrinks (including psychotherapytoday.com, goodtherapy.org and the American Psychological Association).

Make a mental list of people who might refer you to a qualified shrink. General practitioners, psychiatrists, school counselors, nurse practitioners, ministers or priests may be helpful–or not. Be discerning.

When the time comes to choose a shrink, be practical. Insurance companies that cover you may have a list of pre-approved shrinks. If you qualify for Medicaid, you may want to investigate agencies that specialize in or include mental health services. If you do not have insurance coverage or qualify for Medicaid, figure out what you can pay out-of-pocket. Don’t be stingy, but don’t be too proud to admit that you have a budget.

Think about the advantages of a male therapist or a female therapist. For some people, my being a man offers opportunities to work through father, sibling, spouse, boyfriend/girlfriend or sexual identity issues, among others. For some people, the gender of the shrink makes no difference at all.

Make an appointment with two or three shrinks. Ask them their policies on initial visits. Many do not charge for the first appointment, treating it as a mutual interview.

Go to the appointments with questions. What is the shrink’s fee? Does he/she have a sliding scale? What type of practice does the shrink specialize in?

Some questions will require a little education on your part. You may want to research different approaches to psychotherapy–from depth psychology to solution-oriented therapy, life coaching and cognitive/behavioral approaches to family-systems-oriented therapy. Most established therapists have an eclectic approach, tailored to each person they work with. But most therapists have a therapeutic foundation that informs all of their work. What kind of training or background does the shrink have? What is the makeup of his clientele? How long has she been working? What brought him to work in psychotherapy?

Be alert to how comfortable you feel in the shrink’s presence. Can you (or your child or spouse) work intimately with the person sitting across from you? Be honest. Does this person strike you as being authentic? Trust your intuition.

Keep in mind that most shrinks will be interviewing you even as you interview them. They value productive working relationships. He or she will be deciding whether or not he/she is a good fit for you, just as you are deciding whether he/she is a good fit for you.

Go home and think about it. Sleep on it.

And then make your call: Tag! You’re it!

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