Making the decision to find a therapist is a big choice that can feel daunting. Finding the right fit is so important. But how can you tell from an online profile who may be a good fit? Especially when there is a whole therapeutic lexicon that can be confusing. Below are 5 tips that can help you in making your selection.

What do all those letters after their name mean?

If you have started your search for a therapist most likely you are running into many acronyms following the therapists name: LMFT, AMFT, LPCC, LCSW, Psy.D, or PhD. But what do these mean? These acronyms denote a therapist’s degree and licensure status. For example, the ‘L’ before MFT, PCC or SW means licensed, which indicates that the therapist has completed their associateship and passed their licensing exam.

The ‘A’ before MFT means that the therapist is an Associate, which indicates that the therapist has graduated from a Master’s Program and is accruing hours toward licensure under a licensed supervisor. MFT stands for Marriage and Family Therapist, SW stands for Social Worker, LPCC stands for licensed professional clinical counselor, PsyD stands for Doctor of Psychology, and PhD stands for Doctor of Philosophy.

What do the theoretical orientations and treatment modalities mean?

Now, if you are continuing your search and have gotten past the therapist’s name and degree, you are most likely running into even more acronyms such as CBT, DBT, EMDR, etc. which describe the theoretical orientation a therapist works from. This jargon is often confusing and may not be helpful unless you know what it means.

A theoretical orientation is a therapist’s view about how problems are formed and how to best treat those problems. Below is a very simple one-sentence description of some commonly used theoretical orientations. Please note, there are many more.

Psychodynamic:

Focuses on the unconscious and hopes to increase a client’s level of self-awareness of the ways in which the past affects the present. (learn more about psychodynamic therapy)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT):

This orientation is centered around the idea that our cognitions (thoughts) affect our behavior and seeks to help the client became aware of the ways that inaccurate or negative thoughts are impacting behavior and change those thought patterns. (learn more about CBT)

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT):

DBT focuses on teaching clients new skills (in 4 areas: mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness) to help manage difficult emotions and decrease conflict.

Humanistic:

This orientation is grounded in the belief that all people are innately good, and the goal is self-actualization.

Do I want to know anything about my therapist?

In therapy, the term self-disclosure refers to the therapist revealing information about themselves. While therapists are trained in the appropriate use of self-disclosure, some therapists choose to disclose more than others. So, this can be an important factor to consider. Do you want to know anything about your therapist? If they have had similar life experiences or challenges? Or would you rather have a therapist who is more of a blank slate? It is perfectly ok to ask a therapist about their use of self-disclosure and decide what would work best for you.

What has worked for me in the past?

If you have gone to therapy in the past, most likely you have a sense of what did and did not work for you. Maybe you loved the fact that your therapist challenged you or hated that they utilized art therapy in session. This is helpful information not only to consider when selecting a therapist but also to share with your new therapist as it gives the therapist insight into the best ways to support you.

And finally … fees.

Therapy can be expensive, so it is important to consider what you can realistically afford per session. Some therapists are covered by insurance and some are not. If not covered by insurance, your therapist may be able to provide you with a Superbill to submit for reimbursement. Many therapists offer a limited number of sliding-scale spots, which means that they reserve some spaces in their practice for clients who qualify for a lower fee based on income.

So, if you see a therapist that you would like to work with, but cannot afford their full fee, ask about their sliding scale options. Another great option for a reduced fee is to work with an Associate. As mentioned above, associates (AMFTs, ACSWs, APCCs, etc.) are working toward licensure and may accept a lower fee.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samantha Curiale is an Associate Marriage & Family Therapist (AMFT) at Well Clinic in San Francisco. In her words, “I strive to create a nonjudgmental, safe space for clients.”

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