© 1999 Ellen Oler

I am frequently asked by potential clients to describe how I work. they are hoping to find some indication that will let them know if I am the right therapist for them

After 22 years as a therapist, some experience as a client and countless professional relationships with other therapists, I have some clear thoughts on how to choose your therapist. And an "educated consumer" of psychotherapy services, like anything else, is one who tends to take more responsibility for their own experience, I hope this will help you choose your therapist.

Following is a series of Frequently Asked Questions about how to choose your therapist and my responses to them. Keep in mind as you read them that my answers are coming from personal experience and are my own professional and personal opinion. I am not summarizing research studies, unless specifically stated. If you want to know more about any particular area, follow the links to get more in-depth information and/or ideas.


If your situation is an EMERGENCY immediately call your EAP, insurance company's 24 hour mental health phone number which is usually on your insurance card, call your local hospital emergency room, or 911. If it is not an emergency, continue reading.

Many people today have health insurance or are part of an HMO which provides counseling or therapy. In addition most people who are working or are covered by insurance through their workplace have access to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). If you have either of these resources, start there. An EAP is especially helpful since the people who work with EAP's are there specifically to help you clarify exactly what your needs are and identify all resources that may be available to you, including, but not limited to therapists in your area, self-help or professionally run support groups, etc. Their job is to either help you resolve your problem themselves, usually within 1-6 visits or to refer you to the most appropriate resource to meet your needs. EAP services are generally free or available for a very low co-payment. An EAP professional can take much of the legwork and guesswork out of finding the resources you need. But, while every effort is made to match you with a therapist they think you will work well with, realistically it is still up to you follow the steps covered below in determining for yourself if the "fit" is right for you.

A word on insurance companies, HMO's and PPO's (Preferred Provider Organizations): While your choice of therapists is limited to their list of participating providers, this does not have to mean that you have NO choice. You can still screen the therapists on their list using the guidelines covered on this Web page.

If you do not have insurance or an EAP, contact your local Mental Health Center or Family Service Agency, Professional organizations such as your local chapter of NASW (the National Association of Social Workers), APA (the American Psychological Association), your minister, priest, rabbi, etc. These professionals can often suggest other resources or a local self-help group that deals with the issues confronting you.


Before calling anyone, sit down and think about a few things. (NOTE: If your situation is an emergency, immediately call your EAP, insurance company's 24 hour mental health phone number which is usually on your insurance card, call your local hospital emergency room, or 911.) If it is not an emergency, answer these questions for yourself before calling anyone.