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Selecting a Psychologist

What Should I Consider When Selecting a Psychotherapist?

 

Selecting a psychologist can be a difficult decision.  How are you supposed to know who to choose?  All psychologists may seem to be virtually the same.  Yet, their are significant differences in qualifications. 

Credentials:

         When you are selecting a psychologist, it is important to consider her or his credentials.

  • License: All psychologists practicing independently must be licensed in their state.  Unlike other psychotherapists, all psychologists are doctors.
  • Board Certification (ABPP): Board Certification by the American Board of Professional Psychology is the highest credential a psychologist can achieve. Less than 4% of all practicing psychologists achieve Board Certification by the American Board of Professional Psychology. This certification extends beyond state borders.  In order to become a Board Certified Diplomate, candidates must submit and pass a lengthy written treatise (often over 100 pages).  If a candidate passes the written portion, the Board sends a team of expert examiners who conduct a day long oral exam.   
  • Group Certification (CGP): It is desirable if your group is facilitated by a Certified Group Psychotherapists. This internationally recognized credential is awarded by the International Board for Certification of Group Psychotherapists. Group certification ensures that your therapist received extensive training specifically in group psychotherapy.  Most psychologists take only one or two group courses. A CGP must complete 12 hours of training in group, 300 hours of group experience, and 75 hours of group supervision by an approved supervisor.  Thereafter, a CGP must fulfill 18 hours of continuing education every two years, so you can be assured that her or his skills are maintained.  
  • Therapy Certifications: These certifications are offered by the creators of certain schools of thought such as Emotionally-Focused Therapy (EFT), Gottman Therapy or Eye Movement Desensitization Therapy (EMDR) to indicate that a therapist has successfully completed training in a specific school of thought. They should not be confused with Board Certifications.  Board Certification is an actual credential (letters behind the psychologist's name). Board certifications are governed by an independent credentially bodies who determine the criteria for and oversees the qualifications of those applying for certification. They do not apply to any one school of thought, but are broad in their application. 

   Note:  Do not be fooled simply by additional letters behind a psychologist's name.  The letters ABPP or CGP are legitimate certifications.  Unfortunately, there are certification mills that offer certifications for purchase.  Legitimate certifications cannot be bought, they must be earned.

Experience
:

  • Another factor to consider is how many clients and the type of clients a psychologist has worked with.  Psychologists who have worked with a large volume of clients begin to see trends that help them gain insight into client problems.  They will have tried various techniques and have an experienced understanding of which techniques work best with which types of clients. Also, they will have learned how to make all sorts of clients feel comfortable opening up to them.  Almost nothing a client could say would shock them.  It is also helpful when a psychologist has worked with a wide variety of client problems.  This fosters a flexibility, versatility, and depth to their work.  No doubt, you will not be the first client they have ever worked with who has the type of problem you are experiencing.
Clinical Supervision
  • Yet another factor worth considering is the psychologist's experience clinically training and supervising interns, post doctoral fellows, and psychological assistants.  This factor is important for two reasons.  First, only a well-qualified clinician is fit to supervise or train interns or trainees. Supervisors must be knowledgable, experienced, and skillful in order to guide and mentor trainees.  Supervising psychologists must competently scrutinize the work of their supervisees in order to protect the public.  Also, supervising psychologists are required to go through special training on supervision throughout their careers.  Secondly, psychologists involved with training by necessity are more likely to keep up with the latest trends in the profession.  I have supervised psychologists in training for over twenty years.  Further, I was the Director of Training for USC and UCI (interim). 
Areas of Specialization
  • These should be areas in which a psychologist has received special training and supervision.  Further, a psychologist should have significant experience working with a particular population or treating a specific type of probem in order to claim it as a specialization 

Goodness of Fit
  • You should feel comfortable with your psychologist.  You should feel understood by her or him.  You should not feel judged.  It should be okay for you to bring up any concerns you have about your treatment.  It is normal to have instances of feeling uncomfortable with your therapist; these should be worked through together.  Sometimes, however, you and your psychologist just don't fit well together.  If that is the case, you should look into finding a new therapist with whom you feel more comfortable. 

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