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Chapter 9: Setting Priorities

By now you have some idea of what you’re looking for, and you’ve created a list of potential therapists. In this chapter, you’re going to learn how to pull all this together to make an informed decision.

You’ll spend some time with that stack of paper you’ve been working on for the last eight chapters, and pick up a few more tips along the way.

Activity 9

  1. Gather together the index cards (or pieces of paper) that you completed for Activities 1-7.
  2. Take some time to read through all your cards and think about which of these preferences are the most important to you. Review material from the earlier chapters if necessary.
  3. Sort the cards by priority, from most important to least important.
  4. Set aside your top three cards. We’ll call these your Top Priorities.
  5. Read the sections in this chapter that correspond to your Top Priorities and complete the additional activities.

Kinds of Therapy

Your first step should be to eliminate the therapists on your list that don’t offer the kind of therapy you’re looking for. If you gathered information from an insurance provider list, an online directory, an agency directory, or an advertisement, you may find that the types of therapy providers are already listed.

If types are not listed in your source, it’s safe to assume that the therapist primarily provides individual therapy. Of course, that doesn’t mean that they don’t offer group therapy, couples therapy, or family therapy; it just means that you’ll have to ask to find out.


On the back of your Kinds of Therapy card, write a
question that you can refer to later when interviewing therapists. Some examples are provided below:

  • Do you offer group therapy?
  • Do you provide individual therapy?
  • Do you work with couples?
  • Do you provide family therapy?


  • Because they have access to the appropriate facilities, therapists who work in agencies, clinics, and hospitals are more likely to offer group therapy.
  • Marriage and family therapists are more likely to offer couples and family counseling than any other profession.


If you’re planning to see a provider that’s within your insurance or managed care organization’s network, this part should be very simple. Just restrict your search to the therapists listed in your insurance company or MCO’s provider directory or online directory.

Providers change from time to time, though, and your paper or online directory may not be completely up to date. If you’re considering a therapist that you don’t see in your directory, it can’t hurt to call them and see if they accept your insurance. You might just be pleasantly surprised.

If you have the option of going out of network and still receiving partial reimbursement, be sure to ask a potential therapist if they’re willing to help you submit the required paperwork and whether or not full payment is required up front.

If you’re paying out of pocket, you’ll want to know what a therapist’s session fee is, and if they work on a sliding scale.


On the back of your Payment card, write a question (or questions) that you can refer to later when interviewing
therapists. Some examples are provided below:

  • Do you accept [your insurance type]?
  • If I submit for partial reimbursement, can you help me with the paperwork?
  • What is your fee? Do you offer a sliding scale?
  • What forms of payment do you accept?


You may be able to get an idea of where a therapist practices just from looking at their directory listing or phone book entry.

It pays to be realistic about settings. If you live in an urban area and are restricted to public transportation, then you’ll want to find an office that’s within reasonable walking distance of a bus stop or subway station. If you’ve decided to seek a private office in the suburbs, however, you’ll need to budget for gas money or bus fare.


On the back of your Settings card, write a question that you can refer to later when interviewing therapists. A few examples are provided below:

  • Do you have a private office, or do you share space with another therapist?
  • Does the clinic have its own entrance, or is it in the hospital itself?
  • Do you run groups in your office or do you take space in another building?


  • Some therapists practice out of more than one location, so if you notice that a therapist you’re considering lists an office in a setting that you don’t prefer, go ahead and give them a call anyway. You might find that they offer other options.


Insurance and managed care organization directories willusually list a therapist’s profession, and some onlinedirectories do as well.

The initials after a therapist’s name can also provide a clue. Someone with MD or DO after their name, for example, is almost certainly a psychiatrist. (See the Appendix for morehelp with commonly used initials.)


On the back of your Professions card, write a question that you can refer to later when interviewing therapists. An
example is provided below.

  • What is your profession?


  • Because of financial and professional pressures, most psychiatrists focus on medication-related work, so it can be very difficult to find a psychiatrist who offers therapy.
  • If your state doesn’t offer professional licensure in the area you’d prefer, consider a related type of professional. For example, if you’d prefer a marriage and family therapist, but your state doesn’t offer such a license, look for a professional counselor or a psychologist with a background in marital and family work.
  • Be very cautious about considering an unlicensed therapist. Ask about education and experience.

Treatment Approaches

Though this book contains some of the most commonly used approaches, it does not cover every single option. Some techniques are very specialized, and new approaches are constantly being developed and refined. Don’t be afraid to ask a potential therapist questions about their approach and how it is similar or different from approaches you’re more familiar with.

Flexibility is important, especially if you live in a rural or isolated area. You may not be able to find a local therapist who practices the exact kind of therapy you prefer, but you may be able to find someone practicing a similar approach.


On the back of your Treatment Approaches card, write a question or questions that you can refer to later when
interviewing therapists. A few examples are provided below:

  • How would you describe your approach to therapy?
  • You say that you’re eclectic. Can you tell me what approaches or ideas you rely on most?


  • Most therapists will say that they don’t rely on a single approach, so be prepared to follow up and find out more details about how they work.
  • Insurance companies and managed care organizations favor some approaches over others; you may want to find out if your organization has any restrictions before making up your mind about an approach.


In addition to general experience, you may want to consider how long a therapist has been working specifically with the kinds of issues you’re dealing with.


On the back of your Experience card, write a question or questions that you can refer to later when interviewing
therapists. A few examples are provided below:

  • How many years have you been providing therapy?
  • Have you worked with people with problems like mine before?

Special Considerations

Determining a therapist’s gender should be simple enough, but other considerations may require a face-to-face meeting. Although age and race may be important considerations, you shouldn’t ask about these over the phone.


On the back of your Special Considerations card, write a question or questions that you can refer to later when interviewing therapists. A few examples are provided below:

  • What’s your approach to working with a client’s religious beliefs?
  • How do you feel about homosexuality?
Chapter 9: Setting Priorities

Ben Butina

Ben Butina is a therapist and trainer. He is the executive director of Westmoreland Marriage, Inc. and lives with his wife and two children in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. This book is reproduced here with permission and is copyrighted © Ben Butina. All rights reserved.

APA Reference
Butina, B. (2009). Chapter 9: Setting Priorities. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 9, 2020, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 7 Jul 2009
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 7 Jul 2009
Published on All rights reserved.