The Psych Central Report

The Patient-Therapist Relationship:
Part 1: Choosing a Therapist

December 2004

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Editor's Note: This is Part 1 in a series of three articles on the patient-therapist relationship. The first part deals with how to choose amongst the kinds of therapists and mental health professionals available. The second part looks at professionalism within the patient-therapist relationship. The third part discusses knowing when to end a patient-therapist relationship.

The relationship between the patient and his/her therapist is very important to the patient's well-being. There has to be a good rapport between the two. Like any good relationship, there must be a match. In this first of a three-part series, this article discusses how to choose a therapist and the differences amongst the various types of professions serving in the mental health field.

There are a few things that should be taken into consideration when deciding whether or not to see a particular therapist, or to continue to see the current one. The patient-therapist relationship from the beginning (choosing a therapist) to end (concluding therapy) is essential for the patient to get well.

Types of Therapists and Their Degrees

Among many different kinds of therapists, the most well-known ones are:

  • Psychiatrist (M.D.)
    Has a medical degree (which allows the psychiatrist to prescribe medications) and has several years of specialized training in psychiatry.

  • Psychologist (Psy.D.) - Doctor of Psychology
    Has a doctoral degree in clinical psychology.

  • Psychologist (Ph.D.) - Doctor of Philosophy
    Has a doctoral degree in either clinical or counselling psychology.

  • Social Worker (M.S.W., Ph.D.)
    Has a master's or doctoral degree in social work.

  • Counsellor/Therapist (M.A., M.Sc.)
    Has a master's of Arts or Science in clinical or counselling psychology.

If medication is involved, many therapists will work with either a psychiatrist or the family physician as they are the only professionals who can write prescriptions.

Along with the various therapists comes the difference in costs of seeing one. The higher the education/experience, the higher the rate they charge. It is important to consult with the insurance company as to whom and how much they cover, and check to see if the therapist offers fee on a sliding scale. Sometimes a therapist can be referred by a family physician or by contacting a local mental health institution.

In Canada, therapists who work in a hospital are mostly covered by the provincial health program, but check the financial aspects of this with the family doctor or the government.

Verifying Your Therapist's Credentials

Once a therapist is chosen, a certification/authenticity check should be done on his/her credentials. Does the therapist have the proper and legitimate credentials? Is he/she genuine, the 'real' thing? If he/she tries to avoid (or even refuses) to share their credentials or licensing, then it is time to find another therapist.

In addition to asking the therapist about their credentials, a patient can also verify the professional's credentials independently. This can be done through their state's or region's licensing or registration board (for medical professionals) or professional board (for other professions).

Part 2 will talk about the professionalism of the therapist and will be published in our next issue.




Last updated: 20 Dec 2004
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 20 Dec 2004
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