How to be a Proactive Consumer of Therapy
by Krista Hartrich, MSW

Editor's Note: After last month's article "Dumb Things Said" where we emphasized the professionals who don't know what they are doing -- this month, we bring you professionals who DO!! This article and others this month (Aug 03) are brought to you by trusted professionals who really have a *good* grip on how to help bereaved people.

If you’ve ever searched for a therapist, you probably know that it can be a daunting process. Even the thought of searching for a therapist can be intimidating to some. Why wouldn’t it be? Making the decision to share our deepest feelings and thoughts with anyone is no small undertaking, let alone a person we don’t even know. Not to mention the fact that continuing therapy for any length of time can turn into a serious financial commitment.

Many of us have been scared off by the bad examples of therapy. Unfortunately, (and I say this as a member of the profession,) it’s not hard to find stories of inappropriate comments made by therapists to consumers. (See KotaPress Loss Journal article, “Dumb Things Said: The Horror,” July2003.) My own personal favorite example occurred when I moved to Montreal and started seeing a new therapist. I told him that I was unable to sleep at night due to anxious thoughts that kept cycling through my head. His advice, “Just stop the thoughts.” WHA??? He repeatedly maintained this stance, and needless to say, his advice did not work for me. That was my last visit to this therapist.

So, how do you go about finding a therapist who will be a good match for you?

Four straightforward steps:

Step 1: Call forth your power as a smart consumer

There are a lot of therapists out there, and they want your business. Who you pick is your decision, so make it a good one. Shop around; let yourself investigate. Many cities have online and/or telephone therapy referral services. These resources can help you to get a sense for a therapist without having to open up your whole story. Ask friends or members of your support network for suggestions. Many people know of a good therapist through someone else, and this can be an excellent referral source; tried and true. Don’t discount mental health agencies—they can be full of competent therapists and often offer a sliding scale or accept medical coupons. Ask the agency intake worker if they have particular faith in someone there.

Once you have some names, make phone calls. Most therapists are happy to spend time on the phone with you to answer your questions. They want to get to know you too, to assess whether you’re a good match for their skill set. Some therapists offer a sliding scale, but you might have to ask them in order to find out. If things are going well on the phone, you can ask if it’s possible to set up a face-to-face, informational interview (say, 15-20 minutes) to see how the therapist feels to you in person. Some private practitioners will even offer one free session in which to build a sense for the relationship.

Step 2: Listen to your gut

There are probably no absolute criteria from which to judge a good match with a therapist. Rather than thinking of which questions to ask a therapist, you might consider just being yourself, putting your encapsulated story out there, and assessing how you feel about the therapist’s response. Sharing loss, trauma, and any deep emotions with another person can be scary. Does this professional help to draw you out? Do you feel safe? Encouraged? Your gut feeling can be your ultimate resource here.

Step 3
: If it doesn’t feel right, walk

This step is actually pretty easy. If your gut tells you that you don’t have a match (or worse), tell the therapist thank you, hang up the phone or leave the office, and dial the next person on the list. Who you choose to work with is your decision; saying no when you don’t feel compatibility is your right. We won’t take it personally.

Step 4: Conjure patience

Part of the process of being in therapy may include feeling worse before feeling better. This most likely is not the sign of therapy gone awry. If you have established a relationship with your therapist and a problem comes up or you feel stuck, he or she will want to hear from you if they’re worth what you’re paying them. Competent therapists do slip up sometimes. On the other hand, sometimes what feels like a therapist’s problem can actually be a symptom of something a consumer is struggling with. A responsible therapist will take ownership of blunders and help a consumer to understand the difference between blunders and their own issues so that the therapeutic relationship can continue to move forward.


About the Author
Krista Hartrich, MSW is a therapist in downtown Seattle, Washington. She will never tell you that healthy grieving lasts no longer than 30 days. If you have questions or comments for Krista, send email to or

Loss  | Vashon | Services | Art | Poetry | Store | Contact

© 1999 KotaPress All rights reserved.  ISSN 1534-1410
Please direct comments regarding this web site to