How To Choose A Psychotherapist

How To Choose a Psychotherapist


By Jerry Gelbart, M.D., F.A.P.A.



Most people I talk to have no idea where to start looking when they want a good therapist. Many therapists can be amiable, supportive, encouraging, but in 2013 we need to expect more than that. We now have therapies such as Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and others that have been shown to be effective in scientific studies, and many therapists are not up to date with these. For example, many therapists still use older models such as Jungian, Analysis, or Supportive therapies that have not proven to be cost-effective in getting the job done.


Here are 7 things to look for if you’re choosing a therapist:


1. Therapist sets tangible goals with you. Goal setting:


a. Gets you, therapist, and other members of treatment team (i.e. Psychiatrist, Primary Care MD) all focused in same direction


b. Helps you see if you’re making progress.


c. Goals help you move forward instead of looking back.


2. Therapist is open minded to various treatments, including nutritional, medications, Eastern approaches, group therapy, hospital outpatient or inpatient. “Whatever works.”


Not defensive, willing to consult with others or send you to someone else if not a good match.


3. Therapist is engaged and engaging, versus passive, remote, disinterested.


4. Therapist is not just supportive, listening, reflecting (I call this HHT, “Hand Holding Therapy”).


5. Therapist can say what kind of therapy they are doing.


The models mentioned above are not the only effective therapies, but are a few examples based on learning new skills, and changing behaviors and thinking. They mostly stay out of the past and intellectualizing about “why” you are the way you are. Instead they are focused on being in the present, getting rid of judgments and taking more control over your life.


6. Therapist gives homework. Homework:


a. Keeps you thinking and working between sessions.

b. Helps with continuity.

c. Consider therapist sessions as mostly teaching while the lab/application is in the real world between sessions.


7. Therapist is willing to confront you with things you may not want to hear in ways you can hear it.



1. Coping skills training.

     Especially teaching Emotion Regulation Skills (managing anxiety, anger, rejection, shame and guilt).

2. Mindfulness-based.

     Mindfulness teaches you how to be in the present and disengage from judgments.

3. Biological, Psychological, Social, and Spiritual perspective.

     Focuses on body, mind, relationships, and existential issues. 


Remember that no one thing makes us healthy and well. Health and Wellness require a multi-pronged approach involving self-examination, reprioritizing values, and behavior change.


Jerry H. Gelbart, M.D.


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4 thoughts on “How To Choose A Psychotherapist”

  • Fabulous, fabulous, fabulous! I wish you could educate PCP’s in this matter so they would make better referrals! I am a psychotherapist practicing CBT with a mindfulness component. I have developed a protocol based on David Barlow’s work and have been very successful in treating anxiety and depression in an effective and timely manner. Kudos to you for asking us to step up to the plate and be more outcome sensitive — it is time to move past Freud and Jung!

  • Thank you for your article: It is to-the-point and comprehensive. I like the goal-setting component, which is really to the heart of good coaching as well as brief therapy. Psychoeducation is definitely part of the process, as is being part of the patient’s mental health team. However, among “whatever works” I think we can add Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, as well as Ericksonian Clinical Hypnosis.

  • Thanks for sharing these informations to the readers. Choosing a best psychotherapist is a difficult thing. Thanks for sharing these tips to the readers.

  • In the article you wrote that you should choose a therapist that assigns you homework, as this can keep you thinking about the issue and help you make progress on your issue. A friend of mine has been thinking about seeing a therapist for their anxiety, and I was wondering how they would choose one. If they have a real plan in place for my friend to follow, it could help them feel like they are constantly making progress and also become fully invested on overcoming their anxiety.

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