How to Find a Therapist

Be willing to do a fair amount of work to find a counselor. You do not have to go to the first person you talk with or meet. Make a list of questions to ask the therapist on the telephone. This is an important part of the process. It may take time, but it is worth it. This is part of reclaiming your power in the healing process. Spending time initially on the phone will save time and money in the long run. Once you have narrowed down your choices over the telephone, you will be able to meet with the two or three you liked most.

Ask for the names of therapists from sources you trust. Talk to:

  • WINGS staff or other survivors, mental health professionals, mental health centers, men’s or women’s programs, and medical personnel.
  • Call the Colorado State Grievance Board at 303-894-7800 with names of therapists you are considering to see if any complaints have been filed against them. You can also access this information online at https://www.doradls.state.co.us/alison.php

Some Questions to Ask…

  • Is there a charge for the initial, get-acquainted session?
  • Ask about age, gender, religion/spiritual belief system, sexual orientation, or ethnic group if any of these matter to you.
  • Do you work with sexual abuse survivors?
  • Do you have special training in this area?
  • What methods or techniques do you use in working with survivors?
  • You may or may not want to know if the therapist is a survivor and the therapist may or may not be willing to answer this question.
  • Have you been in therapy? The therapist may or may not be willing to answer this question.
  • How much do you charge? Do you have a sliding fee scale? Do you work with insurance claims?

Schedule a Get Acquainted Session…

If you feel comfortable with the phone conversation, schedule a visit to meet and talk with the therapist to find out more information and to see how you feel with the therapist. Many therapists will not charge for this session. Things you might ask:

  • What training qualifies you to practice? (Degrees, training programs, professional seminars, etc.)
  • How much experience have you had working with survivors of sexual abuse?
  • How do you work with survivors and why do you work in those ways?
  • Are you available for emergency phone calls and appointments?
  • Do you set goals with your clients? If so, how do you go about setting goals?
  • What do you believe about the outcome of therapy for sexual abuse?
  • Do you incorporate or support other healing methods (i.e. peer support groups, body work, music, art, yoga, 12-step programs, nutrition, etc.)?
  • Do you use group therapy?
  • How do you feel about medication and/or hospitalization?
  • Do you think sex with adults is always damaging to children?
  • Do you think children ever willingly participate in sex with adults?
  • Do you think survivors ever fantasize or exaggerate abuse?
  • Do you see family reconciliation as a goal? Why or why not?
  • What role do you think forgiveness plays in the healing process?
  • What do you think about touching clients?
  • (For LGBTQ) Have you worked with many LGBTQ clients? Do you see sexual orientation as an issue in therapy or that it has anything to do with a history of sexual abuse?

Make up your list of questions, adding your own, so you will be asking questions that are most important to you. Prioritize them and ask them in the get-acquainted session.

How To Make Sense of Credentials

The State of Colorado does not require any special education or training for a person to be called a psychotherapist. However, anyone practicing psychotherapy must be listed in the Department of Regulatory Agencies database. A person practicing psychotherapy may or may not be licensed. A license does not necessarily mean the therapist has more experience or is better qualified to help you. The following are licensed. Licensure is given when the individual has the correct educational background, supervised work experience, has passed an exam for licensure, and has knowledge of pertinent state law:

  • LCSW, Licensed Clinical Social Worker
  • LISW, Licensed Independent Social Worker
  • LPC, Licensed Professional Counselor
  • LMFT, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
  • CAC (I, II, or III), Certified Addictions Counselor

The following have Doctorate degrees and may or may not be licensed. If you see these credentials, you may ask if they are licensed and what their license is:

  • Ph.D., Doctor of Philosophy, a psychologist
  • Psy.D., Doctor of Psychology

The following are non-licensed professionals with Master’s degrees. These psychotherapists must be registered with the State of Colorado as an unlicensed psychotherapist. You may ask what their major or area of emphasis was in graduate school:

  • MSW, Master’s in Social Work
  • MA, Master of Arts
  • MS, Master of Science

All of the above are governed by the Colorado State Grievance Board, 303-894-7800.

A psychiatrist (M.D.) is a medical doctor who specializes in mental illness. This is the only provider who can prescribe medication. It is important to know if a psychiatrist will see you for therapy or just prescribe and monitor your psychiatric medications. Psychiatrists are governed by the Colorado Medical Board.

The above listing of credentials is not all-inclusive. If you find someone with credentials you do not know about, the Colorado State Grievance Board can tell you what they represent.

Remember…

The selection process is a mutual one. The therapist will also be asking about you and evaluating whether you would be an appropriate client for her/him. If it is not a good match for either of you, for any reason, it will not be a productive relationship. If the therapist you decide upon feels she/he is not appropriate for you, it is not because you are not okay. Keep looking until you find the right person. Go to as many get-acquainted sessions as you need. Healing from sexual abuse is often painful and hard work. The wonderful news is that it can be done. It is possible to feel better and live a richer life. It is possible to move from victim to survivor to thriver! You will need help, but remember, you are not alone!

This information was taken in large part from a brochure printed by the Child and Family Advocacy Program of Boulder County. Our thanks to Judith Houchins, Executive Director, for sharing this with the WINGS Foundation, Inc.