“I’ve made more progress with the right counselor and my WINGS support group in the last 10 months, than I did the entire previous 2 years with a counselor who did not understand issues related to childhood sexual abuse.”

-WINGS group member, Speak Out! participant, Survivor

While WINGS does not provide individual therapy or counseling services, we recognize that individual therapy can be very valuable to the healing process. In fact, we have found that survivors who commit to individual counseling with a qualified therapist and attend their WINGS support group regularly, typically make the most significant progress in their healing.

However, it is important to know that not every counselor is trauma-informed and not every therapist understands the complex dynamics of childhood sexual abuse and the ways it impacts adults. Therefore, it is vital to make sure that when you are selecting an individual counselor, you have the information you need to make an informed, empowered decision.

You should never have to settle for the first therapist you talk with or meet. Finding the right therapist can take a lot of time and emotional energy to find the right fit, but this process is an important step in reclaiming your power throughout your healing journey. Below is a list of top 8 important factors to consider when narrowing your search for a therapist. Remember: you are NOT alone, we are here to help you on your journey! Call us at  303-238-8660 ext. 105 to talk with a Support Specialist for assistance with finding a therapist!

Top 8 Factors to Consider When Finding the Right Therapist

1-getreferrals

Talk to:

  • WINGS Support Specialists, 303.238.8660 ext. 105,  or other survivors, mental health professionals, mental health centers, men’s or women’s programs, and medical personnel. Ask if the therapist has specific trauma-informed training.
  • The practice of psychotherapy is regulated by the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies. The State Grievance Board can be reached at (303) 894-7855, or 1560 Broadway, Suite 1550, Denver, CO 80202. Indicate you want the mental health section.

2-understandcredentials

In order to help you make an informed decision, it is good to understand the credentials of every therapist you consider. A person practicing psychotherapy may or may not be licensed, and a license does not necessarily mean they have more experience or are better qualified to help you. 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. The following list includes the titles given to licensed professionals:

  • 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 governed by the CO Medical Board 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. 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.

3-discussPreviousWork

When selecting a therapist, it is ok for you to contact them by phone and discuss various questions that might help you make an informed decision about working with them. You may also ask to schedule a visit to meet and talk with the therapist in person, to find out more information and to see how you feel with the therapist. Many therapists will not charge for this session, while you should ask about fees for consultations up front. Here are additional questions that might be helpful for you to ask:

  • Do you work with sexual abuse survivors? How much experience have you had?
  • Do you have special training in this area? If so, please explain (listen for trauma-informed training, EMDR training, etc)
  • Do you have special training in this area?
  • How do you work with survivors and why do you work in those ways?
  • Are you available for emergency phone calls and appointments?
  • What methods or techniques do you use in working with survivors?
  • 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 see family reconciliation as a goal? Why or why not?
  • 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?

4-LearnTheirApproachandGoals

Additional points to consider and ask:

  • How do you work with survivors and why do you work in those ways?
  • Are you available for emergency phone calls and appointments?
  • What methods or techniques do you use in working with survivors?
  • 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 see family reconciliation as a goal? Why or why not?
  • 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?

5-LearnTheirworldview

There are many myths about childhood sexual abuse and its impact on adult life. Be sure to learn each therapist’s view on the following to ensure you will be comfortable and treated with the respect you need to begin your healing journey:

  • 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?
  • What role do you think forgiveness plays in the healing process?
  • What do you think about touching clients?
  • Ask about age, gender, religion/spiritual belief system, sexual orientation, or ethnic group if any of these matter to you.
  • (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?
  • 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 yourself? The therapist may or may not be willing to answer this question.

6-GetPersonal

  • Ask about age, gender, religion/spiritual belief system, sexual orientation, or ethnic group if any of these matter to you.
  • (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?
  • 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 yourself? The therapist may or may not be willing to answer this question.

7-MoneyMatters

Therapy can be very expensive for many living on a tight budget. If money is a barrier to receiving therapy, be sure to ask the following questions.

  • Is there a charge for the initial, get-acquainted session?
  • What is your regular appointment cost? If money is an issue for you, ask about a sliding scale fee.
  • WINGS maintains a referral list in Colorado of clinicians who have training in childhood sexual abuse trauma and work with adults. We also keep track of those who offer sliding scales. To get a referral today, contact Stacy @progdirector@wingsfound.org

8-MutualSelection

The therapist will also evaluate whether you would be an appropriate client for them based upon their own training, personal and professional experiences, and worldviews. If it is not a good match for either of you, for any reason, it will not be a productive relationship. If a therapist determines that they are not appropriate for you, it is not your fault. Keep looking until you find the right person, and go to as many get-acquainted sessions as you need. Healing IS possible, and finding the right therapist for you is a key component to that healing.

*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.