How to Find a Therapist in Philadelphia
Starting from scratch: How do I find a therapist?
Have you ever thought, “I think might be ready to talk about my issues with a psychologist? But, while you want the best, you have absolutely no idea how to find a therapist in Philadelphia—let alone how to find a good therapist for you.
What do you look for?
In this article, we offer tips about how to find a therapist in Philadelphia that is a good match for you.
How does therapy work? What should I know to help me find a therapist?
Answer: Therapy is not like going to a doctor.
The first thing you need to know about how to find a therapist in Philadelphia is that therapy is NOT medicine. That is really confusing for a lot of people because our society is profoundly influenced by the medical model. There are ‘diagnoses’ and ‘cures’. Even in mental health, there are ‘disorders’ that seem to always have 3-letter abbreviations (e.g. ADD, OCD).
Although there are clear differences in therapeutic approaches (more on that later), it is the ‘common factors’ that are present across all of these approaches that are most responsible for people getting better! So what are they?
Answer: The ‘Common Factors’ of Therapy are the Most Important. And these are all rooted in the therapeutic relationship that you develop with your therapist.
Meta-analysis research by Wampold (2010) has demonstrated that the common factors present in all therapies account for almost 50% of all therapeutic change. And there isn’t anything else that comes close to this amount. So what are these common factors? Well, maybe this will be a surprise to you – or maybe not – but they are all relational factors. What do we mean by relational? See these two examples:
(1)How your therapist is present with you in the therapy room – e.g. how he or she listens, relates, empathizes with you.
(2) The therapeutic relationship itself – the strength of your developing bond or alliance with your therapist.
Why is this relationship important for predicting outcome?
Answer: Your relationship with your therapist is a model for how to better relate with yourself
Most people come to therapy because their own way of relating with themselves is distorted in some way. Although this will obviously vary by person, often this self-relationship has been influenced by habits one has learned and experiences one has had in key attachment relationships.
The therapeutic relationship offers a new way of experiencing yourself through a healthy, attuned, secure attachment relationship – and this is what is most curative.
‘But I’m here to solve a problem, fix something, find a solution’ you say. Even in more ‘action’ oriented treatments that focus on ‘doing’ something, it is this underlying relationship experience that underpins success. Why would you follow the recommendations of someone you don’t trust or feel connected with?
Answer: The best therapist for you is all about the fit – find a therapist who fits you.
Therapists should be professional, experienced, ethical, consistent, and have healthy boundaries for your treatment. With that said, the therapeutic relationship in certain ways will resemble any other relationship in that fit and match are central. There are certain friends, family, and romantic interests that you will click better with than others. The same is true with therapists, even though the therapeutic relationship is unique.
Research shows that the therapeutic alliance developed in the first 3 sessions is predictive of treatment outcome (Gelso & Hayes, 1998). In plain English what that means is ‘trust your gut’ and use your perception of the initial phone contact and first few sessions to guide how you move forward with treatment. Some clients meet with several therapists for an initial session to see who they think would work best with them. Do what feels right for you, and trust your intuition.
Answer: Ask your therapist about their approach to treatment (also known as ‘theoretical orientation’).
Two of the major approaches are cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and psychodynamic (also referred to as psychoanalytic) therapy. Other types include dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), accelerated experiential dynamic therapy (AEDP), and emotion-focused therapy. Some therapist approaches are influenced by something called attachment theory. Many therapists are integrationists, and do not have a one-size-fits-all treatment, instead choosing various aspects of different approaches.
Although certain research studies promote the efficacy of one type of treatment over another, the bottom line is that there is adequate research support out there for all of the treatments described above.
Pro tip: the more important thing you should keep in mind is HOW your prospective therapist describes his or her approach. That will tell you much more about what it would be like to work with him or her than any content shared.
Answer: Although fit is most important, training does matter.
You should only work with licensed mental health professionals.
Here are some basics describing the differences:
Psychiatrists: These mental health professionals have MDs. They have completed medical school and a residency in psychiatry. They are authorized to prescribe medication. The degree to which they have training in providing therapy varies significantly by program. Some have solid training; others do not. Some choose to complete post-graduate training in a particular treatment approach. Some psychiatrists are leaders in their field in providing therapy; others may be offering shoot-from-the-hip advice during a 15 minute medication management appointment.
Psychologists: These mental health professionals have either PhDs or PsyDs from clinical psychology or counseling psychology programs. Both degrees are doctoral degrees that usually take 5-6 years to complete. There is some variation between PhD and PsyD programs, but all graduates should have solid clinical training. These programs must meet training standards for accreditation.
One critical distinction – any psychologist who does not have a PhD from a clinical or counseling psychology program is most likely not trained to provide therapy. For example, social psychologists are almost always academics, not clinicians.
Clinical Social Workers (e.g. LCSW): Typically, these are graduates of 2 year master degree programs in social work. The programs can vary on the degree of clinical (e.g. therapy) focus, but a social worker who has earned an LCSW has passed a licensing exam in providing clinical social work. However, it is important to be aware that some LCSWs have completed 5 year doctoral programs and have a PhD in social work.
Counselors (e.g. LPC): These are graduates of 2 year masters programs in counseling. The programs vary, but usually have a shared emphasis in traditional counseling and school counseling. Like the other types of therapy programs, graduates must pass a licensing exam, after which they are referred to as LPCs (licensed professional counselor).
- Make sure to ask any clinician you speak with about their training – don’t make assumptions.
- Keep in mind that there is no gold standard. For example, a social worker may have completed a 5-year doctoral program with high-level training and/or a post-graduate training program offering elite training in a specific training approach. And they may be naturally skilled as a clinician and very relatable. In contrast, a psychologist or psychiatrist may have thorough doctoral training and be a dud… or at least a dud for you.
Last but not least – what is a therapist (also referred to as a psychotherapist)?
Surprise, surprise… any of the above can refer to themselves as a therapist!
Feel more confident about how to find a therapist in Philadelphia? If you are in the Philadelphia or Main Line region (where our offices are), feel free to contact us with any questions you may have. We’d be happy to speak with you, answer your questions, and see if we can find someone on our staff who might be a good fit. If not, we will do our very best to help steer you in the right direction.
Eric Spiegel, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist and practice director of Attune Philadelphia Therapy Group. He is the President of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH) for 2018-2019, and has won numerous awards from ASCH, including their Early Career Achievement Award (2012). Dr. Spiegel is the co-author of the book Attachment in Group Psychotherapy, published by the American Psychological Association. He has also published journal articles and book chapters on subjects such as attachment, hypnosis, group therapy, anxiety, trauma, and relationships.