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Research on successful outcomes in therapy has found one consistent finding time and time again: Therapy that has been successful is based on the quality of the relationship between patient and therapist. In other words, the theory-base or therapeutic techniques a therapist uses are less important than the therapist’s ability to build a trusting, understanding relationship with you to achieve your goals in therapy.

The most important thing to look for when choosing someone is that you feel you “click” with that person. S/he should be someone with whom you feel really comfortable and sense that s/he is someone with whom you could learn to trust and build a relationship.

The relationship you have with a therapist is an extremely important one: you want to trust this person enough to feel safe sharing intimate details about your life. Thus, you want to choose someone carefully.

Here is a “checklist” for finding a therapist who is a good 'fit.' Of course, this may not cover everything that is of significance to your own situation; feel free to add whatever is important for your own particular needs.

Five Considerations in Choosing a Therapist

1) Whenever possible, get referrals from someone you know.

We know it is not always possible, but better than Internet surfing. Your insurance will generally have providers listed on its website; however, they usually don’t provide much information in the way of clinical focus or therapeutic approach. Another source for referrals is your Primary Care Provider.

2) Is this person licensed as a mental health professional?

Do not overlook this one! To find out if a therapist is licensed through the Department of Health, go to http://www.doh.wa.gov/home.aspx and check under “licensure”. A licensed clinician is responsible for following Washington State laws and regulations on providing psychotherapy, as well as abiding by their codes of ethics. The therapist presents you with clear office policies, including limits of confidentiality and clients’ rights. Does s/he fully explain forms you are to sign?

3) Do I feel I could work with this person effectively?

The therapeutic relationship is similar in a lot of ways to other intimate relationships that you have: you want to build a relationship with someone who you can relate to, who doesn’t judge you and accepts you no matter what you share with him/her. The main difference between this relationship and others in your life is that it is one-way: the therapist is there for you, and the relationship is focused on helping you work through issues that are of importance to you only. In finding out if there is a “fit”, you need to rely on your intuition and not your brain. When you first speak to a therapist over the phone, do you feel like this is a person you could trust, feel safe with, and build a relationship with? You should be able to tell this within the first 5-10 minutes of talking with someone.

4) How does the therapist measure progress?

Your therapist should conduct regular evaluations of progress in therapy, including discussion of treatment plans. Listen to your assessment of what is helpful and what is not during the course of therapy. Is s/he flexible in terms of what is appropriate and helpful?

5) What is the cost of therapy?

You want to make sure that the person you see has fees that you can afford. Psychotherapists of all six licensed disciplines usually charge between $85-150 per hour on a private pay basis. Insurance coverage may be less expensive. If you use insurance benefits, keep in mind that you may want to be in psychotherapy for a longer period than the benefit provides. Discuss this possibility, and how you will continue, with your therapist at the beginning of the therapy, not when the benefit is ending.

If you have access to an Employee Assistance Plan (or EAP), it means that your employer has contracted with a company to provide therapy services to its employees and that you can call the EAP company directly to find a therapist. In these situations, you will typically be offered short-term, brief-solution-focused counseling with a maximum of 3-10 sessions.

A final consideration: If you feel strongly about working with a therapist of a certain gender, look for a therapist of that gender; the same is true for other factors, i.e., ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, etc. But a word of caution: just because a therapist may be a certain gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or faith as you does not mean that you will necessarily be ‘a fit’: you still have to trust your intuition when choosing someone who, on paper, may seem like ‘a fit’.





Washington State Coalition of Mental Health Professionals & Consumers
Mailing Address:  P. O. Box 30087  Seattle, WA 98113   Phone:  206-444-4304