How to select a therapist who will help and not hurt. A project of Metanoia Communications


1 - Why I wrote this article

This article was the result of real-life consumer experiences (good, bad and ugly) with psychotherapy. I have been leading support groups online for about fifteen years. Members of my groups have written to me relating their experiences, and have asked questions such as those I pose here. I wrote this article to address their questions.

My own experience is part of the process. After several therapeutic encounters ranging from the destructive to the merely ineffective, I finally found a highly competent therapist. The difference is so astounding that I felt compelled to share what I learned.

You deserve a competent counselor, someone who can really help you, and not hurt you, or waste your time. You probably agree. But do you know how to find one? Do you know how to tell a good therapist from a bad therapist? I found that people put up with unsound and even dangerous and abusive behavior from their therapists and counselors, simply because they dont know that they dont have to.

In the course of my cyberspace travels, I have met many readers who gave up on psychotherapy, because of a bad experience. If they had known just a little about how psychotherapy works, and what they should have expected, they might have been able to avoid a bad therapist, and find the help they deserved.

So in this article, I will try to equip you, as a consumer, with one method you can use to judge whether you are getting the help you need.

When you do find the right therapist, you will be truly amazed at the dramatic difference good counseling can make in your life -- you can at last begin your journey toward the inner wholeness you long for.

It will be apparent that the focus of this article draws mainly on psychodynamic ideas about therapy, but its principles apply to any therapeutic method that is offered to you.

The chapters that follow are based on interviews and conversations with numerous readers, therapists, friends and acquaintances about their experiences with psychotherapy, gathered over a period of about seven years. I am, admittedly, not a mental health professional, just a fellow seeker, but what I do know I am happy to share with you. I wish you the best in your explorations.

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Table of Contents


  1. Why I wrote this article
  2. How to tell if a therapist is competent, or not
  3. What psychotherapy isand why you need to know
  4. The secret that you already know
  5. How a good therapist makes you feel safe
  6. The perfect therapist
  7. Privacy: the essential ingredient
  8. Non-judgmental acceptance: you deserve it
  9. How to choose a therapist to call
  10. How you find out about the therapist
  11. Therapist credentials: the truth revealed
  12. First contact. Watch out for these red flags!
  13. Your first session: what should happen
  14. Safety is in the details
  15. Now what?

Copyright 1991,1996, 1999 Martha Ainsworth. All rights reserved. Please refer to reprint information before reprinting or distributing all or any part of this text.


This resource is hosted by mental health information at Psych Central.