How to choose the best psychologist

Choosing a good psychologist – our advice

“I went to four psychologists – no one helped,” “I went through therapy, it didn’t get any easier – I just lost money,” “I was waiting for support, but I received condemnation” – these are not horror stories from the world of psychology, but real appeals on forums. This happens: an incompetent specialist is caught, and the client and the psychologist do not fit together. This does not mean that it is necessary to refuse psychological help. Today we will tell you how to choose a good psychologist.

How do you know if a psychologist is good?

And who do I need: a psychologist, a psychotherapist, or a psychiatrist? This is where the search for psychological help begins. Especially often, confusion arises between the first two concepts. 

Next, we will analyze the criteria for choosing a good psychologist-psychotherapist.

When choosing a specialist, the main thing is deciding on personal feelings from communication. However, we recommend paying special attention to some points – they can be used to determine the competence of a psychologist. Before the first meeting, you can evaluate it formally: education, hours of supervision and personal therapy, participation in psychological communities, and successful cases. During consultations, attention should be paid to personal characteristics and adherence to ethical principles. Let’s analyze everything in more detail.

Before the first meeting

Signs that you have a worthy specialist:

  1. Higher psychological or medical education and additional education in a long-term psychotherapy program (minimum 3-4 years according to international standards). The American Psychological Association recommends looking for a licensed psychotherapist.
  2. Personal therapy (at least a year, or 50-100 hours). This guarantees that the consultant will not transfer their problems to you. It also means the specialist understands you because he was in your place. An important nuance: it is appropriate to write about overcoming personal problems in a blog or mention them before the session, but not at the session. If a specialist steals your time, flaunts, and compares himself to you (“Do you think I don’t know what it is?! Yes, I almost went out the window because of the loss of a child”) – he is unprofessional.
  3. Supervision (minimum 50 hours). This analyzes complex, ambiguous situations, and mistakes from practice with a more experienced colleague. The more hours spent on supervision, the higher the specialist’s competence.
  4. Successful cases. There is an important nuance here: if you are reading a story from practice, look for the postscript “with the permission of the client” or something like that. Otherwise, it violates the Psychologist’s Code of Ethics principle of confidentiality.
  5. Involvement in the profession: attends conferences, publishes in magazines, maintains a blog. This is more of an optional criterion than a mandatory requirement. A plus would be the membership of a specialist in the psychological community – for example, in the Professional Psychotherapeutic League, the International Association for Contemporary Psychoanalysis, and the Association for Cognitive Behavioral Psychotherapy. This testifies to observing ethical norms, a scientific approach, and orientation to European quality standards. It is also a guarantee that the specialist visits a psychologist and supervisor – a prerequisite for participating in psychological associations.
  6. Profession development. According to the Code of Ethics, an expert must constantly learn new things, follow the news and discoveries from the world of psychology, and improve their skills.

“Astropsychologist”, “esoteric”, “karmic”, “generic scenario”, “socionics”, “constellations” – all this has nothing to do with psychology.

At consultations

Researchers at the American Psychological Association have identified factors that influence treatment outcomes. Based on them, we made a portrait of a worthy psychologist:

  • Set to cooperate, tries to be “on the same wavelength” with you – accepts without judgment, does not impose his views, supports, directs;
  • Discusses with you the goals, means, and results of therapy and expectations from it;
  • e
  • Empathizes and sympathizes, but at the same time does not lose self-control;
  • Supports and shares with you sincere emotions that are relevant in the framework of therapy;
  • When interacting with groups, creates an atmosphere of openness, warmth, and equality;
  • Is interested in your success and health supports feedback;
  • Concludes a therapeutic contract or signs an informed consent with you – a document that spells out the goals and methods of therapy, the terms of cooperation, and delimits the parties’ responsibilities.
How to choose the best psychologist

How to distinguish a good psychologist-psychotherapist from a bad one: the first is involved in your situation, and the second is formally listening. A worthy specialist will only talk about you and discuss only your problem. He will use safe, individually selected techniques for this, and not the on-duty “Don’t be sad,” depreciating “This is nonsense,” or finishing off “Well, it’s your fault.”

Signs that you have a dubious specialist in front of you (this should not be in consultations):

  1. Only interested in payment. He has not yet recognized your problem and has not said anything about the treatment plan but has already drawn up a consultation schedule for months in advance and requires full prepayment. Run. But an adequate discussion of the terms of cooperation and the signing of an agreement is appropriate. It may state that a last-minute canceled or missed session is still paid. This is also a safety net for you because, in the therapy process, everyone goes through a phase of resistance – a moment when you want to quit everything.
  2. Shows disrespect. If a specialist interrupts, criticizes, insults, ridicules, leave immediately. This also includes filming and audio recording of the reception, for which you did not consent.
  3. Guarantees an instant solution to any problem. The first consultation is usually spent on discussing everything and scheduling meetings. Even if we are talking about short-term therapy, it will take several sessions to fully resolve the problem. And the expert cannot know in advance how much.
  4. He tries to be “friends”: asks about something out of curiosity, advises, offers to meet in an informal setting, flirts, invites on a date, seduces, and speaks directly about his sympathy.

What are the qualities of a good psychologist?

A worthy specialist is distinguished by empathy, tact, positivity, and openness. But that’s not all. The main thing is personal maturity. 

Here are the qualities of a mature person (based on the theory of the founder of humanistic psychology, Abraham Harold Maslow):

  • openness to new things;
  • freedom from stereotypes and prejudices;
  • Accepting yourself and other people for who they are;
  • love, respect for people;
  • naturalness in behavior and reactions;
  • emotional stability;
  • sense of humor;
  • creativity;
  • independence from external influence;
  • understanding, observance of moral standards;
  • desire to help society for its gain;
  • The ability to clearly express one’s thoughts and to explain them in an accessible way.

The pro is guided by the principle of “Not harm,” maintains a trusting atmosphere, sincerely empathizes, focuses on your needs, and listens carefully. He is discreet and charming but does not try to please and please. He can reasonably and gently defend his position, ready to listen to your opinion.

Professional ethics

Do not forget to check the expert for compliance with the principles of the Code of Ethics:

  1. Respect for each person’s rights, freedom, and sense of worth. A professional avoid categorical judgments, does not force anything, does not advise, does not suggest, and does not give direct answers. He treats everyone equally, regardless of their characteristics: religion, gender, age, appearance, value system, sexual orientation, etc. He does not label, does not conclude the appearance or social status of the client, and is free from stereotypes and unbiased.
  2. Confidentiality. The expert takes responsibility for non-disclosure (accidental or special, partial or complete) of information. Everything you tell remains within the walls of the office. The psychologist does not have the right to tell anyone you have asked for help. Suppose the specialist refuses to prescribe this in the contract. In that case, there are strangers at your session, or you witnessed someone else’s session (for example, you waited in line right in the office before the consultation). We do not recommend continuing therapy with this specialist.
  3. Awareness and voluntary consent. The psychologist cannot force you into therapy or use particular methods. He briefly explains cooperation’s essence, goals, and results and answers all questions. If he offers you an experimental technique, he will inform you about it, tell you about all the risks and prospects, and introduce you to the statistics. If, in response, you hear the phrase, “After all, I am a psychologist, not you. Let me decide what you need. Just trust me,” then you should doubt the professionalism of a psychologist.
  4. Competence. A professional is taken only for those cases for which he has the appropriate knowledge and skills. If a specialist does not clarify your request but immediately writes for a consultation or writes in his profile/blog that he heals everyone and everything, this is an alarming signal. A worthy consultant can admit: “This is not in my competence. I’ll give you a colleague’s business card” or “I need to think about this/meet with my supervisor.”
  5. A responsibility. The success of therapy largely depends on your activity: how closely you follow the recommendations, how regularly you attend consultations, and whether you do your homework. But the psychologist must ensure that his methods will not worsen your condition.
How to choose the best psychologist

When contacting a professional from the first minutes of communication, you will feel comfortable, find yourself in an atmosphere of acceptance, and want to trust and open up. If you are drowning in guilt and shame for yourself and your problem during communication, then you have an incompetent specialist in front of you.

How to choose a psychologist for yourself

How to choose a good psychologist for yourself – recommendations from us based on materials from the American Psychological Association and the Mayo Clinic :

  1. Pay attention to his specialization and direction, which he adheres to. Specialization refers to the problems that an expert deals with. For example, depression, low self-esteem, fears, and relationship difficulties. A referral is the type of therapy that he advises. Examples: psychoanalysis, gestalt, cognitive behavioral, EMDR. Different methods are used to solve the same problem depending on the direction. For example, a Gestalt therapist works with emotions and solves problems in the “here and now” mode. Psychoanalyst – with memories, deep feelings, and dreams (past and unconscious).
  2. Find out with whom and how he works. Accepts only children, only adults, or works with people of different ages. Conducts only individual consultations, only group consultations, or both. What suits you?
  3. Study the terms of service: face-to-face, online, in both formats. Pay attention to the pros and cons of each option. If we are talking about a meeting place, choose the specialist who receives in a specially equipped office. 
  4. Find out the cost of admission. A good psychologist sets a price adequate to his experience and knowledge. Novice experts charge less. A consultation with experienced psychologists is more expensive – an average of 50$ in large cities and 25$ in small towns. 
  5. Determine if the specialist is pleasant to you. You have to open your soul to a stranger – this is stress. It will be easier to do this if you like the specialist in appearance and as a person, or at least does not evoke negative associations, does not resemble someone with whom you do not want to meet. Personal sympathy is a strong base for a successful start in therapy.

A very important indicator is personal feelings after talking with a specialist or getting to know his blog cases. Contact another expert if you are uncomfortable for an obvious or non-obvious reason.

Checklist for choosing a psychologist

Before that, we examined in detail the characteristics of a worthy and dubious psychologist, indicators of professionalism at the consultation, and before the meeting – there is a lot of information. Therefore, for convenience, we have identified the main questions that you need to rely on when looking for an expert – and answers from a worthy and dubious specialist:

Check if the specialist has met with a request similar to yours. Decide whether you are satisfied with the price of his consultations and conditions (in person or online, individually or with groups).

How to choose the best psychologist

Information about the expert can be found in his profile/questionnaire. If that’s not enough, write to him. Specify something else if it is fundamentally important for you, and your comfort during the sessions depends on it. For example, ask about his religion. If you think that this way, you will quickly come to an understanding. In other cases, the worldview of the psychologist does not matter – in therapy, he will not broadcast his values, beliefs, and views.

The best psychologist for you is the one who has already dealt with your problem.

How to choose a psychologist for a relative or friend

Be guided by the same principles as when choosing a specialist for yourself, but do not forget to consider the situation’s specifics. So you will understand what kind of psychologist you need.

For example, if you are looking for an expert for a teenager, look for someone who specializes in working with this age group and has already experienced the problem in question.

You can find the contact of a suitable specialist and share it with a loved one, but you cannot force him to accept help. This is not something you are in charge of.

If your friend is ready to accept the help of a psychologist, then you can buy a gift certificate from us and give it to him.

Who can recommend a good psychologist

When people want to buy something, the first thing they do is seek advice from friends or look at reviews on the Internet. However, we do not recommend patrolling forums on the topic “Advise a good psychologist online or in person.” Imagine that a friend or a random person on the Internet suggested the contact of his depression expert. But will he save you from problems in family life?

Once acquaintances disappear, then we turn to the Internet. You type in Google or Yandex: “I want/look for a good psychologist inexpensive/expensive.” And see what services, who and where offers. Then you go on a journey through blogs and websites. But where is the guarantee that the document on education on the expert’s page will not turn out to be fake, the reviews will not be custom-made, and the cases will not be fictitious? 

Where then to find a good psychologist? You can look for a specialist in the Alter service. We check education, specialization, work direction, empathy level, and adherence to ethical principles. Only 21% of candidates pass our selection. By ordering consultation with a specialist from us, you choose a professional. The minimum cost of a session within the service framework is 25$; the average price is 45$. 

We are not only responsible for the quality of services but also select a specialist for free specifically for your request.

How to choose the best psychologist

Frequently asked questions about choosing a psychologist.

We answer frequent questions about choosing a specialist – we get rid of doubts.

“Who can be a psychologist’s client?”

Any capable person. Children will need the consent of a parent or guardian. In some cases, sessions are held in the presence of parents.

“Can I bring more than one person to the consultation or include a second psychologist?”

According to the Code of Ethics, you can use a second psychologist without legal restrictions. And while the first expert has no right to interfere. 

The presence of strangers at the consultation must be discussed individually with the psychologist. It is essential to establish exactly what is being discussed. Is the problem affecting you and someone else? Or did you invite someone to support you? The latter is contrary to the principle of confidentiality – outsiders cannot be present at the consultation. But the support group can wait for you outside the office.

“Can I contact several psychologists at once?”

Yes, you can choose a couple of experts and approach them with one problem. This is especially convenient if you have the opportunity to visit the first free consultation. And then be guided by your feelings: which of the candidates is more pleasant to interact with, who meets the selection criteria that you are now familiar with?

“Is it worth considering a specialist without experience?”

According to a study from the American Psychological Association, a psychologist’s experience says little about the quality of their work. Many experts fall into the trap of being an expert, stop attending supervision, and stop paying attention to personal therapy. Due to this, people are more likely to commit errors. Beginners pay more attention to professional development, so therapy with them can be even more effective than with their experienced colleagues. In addition, consultations with young specialists are cheaper. 

In general, it’s worth considering, and it’s up to you to decide whether to go to him or not.

“How to properly frame a request, and what can be brought to a psychologist?”

You can sign up for a consultation with everything that bothers you, even if the request sounds like “Something is wrong with me.” Explain in your own words what is happening to you and what you want to change. This is sufficient to get you started.

“Why choose a psychologist when everyone can listen and provide advice? Even my friend can handle it.”

Psychologists do not give advice but recommend it. Advice is a personal opinion on how to proceed. The recommendation is professional guidance based on scientific knowledge. Let’s take an example.

When a friend advises you on something, he thinks about how he would act in such a situation. When a psychologist recommends, he thinks about your needs, capabilities, beliefs, and habits. He relies not on his personal experience but professional knowledge and skills. The task of a psychologist is to help you understand how you want to act; take responsibility, and develop independence. If during the consultation you are “taught life,” they give you personal advice or order what to do, run away from such a “pro.”

Why is it still necessary to choose a specialist? The success of therapy depends on developing a therapeutic alliance, a bond between client and therapist based on trust and empathy. Stop at the specialist with whom you are comfortable communicating. If you feel that the therapist is involved, accepts and understands you, and seeks to solve your problem, this is a good sign. A therapeutic alliance does not always form. If, even at 2-3 sessions, it is difficult for you to open up, think about changing a psychologist.

Why choose a psychologist if only I know what is most beneficial for me?

You’re right. Only you can determine your health. However, under the influence of trauma or other psychological problems, it can be difficult to understand oneself in difficult life circumstances. Then the help of a specialist will come in handy – he will guide you, help you understand yourself, and change your thinking, behavior, and life according to the guidelines.


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