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How to Pick a Therapist for PTSD

Finding a therapist is almost as hard as finding a doctor. Except most people will see their therapist much more often. Therefore, finding the right combination of personality, skill, and affordability can seem impossible. Keep the following tips in mind when you pick a therapist for PTSD.

Ask About Certifications and Experience

A quick glance at Psychology Today or Therapy Den shows that therapists often have a loose definition of the word “specialty.” Narrowing your search to people who indicate they specialize in trauma will often result in search returns for therapists who simply selected every problem there was. If you manage to find a therapist who lists 2-3 specialties, you know these are likely true specialties.

Nevertheless, when you see a large list of specialties, ask about a therapist’s experience and certifications. These will give you more of a true idea of their specialties. For example, a therapist who is certified in a specific trauma treatment modality, such as EMDR, likely truly specializes in trauma. Other therapists might have more generic trauma treatment certifications. However, keep in mind that no matter what certifications a person has, ultimately, these are just a piece of paper. Some people have a certification and do not apply the skills they learned at all.

Experience is another important area to ask about. Even if someone has certifications in an area, if they do not actually have the experience in treating it, they may lack the proficiency to do it competently. This lack of experience puts you at risk of being hurt further. Some clients also prefer to have a therapist who has first hand experience with trauma. This is something to consider for yourself and ask about if appropriate.

Learn About Their Counseling Style

Use the consultation and their website to get an idea for how they handle treatment. Trauma treatment isn’t about getting in there and rehashing all the memories so you can feel better. In fact, there are many times where that isn’t even necessary. Instead, the therapist should teach you how to regulate your nervous system so that you can face every day challenges without feeling triggered. If, ultimately, it’s necessary to rehash those memories, it can be done, but within a framework in which you learn how to relax your body.

Consider Your Comfort With The Therapist

The most important aspect of therapy is the relationship between you and your therapist. Therefore, it is essential to pick a therapist with whom you can develop a trustful relationship. This is where a consultation can be really helpful. Do you feel comfortable with the therapist?

If you are the type of person that typically feels self-conscious with people, you might find you don’t feel really comfortable with any therapists you consult with. While this might be a sign that none of them are a good fit, it might also be a sign that its something you will want to work on in therapy. You might choose, in this case, to pick a therapist that feels less uncomfortable than the others.

Ask About Hot Button Issues for You

If you know that there are certain issues that you want to work on during therapy, ask a potential therapist how they might handle those things. For example, if you struggle with suicidal thoughts or self harm, ask your therapist how they might handle a client who tells them they were thinking of suicide. If it is important to you that you have either a liberal or conservative therapist, ask your therapist what their political views are. Some therapists will answer this question for you. Others won’t, and you can also factor that into your decision.

Red Flags When You Pick a Therapist

There are several red flags you should watch for when selecting a therapist.

  • Therapists who specialize in everything. As we mentioned before, many therapists will choose any possible options when setting up profiles in therapy directories. This helps them to increase visibility. But it is confusing and doesn’t give a real picture of who they work with.
  • Therapists who say they work with trauma but won’t work with “borderline” clients. Unfortunately, many clients choose to label symptoms of CPTSD as borderline personality disorder. They see these adaptive behaviors as problematic, and somehow, they place them outside the realm of trauma.
  • Therapists who make you feel bad for asking questions during the consultation. This is a good sign that the therapist will not feel comfortable with you asking questions during therapy itself. You should always feel comfortable asking questions of your therapist during every phase of therapy.
  • Therapists who will not offer a consultation. This tells me one of two things. A therapist’s schedule is too full and you’re going to have a hard time scheduling an appointment. Or they believe they are a good fit for everyone.
  • Therapists who don’t believe the relationship is the most important aspect of counseling. If a potential therapist talks about a particular modality as the action for change (for example EMDR) this is a red flag. It is the relationship with the therapist that is the biggest predictor of success in the therapy relationship. In fact, it doesn’t even matter whether you’re doing EMDR, CPT, or any other kind of therapy. The relationship is the healing factor.


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