Your therapist should be someone you feel comfortable with - someone you can trust; intellectually and emotionally. Research shows that over 50% of the healing process is determined by the relationship you build with your therapist. So when choosing a therapist, let yourself "shop around" and meet with a few therapists before making a commitment.
How do therapists build expertise?
Practice, practice and more practice - that's why therapy training programs require at least 1500 hours of training and clinical supervision. Before deciding on a therapist (or on a type of therapy) make sure you do your homework to ensure that you are searching for a qualified practitioner. Make sure to ask about your therapist's clinical experience and/or supervision.
How can I tell if my therapist has enough clinical experience and competence?
The first thing to check is whether your therapist has completed a qualified training program. There are five "types of therapists" that California recognizes: (i) counselors, (ii) social workers, (iii) therapists, (iv) psychologists and (v) psychiatrists. On this website, we loosely refer to all mental health practitioners as "therapists" - however, there is a difference between the official titles that your therapist may have acquired:
What is the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist?
Psychiatrists are specialized in psycho-pharmacology - they are able to prescribe medication. They may also provide talk therapy as part of their treatment. Psychologists are specialized in talk- therapy.
What are the different types of therapy? How do I know what's right for me?
There are many studies that show that the relationship between client and therapist plays a critical role in the healing process. So beyond finding a therapist that is qualified (i.e. one who has received adequate training) it is also especially important to find a therapist that you feel comfortable with. Ideally, your therapist is someone who shares a similar belief about change and wellness - they share a similar view about what causes and heals pain and suffering.
When searching for the right therapist, try to be prepared. Ask yourself what it is you are looking for. Write down a list of qualities you are searching for in a therapist. Include a few sentences about the challenges and difficulties you are facing in your life. Share this information with your therapist and take a moment to reflect on their response - does her/his attitude and approach match with what you are searching for? Can you imagine building a relationship (over time) with this person?
Finally, prepare yourself by becoming familiar with some of the main approaches to therapy (keep in mind that most therapists use an "eclectic approach" that combines a few of these approaches):
What is an "intern"?
An intern is a student who is completing his/her training at an internship. Interns are under the supervision of licensed therapists. They often provide services at a reduced rate.
What is an "associate"?
An associate is a therapist who has completed their degree but is still working on completing their supervised hours (around 3,000 in California) prior to taking a licensing exam. Associates are under the supervision of licensed therapists.
Does my therapist need to be licensed?
A therapist does not need to be licensed in order to practice in the state of California. If the therapist completes the training and academic requirements of their program and graduate, they are qualified to practice under the supervision of a licensed therapist. Pre-licensed therapists can work in employed or volunteer positions. However, pre-licensed therapists are unlikely to accept health insurance.
How about different types of healers (who are not therapists)?
Living in California means that you have access to many healers who are not trained in psychological/mental health techniques. Always enquire about training and certification. Keep in mind that some forms of alternative healing (such as energy healing or spiritual counseling) are well developed fields with training programs. Chaplaincy for example, can require up to 4 years of graduate study - in order to be equipped in religious counseling. Similarly, becoming a Reiki Master (energetic healing) can require just as many years of devoted practice. Be aware, some certificates (e.g. life coach certificates) can be purchased online with minimal training.
How much will therapy cost? What should I budget for?
It can be difficult to predict the cost of therapy because the length of treatment is uncertain. Some therapists focus on "brief-therapy" interventions which require approximately 10 weekly sessions. However, most therapeutic relationships last longer than that. Most clients attend therapy on a weekly basis, although some attend more or less frequently. In addition to these variations, the cost of therapy can range from $20-$200 per session. So how does one prepare and budget for therapy?
There are two main questions to ask yourself: 1) What financial assistance can I get from my insurance company? Will my insurance cover psychological treatment, and do they require a certain diagnosis? If so, who will be able to access my records and view these diagnoses? 2) How much am I willing to invest in order to heal and grow? Looking at my finances, what are the cutbacks that I am willing to make in order to invest in my personal development? What can I realistically afford on a monthly/weekly basis?
Does a Muslim therapist always include Islamic teachings in their practice?
Muslims are a diverse group of people with different cultural backgrounds and spiritual beliefs. Similarly, Muslim therapists have different ways of practicing and incorporating Islamic teachings. If your beliefs are an essential component of your life, be sure to bring this up with your therapist and ask how she/he might include it in the therapy process.
I'm a Muslim, do I need to go to a Muslim therapist?
From a therapeutic perspective, what you need is a qualified therapist who you feel comfortable with. If, in general, you are only comfortable speaking to Muslims, then you may want to start by finding a Muslim therapist. However, if you feel comfortable with people of various faiths and backgrounds, then your therapist's faith may not be a pre-requisite for therapy. Keep in mind that most therapists are trained to be open and sensitive to the client's cultural and religious beliefs. Whether you choose a Muslim or non-Muslim therapist, it's always important that your therapist asks about your religious/spiritual beliefs in a non-judgmental manner.