“Shrinking” and Shrinks: Choosing a Therapist


Dr. Clifford N. Lazarus


Hilda was in the market for a therapist. She knew that there are many different treatment approaches and many different kinds of therapists. “How do I know what’s best for me?” she asked. “Shouldn’t I have my medical doctor recommend somebody? Or do I just go see the guy my neighbor was going to?”


Caveat emptor ” let the buyer beware! Choosing a therapist can be a difficult and even dangerous task. Here are some useful tips for the modern mental health consumer.

There are a staggering number of psychotherapies and psychotherapists: no fewer than 500, according to a recent survey. Not only does the psychotherapeutic marketplace offer a bewildering array of therapies and therapists, but finding one’s way through the maze-like corridors of the mental health system is difficult and often confusing. Because all therapies and therapists are not alike, people can end up in the care of unskilled and inadequately trained individuals. They not only may not receive the help they need, they may even be damaged further by the “treatment.”

But what is the consumer to do? Ask a friend? A family doctor? Consult the Yellow Pages? In our view, the first step is to:

• establish that the therapist is a licensed mental health provider.

This can be done by contacting your state’s Department of Law and Public Safety ~ Division of Consumer Affairs, or by simply asking the therapist directly.

We strongly recommend interviewing the prospective therapist by phone to ask questions about her or his training and experience, theoretical approach, areas of expertise, fees, insurance billing, and other issues that seem appropriate. Any therapist who won’t agree to a five’ to ten minute introductory discussion over the phone may be too rigid or too busy to provide quality service and we recommend continuing to shop around.

When you meet with a therapist, determine whether he or she:

• is warm, accepting, and nonjudgmental,

• provides feedback and answers questions directly,

• seems flexible with time and scheduling,

• is interested in solving current problems and not just concerned with exploring and understanding the past.

It is most important to emerge with a positive feeling of hope after meeting with a therapist. If your morale is lowered rather than raised, we recommend that you look elsewhere.

The way you and your therapist relate to and react to one another is crucial. If there is not good rapport, if you feel that you cannot trust your therapist, if you don’t have full confidence in his or her abilities, or if you don’t begin to gain hope that you will feel better, look elsewhere. It is your happiness and well-being that are at stake.


Dr. Clifford N. Lazarus is a licensed psychologist, Co-founder and Clinical Director of The Lazarus Institute. In addition to his general psychotherapy practice, Dr. Clifford Lazarus specializes in health and neuropsychology.

Dr. Clifford Lazarus received his B.A., M.S., and Ph.D. in psychology from Rutgers University where he was a Henry Rutgers Research Scholar.  Seen here are excerpts from one of his books, The 60-Second Shrink – 101 Strategies For Staying Sane In a Crazy World, a book, he co-authored with his father “One of the ten most influential psychotherapists in America”  Arnold A. Lazarus, Ph.D.  For more details on Dr. Clifford Lazarus visit this link to The Lazarus Institute.  Or visit his page here on friendlysuggestions.com.

Books available at Amazon by Arnold and Clifford Lazarus

Direct links to two highly recommended books by Dr. Clifford Lazarus and Dr. Arnold A. Lazarus:

The 60-Second Shrink: 101 Strategies for Staying Sane in a Crazy World 

Don’t Believe It for a Minute!: Forty Toxic Ideas That Are Driving You Crazy

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