Dan Trathen DMin, PhD Clinical Psychologist & Certified Business & Life Coach

How To Find A Therapist

How do I find a Counselor or Therapist?

When you or I need outside help with a personal problem what do we look for and where do we find the right person? The most important advice is to select someone who referred by a friend who has previous experience with therapist or referred by an organization you trust. It is important to find a good fit with a professional that has good credentials and experience. Let me discuss some options of professionals and their training to assist you in your selection process before discussing the ingredients of effective outcomes in therapy.

Types of Therapists

The most common Therapists in the United States are Psychologists, Marriage and Family Therapists, Social Workers, and Professional Counselors. Each state has its own licensing laws and standards that govern each type of professional. While all licensed counselors can help most people with problems of living, each group has its own special training in specific areas that makes them more qualified for certain types of issues. In addition, each individual therapist has a unique set of experiences that makes him or her uniquely qualified to work with certain kinds of issues.

Psychologists generally have a Ph.D. or Psy.D. degree in psychology from an accredited school. They must complete a rigorous internship period and pass a state licensing exam. In addition to their undergraduate college degree, most psychologists spend five to seven years in education and training. They study scientific methods and the science of human behavior, building skills for working with people who have real life problems.

Social Workers have a BSW or MSW from an accredited school. They must have completed an MSW and a supervised internship before passing a state licensing exam. (Each state has its own licensing regulations.) The social work profession focuses on individual happiness and well-being in a social context. It is also concerned with the well-being of the society that surrounds the individual. Social workers are trained to pay attention to the environmental forces that may contribute to the individual’s life problems.

Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs) generally have a master’s degree in psychology, counseling, or a related subject from an accredited school. In most states, they must complete a supervised internship period and pass a state licensing exam. Marriage and family therapists are trained to work with people, focusing on how they relate to others. While they often work with an individual client, the focus of treatment is the set of relationships that surround the client and how those relationships impact the client. MFTs are trained in psychotherapy and family systems. They are licensed to diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders within the context of marriage, couples, and family systems. They work in a variety of settings with individuals, couples, families, children and adolescents, providing support and a fresh viewpoint as people struggle with life’s challenges.

Licensed Counselors have a master’s degree in psychology or a related subject from an accredited school. In most states, they must complete a supervised internship period and pass a state licensing exam.

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What are the ingredients for effective outcomes in therapy?

Based on multiple analyses of research in counseling and psychotherapy, Lambert and colleagues (Asay & Lambert, 1999; Lambert & Ogles, 2004) concluded that effective outcomes result primarily from the operation of four “common factors” of change. These factors, and their percentage of contribution to successful outcomes, are as follows:

  • Client factors (accounting for 40% of change): Everything that the client brings to counseling—strengths, interests, perceptions, values, social supports, resilience, and other resources
  • Relationship factors (accounting for 30% of change): The client’s experience of respect, collaboration, acceptance, and validation from the counselor. It also includes the therapists personality, “good fit” feelings of the client regarding the therapist’s experience, age, gender, ethnicity, faith and depending on the clients whether the therapist is single or married.
  • The Expectancy or Hope factors (accounting for 15% of change): The client’s positive expectancy and anticipation of positive change.
  • Model/Technique factors (accounting for 15% of change): The counselor’s theoretical model or orientation and intervention techniques or what they do in therapy.


Each group of therapists has strict ethical guidelines governing privacy and confidentiality. Clients of licensed counselors can expect that discussions will be kept confidential, except as otherwise required or permitted by law. Examples of times when confidentiality must be broken are when child abuse has occurred or where the client threatens violence against themselves or another person. When you are looking for a mental health professional to help you address your issues, it is very important to ask about a therapist’s qualifications to treat your specific concerns. Please be aware that each state has its own set of additional guidelines for confidentiality so it is best to check this out with your therapist before making an appointment.