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How to Find a Mental Health Care Provider You Trust

More than 100 million Americans will experience serious problems in relationships, become depressed or develop anxiety at some point in their lives, reveals Larry E. Beautler, Bruce Bongar, and Joel N. Shurkin in A Consumer’s Guide to Psychotherapy: A Complete Guide to Choosing the Therapist and Treatment That’s Right for You.  If you are faced with a crisis, how can you find a reputable mental health care provider with the expertise you need and that you can trust.

Finding a trustworthy, reputable therapist

Most mental health care professionals adhere to ethical guidelines. But as with any field, there are always exceptions. So know how to screen.

Begin your search by asking family or friends for recommendations or obtain a referral from your primary care doctor. You can also contact area clinics for recommendations or consult an online directory. Phone three or four therapists and ask about their credentials, policies and treatment methods. The following are helpful questions to ask:

  • What are your areas of expertise?
  • How much experience do you have with my particular issues?
  • Are you licensed or certified by the state?
  • Has your license ever been suspended or revoked? If so, can you tell me about the situation?
  • What are your professional affiliations?
  • What forms of treatment and therapy do you provide? What evidence is there to support its effectiveness? Is there controversy among mental health care professionals regarding this treatment?
  • What are your fees? Do you accept my insurance or work on a sliding scale?

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If you can’t get answers to these basic questions over the phone, look elsewhere. Even if you’re satisfied with the therapist’s responses, it may be a good idea to check with your state-licensing department to verify the license status and to make sure no actions have been taken against the therapist.

Evidence-based practice

Once you begin therapy, and as a consumer, do your research to ensure the validity of your diagnosis or form of therapy or treatment. If you discover contradictions from reputable sources, discuss it with your therapist. It may be a simple misunderstanding or data of which your therapist was unaware. If your therapist rejects the information, ask why. Though rare, unethical therapists have been known to misdiagnose for financial gain. More common, those with questionable practices may recommend unnecessary, inappropriate, outdated or unproven treatments. 

Mental health care ethics

There are specific rules set by state licensing divisions, as well as the American Psychological Association and other mental health associations, that providers must follow. Be aware that mental health care providers may not:

  • Disclose information about you without prior written consent or even verify that you are being seen by the therapist except under certain situations, such as when child abuse is reported.
  • Suggest that you do something that is undeniably harmful, immoral or illegal.
  • Treat you for or offer services that are outside his or her area of expertise.
  • Offer experimental or unproven therapies without informing you of such.
  • Make sexual advances whether you approve of them or not.
  • Treat you if you have any kind of relationship with the therapist outside of therapy.
  • Degrade you because of your values or problems or pressure you to change them.

Handling ethics violations and negligence

If you feel your rights have been violated or your therapist has treated you negligently, there are several options. If the violations are minor, you might want to discuss the problem with your therapist. You can also seek a second opinion to determine whether it’s a misunderstanding or a valid complaint.

If your complaint seems valid and is severe enough,  file a formal complaint with the appropriate ethics committee or with the state licensing or certification board. This is an essential step if there’s a concern that someone else might be harmed by the therapist’s practices.

Remember, though, most people have positive experiences with their therapist. Being aware of unforeseen problems and taking precautionary steps reduces the risk of a negative experience.

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