How does one find a psychologist? Not only an effective one, but one who truly cares and connects with you?
I recently wrestled with this question as I helped a family member find a psychologist for their care. Although I myself am a clinical psychologist, the experience on this other end of things was rather eye opening. I was surprised to learn that many psychologists in private practice can and do accept insurance and that they were sometimes of a similar quality of the ones who charged more. In other words, price charged did not necessarily predict quality, and the effectiveness of the practicing psychologist seemed to be based on the particular individual.
I was also surprised to discover how difficult to find a provider who cared — and how much it meant to finally find one who truly did and what a difference it made in our lives.
With that, I’ve decided to write a guide based on my professional and personal experiences as a clinical psychologist as to how to find the right psychologist for you.
Develop an Understanding of What You are Looking For
At the start of your search, it can help to reflect on the particular issues you are currently struggling with. This can inform the type of psychologist you are looking for, including what treatments they may specialize in.
For example, if you are struggling with feelings of sadness or hopelessness, try looking for a psychologist with clinical interest or specialization in working with patients struggling with similar symptoms, such as depression.
Once you understand what your needs are, it can help to develop an understanding of psychological treatment options and the current evidence-base underlying them. It can be tough to understand what’s out there, but fortunately, there are websites that psychologists committed to high quality treatments have developed, to help consumers understand their options.
For example, the Society of Clinical Psychology, has developed this helpful resource on Effective Treatments for Psychological Conditions describing research evidence for psychological treatments. If you click on ‘Browse Diagnoses’, and then ‘Depression’, you’ll see that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is one of the leading treatments for depression.
If you are looking for a psychologist for your child, find a psychologist with focused training and expertise in working with children. Clinical Child Psychologists often have years of specialized experience in working with children, parents, and the family system.
This information on treatment approaches can help inform your search for a therapist, as you would now understand that you are looking for a clinician who specializes in CBT for Depression, or a child psychologist who specializes in these domains.
Here, it’s important to note that this information isn’t the only factor involved in finding a clinician — instead, it’s just one initial piece of the puzzle.
2. Consider What Your Preferences Are
Would you prefer working with a male or female psychologist?
Are you open to cash only practices or do you prefer to go to providers who accept your insurance?
How far are you willing to drive to see your therapist?
What setting do you prefer? A community clinic, hospital, or independent practice?
These factors all inform your search and will help you identify potential clinicians to work with.
If cost is an issue, are you willing to seek care from predoctoral clinicians currently in training? These predoctoral clinicians are often supervised by the clinicians with years of experience, a passion for mental health care, and a commitment to their work and training the next generation of psychologists. In addition, it is also a source of highly affordable psychological testing and evaluation services.
Some local training clinics in the Washington DC metropolitan area include:
The University of Maryland Psychology Clinic in College Park, MD
George Mason University Center for Psychological Services in Fairfax, VA
American University Psychotherapy Training Clinic in Washington, DC
3. Begin Developing a List of Potential Licensed Clinicians. Ask around.
Do you have any health care providers that you currently respect and enjoy seeing, whose care seems comprehensive and genuine? If so, ask them if there are any psychologists they would recommend. Often times, providers in the same community know of other providers who are well known for their clinical skill and effectiveness.
You can also ask family members and friends for any potential referrals. This is a great method as you can get their firsthand experience and perspective, which can be invaluable in your search.
4. Search Online for Clinicians in Your Community
There are a number of websites online where you can search through listings of psychologists in your area and region. Using your understanding of your goals for therapy (e.g., current symptoms, available evidence-based treatments), and preferences (e.g., payment, child vs adult specialization, distance from your home), you can search through the following websites.
There are so many therapists that it can be overwhelming to look through directories. But as you look through, try looking at their personal statements to see if you connect with it, or to look at their education, training, and work experiences, as these would deeply inform their therapeutic approach and style.
Below, I have listed national websites of providers, as well as ones specific to the Northern Virginia region.
It’s important to note that these directories often do not lists psychologists who work in hospitals and who see patients on an outpatient psychology basis. The care at these centers is often covered by insurance, and can be highly evidence-based and state-of-the-art, with specialty clinics. Many of these clinicians are highly dedicated to their work and to their patients, training top psychologists around the country. Check out the below links if you are interested in pursuing care through this route.
If you are interested in using your insurance to pay for therapy, you can search through insurance databases and cross reference with information from the directories listed above.
5. Contact Potential Therapists
Finding a psychologist to work with takes time. Compatibility is important and provides the foundation for therapy, so it is natural to spend time speaking and meeting with different therapists.
Sometimes you can call a therapist and get a sense of how you might like working with them on the phone. During this time, you can ask them if they use evidence-based therapies, and what their policies for fees and scheduling are, and if they are accepting new patients.
6. Meet Your Therapist
If you enjoyed speaking with a psychologist over the phone, schedule a time to meet with them. Often the first session is a time when you both are getting to know each other. The psychologist will likely ask you questions to get a better understanding of what brings you to therapy. Based on their assessment, they will be able to determine whether they can help you or not, and help you develop goals for therapy together.
Above all, finding a therapist is a highly personal process. Finding a match is dependent on so many factors, including style, personality, values, preferences. This is also where the magic and art of therapy come in. Because at the end of the day, therapy is so much more than a manual, a given approach, or educational background. It’s a relationship. It’s an alliance. It’s a partnership. One that can make all the difference in helping to support you or your child through challenges and difficult times to hope again.
So good luck on your search! If you have any additional thoughts or ideas on helpful ways to find the right psychologist, please comment below. I’d love to hear from you!
cognitive behavioral therapy (cbt) in mclean, falls church, arlington, and vienna
Victoria Chialy Smith, PhD is a licensed clinical psychologist providing individual therapy to children, teens, and adults. Our practice provides Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), mindfulness based therapies, and other premier evidence-based treatments, and serves the Falls Church, McLean, Great Falls, Vienna, Arlington, Alexandria, and the greater Washington DC region. Call, email, or schedule an appointment with us online today. We’re happy to help!