Finding a Therapist


The process of finding a therapist doesn't have to be anxiety producing. Sometimes when people decide they would benefit from seeing a therapist, it is because they are experiencing significant upset or distress in some area of their lives. It is not the ideal moment to be dealing with the stress involved in finding someone with whom they feel safe to ask for help. All sorts of people may hold themselves out as competent professionals to assist with emotional issues, but, just as in any field, your discrimination is critical. 


An engaging personality is no guarantee of an ethical therapist with a strong set of skills. A therapist who is perfect for one 

person may not be a good fit for the next. 


By considering these important facts, you can increase your chances of finding a therapist who feels like a good fit and will help you reach your therapeutic goals in a way that is satisfactory to you. 


Word of mouth is a good starting place. If someone you know and respect has had success with a particular therapist, it is 

possible that you might too. Referrals from other professionals are a good bet. Doctors, lawyers, massage therapists, clergy, and teachers often hear about the work of therapists and can assist in your search.

A professional who participates in local professional organizations is demonstrating a commitment to uphold high standards of care. For example, marriage and family therapists in Missouri are likely to be members of the Missouri Association for Marriage and Family Therapists (MOAMFT). Some therapist are licensed to practice in multiple states and may hold professional memberships in each state as well as in the national organization, American Association for Marriage and Family Therapists (AAMFT). Likewise, complaints or disciplinary actions for legal or ethical violations made by therapist are publicly listed there. Check online with the state's regulatory board to see if the therapist is licensed and if there have been any disciplinary action taken against him or her. 


Interviewing Potential Therapists

Interview more than one possible therapist, and be wary of any therapist who discourages this idea. No one therapist is ideal for everyone.Tell the therapist what you want from therapy. Did the therapist hear you and respond in a compassionate way?

You may inquire as to the potential therapist's education, training, licensure status, and membership in a professional organization. You may ask what type of therapy is utilized by the therapist. No single approach to therapy has been proven more effective than any other, and hundreds of approaches have been developed. You can often get relief fairly quickly with short-term treatment for a recently developed problem or a part of the problem. Notice how you feel in the presence of the therapist. Is this someone you can imagine seeing repeatedly and feeling respected by and comfortable with? Does the therapist pay attention to you? Is he or she too distant? Too cold? Too effusive? Sufficiently empathic? Too sure of herself or himself? Is she or he defensive about your questions? Does the office have an atmosphere that is appealing to you? Regardless of a therapist's training or philosophy, the therapist/client relationship is largely what determines whether you will think the therapy will be effective or not. Is the therapist experienced in working with issues similar to yours? While it is certainly not necessary for a therapist to have personally experienced whatever you are experiencing, you need some reassurance that your needs are not beyond the therapist's scope of competence.


What You Can Expect from a Therapist

Therapists have a duty to tell you before you begin treatment how much the service will cost. Fees vary according to expertise, years of experience, and market factors, including whether the therapy is offered through an agency or in private practice, and whether insurance is involved.Often therapists offer treatment agreements that address such issues as what you can expect from therapy, how to get help in emergency situations, and the limits of confidentiality. Ask to see a copy of the therapist's agreement for services. An ethical therapist will uphold clear professional boundaries. Generally speaking, therapy is best served when the therapist does not have more than one kind of relationship with a client. For example, therapists do not treat their own relatives, close friends, or people with whom they have another personal, professional, or business relationship. Under no circumstances is it appropriate for a therapist to have a romantic relationship with a client. Therapy never includes sex! 


Ask Questions After You Start Therapy

As an informed consumer, you have a right to ask the therapist questions you may develop throughout your treatment about the process of therapy. 


Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists

Also known simply as MFTs or LMFTs, licensed marriage and family therapists are clinicians with a minimum of a master's degree in psychology, clinical psychology, counseling psychology, or marital & family therapy. MFTs have met the stringent education and training requirements that qualify them for marriage and family therapist licensure. They are trained to understand family systems, and provide counseling and psychotherapy from a variety of therapeutic orientations. Marriage and Family Therapists practice early crisis intervention and brief, focused psychotherapy to resolve problems or reduce symptoms in the shortest time possible. They also have the expertise and skills to work with persons where more intensive, long term treatment is necessary to cure or relieve mental or emotional conditions. The law requires that anyone independently providing professional services to diagnose and treat mental disorders must be licensed. All licensed clinicians have passed rigorous state exams and are required to regularly complete continuing education.


About MFT Credentials

Marriage and family therapists earn their licenses through a rigorous education, training, and licensing process similar to other mental health profession. A competent marriage and family therapist will be licensed by the state board that regulates mental healthcare providers. A competent therapist will treat patients within the scope of their license and competence and will refer patients to other qualified practitioners when appropriate. MFTs are expected to be familiar with and abide by the Ethical Standards for Marriage and Family Therapists and applicable state laws and regulations governing the conduct of licensed marriage and family therapists.



Before obtaining the MFT license, marriage and family therapists must first complete a two-year masters or doctoral degree program accredited by a regionally accepted body. The law specifies an integrated course of study that includes relationship individual focus, and marital and family systems approaches to treatment, developmental stage issues and life events from infancy to old age, and a variety of approaches to the treatment of all people, of all ages.



Applicants for the license must also complete 3,000 hours of supervised experience providing therapy to diverse populations. Many training programs require the student to complete a portion of the hours during the degree program to integrate their coursework with insights born of practical experience and apply the coursework while it is being learned. An emphasis of the marriage and family therapist's training is diagnosis and treatment of psychopathology from a family systems and relationship perspective. The MFT's integrated course of study includes general training in a variety of other theoretical frameworks and in the use of various psychotherapeutic techniques. Students also have specific training in alcoholism and chemical dependency issues, human sexuality, lifespan development and aging, child abuse detection and treatment, psychopharmacology, domestic violence, psychological testing, amongst other types of training. They may also obtain experience in administering and evaluating psychological tests.