How to Choose a Therapist
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Choosing a Therapist

There are a many things to consider when choosing a therapist. Some practical issues are location, cost, and what insurance the therapist accepts. Other issues include the therapist's background, training, and the way he or she works with people.

Your therapist should explain the therapy, how long treatment is expected to last, and how to tell if it is working. The information below can help you choose a therapist who is right for you.

Things to Consider

  • Make sure the provider has experience treating people who have experienced a trauma.

  • Try to find a provider who specializes in evidence-based medications for PTSD or effective psychotherapy for PTSD (e.g., cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT); Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT); prolonged exposure therapy (PE); or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)).

  • Find out what type(s) of insurance the provider accepts and what you will have to pay (out-of-pocket costs) for care.

First Steps

  • Contact your family doctor to ask for a recommendation. You can also ask friends and family if they can recommend someone.

  • If you have health insurance, call to find out which mental health providers your insurance company will pay for. Your insurance company may require that you choose a provider from among a list they maintain.

Questions to ask before therapy

Here is a list of questions you may want to ask a possible therapist:

  • What is your education? Are you licensed? How many years have you been practicing?

  • What are your special areas of practice?

  • Have you ever worked with people who have been through trauma? Do you have any special training in PTSD treatment?

  • What kinds of PTSD treatments do you use? Have they been proven effective for dealing with my kind of problem or issue? How much therapy would you recommend?

  • Do you prescribe medications?

  • What are your fees? (Fees are usually based on a 45-minute to 50-minute session.) Do you have any discounted fees?

  • What types of insurance do you accept? Do you file insurance claims? Do you contract with any managed care organizations? Do you accept Medicare or Medicaid insurance?

These questions are just guidelines. In the end, your choice of a therapist will be based on many factors. Think about your comfort with the person as well as his or her qualifications and experience treating PTSD. And keep in mind the importance of evidence-based, trauma-focused treatments like Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), Prolonged Exposure (PE), and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).

Find a Provider

These resources can help you locate a therapist, counselor, or mental health provider who is right for you. Note: These resources can be used by anyone, but if you are a Veteran, also see the "Help for Veterans" section below.

Help for Veterans

  • All VA Medical Centers and many VA clinics provide PTSD care.

  • Some VA centers have specialty programs for PTSD. Use the VA PTSD Program Locator to find a VA PTSD program.

  • Vet Centers provide readjustment counseling to Veterans and their families after war. Find a Vet Center near you.

  • VA Medical Centers and Vet Centers are also listed in the phone book. In the Government pages, look under "United States Government Offices." Then look for "Veterans Affairs, Dept of." In that section, look under "Medical Care" and "Vet Centers - Counseling and Guidance."

Paying for therapy

If you have health insurance, check to see what mental health services are covered. Medicare, Medicaid, and most major health plans typically cover a certain number of mental health counseling sessions per year. Note that you may have a small additional amount you will have to pay, called a co-payment (or co-pay). Call your insurance company to see what they cover so you won't be surprised by a big bill.

If you don't have health insurance that will cover your therapy, you may still be able to get counseling, even if you can't afford to pay full price. Many community mental health centers have sliding scales that base your fee on what you are able to pay.

Making your therapy a good "fit"

In PTSD treatment, or any mental health therapy, you work together with your therapist to get better. A good "fit" between a therapist and a patient can make a difference. You will want to choose a therapist you are comfortable with so that you can get better. This means you should feel like you can ask questions that help you understand treatment and your progress in therapy.

The most effective PTSD treatments are time-limited, usually lasting 10-12 weeks. If you are not getting better or if you feel your therapist is not a good fit for you, look for someone else to work with. Sometimes it takes a few tries to find just the right therapist. This is not unusual and your therapist should be understanding. If you are getting treatment at the VA, a patient advocate can help you if this issue arises.

Sources: National Center for PTSD

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