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How to Choose a Therapist That Is Right for You

Acknowledging that you need help is one of the biggest and boldest steps that will pave the way for your recovery. Therapy makes a world of difference in the treatment of mental illnesses and substance use disorders. It plays a critical part in helping you understand the triggers that led you to use drugs or alcohol to cope, guiding you towards emotional recovery, and teaching you positive strategies to continue living a meaningful life while staying sober. 

However, finding the right therapist often requires time, effort, and sometimes involves a trial-and-error process. Nevertheless, it’s absolutely worth it. 

If you are considering therapy as part of an addiction treatment program for yourself or a loved one, then you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we share practical tips on how to choose a therapist that you can trust and comfortably work with to achieve true and lasting recovery.

What Is the Purpose of Therapy? 

Navigating the realm of mental health care can be confusing and overwhelming. To objectively decide how to choose a therapist that’s right for you, think about the primary reasons why you’re seeking treatment in the first place. What personal issues do you want to resolve? You’ll know that a therapist is right for you if they can help you fulfill your purpose of therapy: to overcome these challenges in the safest and healthiest way possible.

Here are some examples of why people seek therapy:

Types of Therapists

A male patient lying down on the couch during a psychotherapy session

Now that you know what you want to get out of therapy, do you go with an MD/DO, LCSW, Ph.D., PsyD, MFT, or counsellor? Understanding what sets each mental health expert apart from one another can make a huge difference when deciding on how to choose a therapist for your specific needs. 

Psychiatrists (MD/DO)

They are medical doctors specializing in treating mental illnesses, such as severe depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar mania, and substance use disorders. Aside from therapy, an addiction psychiatrist may use a pharmacological approach and prescribe antidepressants, antipsychotics, and other medications to help you manage and prevent relapse. 

Psychologists (PhD, PsyD)

These mental health professionals have extensive graduate training making them qualified to conduct behavioural therapies and psychological testing for cognitive and developmental disorders, such as dementia or attention-deficit disorder (ADD). Unlike psychiatrists, addiction psychologists focus more on therapeutic approaches to substance use disorders, like cognitive behavioural therapy, motivational interviewing, mindfulness-based relapse prevention, and 12-step facilitation treatment.

Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW)

These mental health experts can work in several settings, providing emotional support, mental health evaluations, therapy, and case management services. Licensed clinical social workers must possess a master’s degree and advanced training in psychotherapy. They are well versed in the processes surrounding the social services system. Mental health and substance abuse social workers usually work in residential treatment facilities, hospital settings, and social services organizations.

Marital and Family Therapists (MFTs)

MFTs are mental health professionals who have specialized training in psychotherapy and family systems. They usually have a master’s or doctorate degree and are qualified to diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders within the context of relationships, marriage, and family systems. Other mental health experts can also offer marriage counselling or family therapy services if they undergo special training.

Addiction Counsellors 

Also known as substance abuse counsellors, addiction counsellors work directly with patients struggling with substance abuse or behavioural addiction. Unlike therapists who have a Ph.D. in psychology or psychiatry, addiction counsellors typically have master’s degrees in social work or psychology or a combination of relevant educational background, years of experience, and licenses that qualify them for treatment work.

Treatment Specialities

Narrow down your search to therapists who specialize in the particular issue that you are seeking treatment for. If you are searching for a therapist for addiction and concurrent disorders, check if they have experience in offering the following outpatient treatments recommended by the National Institute on Drug Abuse:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
  • Exposure and Response Therapy (ERT)
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
  • Multidimensional Family Therapy (MDFT)

How to Find the Right Therapist: Questions to Ask Yourself After the Initial Appointment 

A male patient asking his addiction therapist some questions

Most therapists offer a free consultation to give patients a no-commitment opportunity to determine whether they’re a good fit for each other. During your first meeting, know that it’s normal to feel anxious or intimidated. It’s your therapist’s job to make you feel at ease and establish a connection. 

Here are some guide questions to keep in mind:

  1. Do I feel comfortable opening up to my therapist? 
  2. Is my therapist an empathic listener and non-judgmental?
  3. Do they have the necessary professional experience and credentials to handle my case?
  4. What specific types of therapy do they offer, and how can they help me?
  5. Can I afford the treatment fees? 
  6. Does my OHIP insurance cover this therapist?
  7. Do they offer weekend or evening appointments to accommodate my work or school schedule?
  8. Can they customize their treatment plan according to my unique needs?
  9. What do former patients say about them? Did they have a positive experience? If not, what issues did they encounter, and could it possibly apply to me as well?

If you’ve already chosen a therapist but suddenly feel uncomfortable at any point during treatment, don’t think twice about speaking out and letting your concern be heard. Maintaining open communication is essential in making it work. Nonetheless, do not feel guilty about changing your therapist if you feel strongly about it. Move on and continue your search until you find the right therapist who can make you feel safe, accepted, and supported.

Counselling and Therapy by Freedom From Addiction

Freedom From Addiction recognizes the importance of therapy in our patient’s emotional healing and recovery. Our research-based treatments include individual counselling and group-based therapy for different addiction programs and concurrent disorders. 

Learn more about Group Therapy vs. Individual Therapy here. 

We take pride in our highly qualified team of mental health professionals and addiction counsellors who consistently provide our clients with a healthy environment while they are on the road to recovery.

If you have detailed questions on how to choose a therapist for addiction recovery or how to find a therapist near you in the Greater Toronto Area, our treatment consultants are available 24/7. Contact us today!


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