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Page Contents: Getting a Referral / Leaving a Message / The Telephone Interview / Shopping Around


MANY persons have written to me asking for advice on how to select a psychologist. The worst mistake you can make would be to get one referral and then start seeing that person—unless the referral comes from someone you trust. But if it comes from Aunt Sara’s neighbor’s manicurist, watch out.

So, unless you can identify someone with clearly demonstrated competence and who has the skills to work with your particular problem, you will have to “shop around.”

Begin by checking the Internet to get a few names of psychologists who are in your area. Read the psychologist’s web site to learn about his or her fees and area of practice. Then call several names and leave a message with each.

Leaving a Message

Leave a short message stating that you’re looking for a psychologist. Explain why you have chosen that particular psychologist (for example, because you like the psychologist’s field of practice or office location). Briefly describe your reason for seeking psychotherapy. Leave some good times to reach you over the next several days. Then sit back and wait. (If you call on a Friday afternoon, however, don’t expect a call back until the following week.)

The Telephone Interview

Once you get to speak with someone, remember that as a consumer you have the right to interview the psychologist thoroughly. You should begin by describing your reasons for seeking psychotherapy so that it can be determined if your needs fit with the psychologist’s practice. Following are some other issues about which you may want to inquire.

The psychologist’s fees

Current openings in the psychologist’s practice

The psychologist’s theories of practice

The psychologist’s specialties

The psychologist’s length of experience

The psychologist’s academic degrees

The psychologist’s training

The extent of the psychologist’s personal psychotherapy

Look for a breadth to the psychologist’s education and training. Also, be sure to evaluate the degree of honesty and candidness with which you are treated. You can really put the psychologist’s honesty and candidness to the test by asking about various personal and moral issues. Remember, unlike a physician or dentist, your psychologist’s personal values will have an influence—whether openly or unconsciously—on your own values. (For example, if you are trying to heal difficulties in your marriage and your psychologist has been divorced five times, you face the risk that your psychologist will be inclined to influence you to get a divorce.) Therefore, you may ask whether the psychologist is married or not, and why; whether the psychologist has any children or not, and why; whether the psychologist has been divorced or not, and why; what religion, if any, he or she practices, and why; and what sexual orientation he or she follows, and why. If you get defensive answers or a cold, clinical response, well, let’s just say you are being forewarned about how you will be treated when you have doubts or questions during the on-going psychotherapy itself.

Shopping Around

Unless you have been given a referral from a trusted source, or if you can find only one good candidate, select at least two candidates from your search who seem favorable and set up an appointment with each to discuss things in person. Ask any questions you did not ask over the telephone. But make it clear that you are “shopping around” and want to interview several candidates. Then let the psychologist take it from there. A competent psychologist will do his or her best to help you in that session and won’t feel at all uncomfortable in letting you walk away. After all, if he or she has done a good job, you might be back. You should, of course, expect to pay for that session because it really is a psychotherapy session.

If you have been able to locate several candidates, don’t jump to any conclusions about the first person you see. Someone might seem like the best psychotherapist in the world, but someone else further down your list of candidates might be even better. You never know, so see everyone on the list. And remember that this interview process, however long it takes, is really part of the process of getting help. You will learn many things about yourself just in this initial selection process.

After you’ve seen everyone, select the best pick of the lot. If you feel comfortable, you can continue for as long as you need.


If for any reason you do not feel comfortable with the psychotherapy, be sure to tell the psychologist exactly what you are experiencing. Quite often, psychotherapy provokes uncomfortable feelings, known as a transference reaction, and the whole point of treatment is to deal with these feelings in the treatment, not to run away from them.
Now, at this point, one of three things could happen. First, your talking about your feelings could deepen and enrich the treatment.
Second, after talking things over, you might both agree that you should see someone else; in that case, terminate psychotherapy politely and reconsider one of the candidates you have previously interviewed.
Third, the psychologist might get annoyed with you, and you might be left feeling very foolish. In that case, you may have stumbled across a psychotherapist who—to say it politely—is less than competent. So terminate psychotherapy politely, don’t look back, and reconsider one of the candidates you have previously interviewed.



Note that though I have referred throughout this page to “the psychologist,” the same suggestions can be applied to any other person performing psychotherapy.
For information about various types of practitioners,
such as Psychologist, LCSW, MFT, and Counselor,
and what all those letters mean,
see the page of this website called
Psychology: Clinical, or Counseling, or...?


For more information about the actual process of psychotherapy,
see the section of this website called
Questions and Answers About Psychotherapy.


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Additional Resources

Related pages within A Guide to Psychology and its Practice:

Consumer Rights and Office Policies
Legal Issues
The Limits of Psychology
Psychology: Clinical or Counseling or ...?
Questions and Answers about Psychotherapy
Reasons to Visit a Psychologist
Termination of Psychotherapy
Types of Psychological Treatment
INDEX of all subjects on this website
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FOR THE SAKE OF TRUTH this website about the practice of Clinical Psychology does not accept any advertising.

Therefore, if my work has been informative and helpful to you, please send a donation in appreciation, even if it’s only a few dollars, to help offset my costs in making this website available to everyone without advertising.

Gratitude is joy to the heart!


Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D.
San Francisco
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Psychology is a complex subject, and many issues are interrelated. And so, even though you may find a topic of interest on one particular page, an exploration of the other pages will deepen your understanding of the human mind and heart.

Psychological Practice
To Become a Psychologist
Choosing a Psychologist
Consumer Rights and Office Policies
Honesty in Psychological Treatment
Legal Issues
The Limits of Psychology
Managed Care and Insurance
Other Applications of Psychology
Psychology: Clinical and Counseling
Psychology and Psychiatry
Questions and Answers about

Termination of Psychotherapy
Types of Psychological Treatment
Clinical Issues
Becoming a Nonsmoker
Depression and Suicide
Diagnosis in Clinical Psychology
Dream Interpretation
Fear of Flying: Information
Hypnosis and “Negative” Hypnosis
Medical Factors Affecting Psychology
Medication Issues
Psychological Testing
Questions and Answers about

Reasons to Consult a Psychologist
Repressed Memories
The Psychology of “Stress”
Trauma and PTSD
Types of Psychological Treatment
The Unconscious
Social Issues
Adolescent Violence
Family Therapy
The Psychology of Terrorism
Sexuality and Love
Spirituality and Psychology
Spiritual Healing
Personality and Identity
Death—and the Seduction of Despair
Identity and Loneliness
Sexuality and Love
Trauma—and PTSD
Stress Management
Autogenics Training
Hypnosis and “Negative” Hypnosis
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
The Psychology of “Stress”
Systematic Desensitization
Fear of Flying
Aviation Links
Basic Principles of Aircraft Flight
Fear of Flying: Information
Fear of Flying: Treatment
Hypnosis and “Negative” Hypnosis
Systematic Desensitization
Autogenics Training
Becoming a Nonsmoker
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Questions and Answers about

Systematic Desensitization
Trauma Support Groups
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There is no advertising on this website.


Throughout this website, my goal is simply to help you realize that although life can be painful, unfair, and brutal, it doesn’t have to be misery.
The practice of good clinical psychology involves something—call it comfort—which does not mean sympathy or soothing, and it certainly doesn’t mean to have your pain “taken away.” It really means to be urged on to take up the cup of your destiny, with courage and honesty.







A Guide to Psychology and its Practice



Copyright © 1997-2021 Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D. All rights reserved.
San Francisco


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