How to Choose a Therapist

By Lindsey Hall and Leigh Cohn

Most bulimics should consider professional therapy. First and foremost, find someone who specializes in eating disorders. These are complex and multidimensional problems, and particular knowledge and experience is needed—not all professionals are trained in this field.

The word "therapist" refers to psychiatrists, psychologists, marriage and family counselors, licensed clinical social workers, and other professionals who have training and experience doing individual psychotherapy integrating cognitive behavioral, motivational, family, psychodynamic or other therapies. Also some registered nurses, clergymen, life coaches, acupuncturists, chiropractors, or those who practice therapeutic touch can be helpful adjuncts to treatment. A multidisciplinary approach combines several professionals as a treatment team, of which dietitians and nutritionists are an essential part. If drug therapy is a consideration, a professional who is qualified to prescribe medication must be part of that team, as well.

Put in time and effort to find a therapist who is a good fit for you. Call their office and perhaps schedule an initial session or phone interview. Be prepared with a list of questions, and if you feel good about their answers and you communicated well with each other, that's a good indication. When you investigate therapy options, consider the following:

Questions for Choosing a Therapist

  • How much experience do they have treating eating disorders?
  • What is their clinical approach?
  • Do they focus on changing thought patterns and expressing feelings?
  • Do they give homework to keep clients engaged between sessions?
  • Do they work with other members of a treatment team?
  • How will the team members be coordinated, and who will be the leader or point person for questions?
  • What if you need medication?
  • How often will we have a session?
  • Will there be a support group?
  • How soon does the therapist expect to see results?
  • How long would they expect therapy to last?
  • What will the charges be, and will they accept your insurance?
  • Do they have a comfortable office?
  • Does the therapist seem kind and nonjudgmental?
  • Does the therapist answer you directly and invite you to express yourself?

Interviewing someone doesn't mean you have to work with them, especially if you have other options. Once you've made a choice, though, try at least a few sessions. You might decide together on a reasonable time period before evaluating your progress. Give therapy a chance. If your first choice proves unsatisfactory, find someone else! You may need a higher level of care, and the same questions apply. There are many treatment centers that specialize in eating disorders, offering inpatient, residential, outpatient, or day treatment programs, as well as groups open to the public.