How to choose a good shrink

betty ming liu Health, Relationships 10 Comments

Today’s post is inspired by the single most frequent question that readers ask me: How does a person get started with therapy? How do I choose a good shrink?

Up until now, I’ve been pretty clueless on what to answer. But I finally asked my own therapist for advice on the issue. The highlights from our chat are outlined below. 

If you’re interested in therapy and don’t know where to begin, this is the post for you. All right, then. Here we go…

How to choose a good shrink? Ask for help!

How to choose a good shrink

Ask friends for recommendations

My therapist says the #1 best way to choose a good shrink is to ask your friends. You’re getting a referral from someone you already trust. I totally agree (even though once in a while, you’ll run into a friend who is reluctant to share their shrink).

Get a referral from a professional organization

If you have a specific condition, look for foundations and non-profit groups committed to helping people in your situation. These organizations tend to keep track of professionals with relevant areas of expertise. They can help you choose a good shrink.

Explore the listings on was founded in 2007 with the mission of protecting the public from unscrupulous practitioners. The site lists shrinks and marriage counselors from more than 30 countries. Each of these professionals was checked out before being allowed to post a photo and profile. Visiting this site is a great way to get a feel for who and what vibes with you. And yes, my shrink is listed. His name is Paul Greene.

To choose a good shrink, shop around!

Paul says that people often view shopping for a shrink as a waste of time and money. After all, it’s not fun to keep repeating your story and visiting different offices. But the search is part of  the journey.  :)

Did that last line sound therapy-ish? Haha. I’m loving this post because it’s the first time I’ve ever mentioned Paul by name. Maybe you’d like to read about how we met.

Paul is my second shrink. I, the early  ’90s, I found my first therapist through a friend referral. After about two years of weekly therapy, she told me that I had “problems dealing with people” and put me in one of her weekly therapy groups. Between the individual and group work, I stayed with her on-and-off for nearly a decade. She was a good mommy to me and remains one of my most powerful influences.

Along the way, she mentioned that someday, I might want to be analyzed by a man. And if so, I should contact her good friend Paul (a friend-ish referral!). A few years after I stopped seeing her, she died. A few more years passed and then, I contacted Paul.

Being with him is different from my first round on the couch. Instead of weekly sessions with a senior citizen/grandma, I’m working with a guy around my own age who is not a father figure. Where my first shrink was something of a big personality diva,  he is a consistently sane, insightful, calm, objective, non-bossy, non-romantic, supportive male voice in my life. It’s a way of interacting with men that was completely absent from my childhood.


I’m sure it’s no coincidence that right now, more readers than ever are asking me about therapy. Hey, welcome to the holidays! ‘Tis the season for freaking out. As Paul observes, the stress begins with the run-up to Thanksgiving and often doesn’t end until the let-down after New Year’s:

  • We are making key decisions related to time, people and money.
  • The season gets us thinking about family, childhood and relationships.
  • No wonder we have moments of anxiety, sadness and loneliness.
  • Have other problems? The holidays can intensify your issues.

The one topic we haven’t touched is the financials. Quite honestly, weekly sessions can get expensive real fast. Some folks even go twice a week or book the occasional double session; imagine those bills…

But talk to your potential shrink about payment. Some health insurance plans or other coverage options can cut you a huge break. Personally, every dime of my shrinkage came out of my own pocket. All told, we’re talkin’ tens of thousands of dollars.

Still, no regrets. If anything, I am wholeheartedly grateful. Getting shrunk is an investment in myself, a privilege, an education in life skills, a shot at having the necessary tools to find happiness. Good luck!

Comments 10

  1. Post

    i didn’t mention this in the post but people of color keep asking me if it’s important to find someone of their race/ethnicity. all i can share is my own experience with that one…

    i still meet plenty of folks of color — of all ages — who were raised to believe that therapy is for weak, crazy white people. and that if we are strong, we should take care of our problems ourselves. not!

    therapy showed me that there are universal issues. sometimes, the issues are based more on culture/social class than color. after all, my first world struggles are very different from someone who is trying to survive poverty in a war-torn country. sure, on a philosophical/political level, there are race issues. but in terms of practical, individual solutions asap, does race really matter?

    so as it happens, both my therapists are white and jewish. does it matter? i don’t know and frankly, i don’t care. still, it’s probably easier to find a therapist of color these days than when i was wandering around out there in the early ’90s. the universe is changing. :)

  2. Betty,

    Thank you so much for posting this, I emailed you awhile back about some questions that were definitely answered here.

    The holidays ARE stressful, and when I saw my crazy Asian mom this weekend, she made the comment, “Therapy is bunch of BS…” No wonder I need some serious help, thanks for nothing, mom!

    As for your Jewish shrinks, I have a Jewish roommate who has a crazy overbearing mom, too, so either the Asians & Jews have more in common than we realize, or all of us in this world have problems and race really is not an issue :-)

  3. Post

    whasian, big hug to you! and let’s get beyond race on this one. thank you for sharing your thoughts. and i hope a lot of people share this post. there’s of heart ache out there — pain that we do NOT need to be carrying around.

  4. Given that I see a therapist who is both a woman and Latina I have to say that race, class and gender does make a difference to me in choosing a shrink. This doesn’t always have to be the case, but having tried out a variety of other therapists in my search for the right fit, including white male, white, upper class female, and white Jewish female, I find my current therapist to be the best fit.

    We don’t wax philosophical about what it means to be a woman of color in session, but her sensitivity to issues of race and class are important to me, especially since I am in an interracial marriage. Ultimately, however, I think therapy is something everyone should try with whomever they find a good fit. Like anything else in life it’s gonna take a few tries before you get it right, but it’s worth the process. You can’t put a premium on an objective and safe space to learn more about yourself and experience the support & love we all need to become our best selves.

  5. Post

    christina, it’s GREAT to have your input. i really appreciate hearing about your experience — the ability to speak the same cultural language with your shrink has gotta be special. very few of my friends of color have therapists of color — then again, we are OLD. you’re at least two generations younger and your wisdom is helping to make this post even more timely. thanks for keeping us fresh. xo

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  8. I did this big post but it seems to have disappeared. It was mostly about my experience and how I eventually went to the VA. The VA has mental health services. The good thing is that their Therapists have security clearances (Secret) so you can talk to them and don’t have to worry about getting into things that may still be classified. They can also determine if your condition may be a disability. There is also classes on how to apply for a job and many services you may not be aware of.
    For example, every Friday I go to PTSD classes. I also volunteer at the hospital. I am currently serving on the Voluntary Veteran’s Advisory Council for the Hospital. Over the past few years we have been able to make recommendations that have improved the way Vets are served in the hospital.
    I think if your a Veteran who has psychological problems DUE to your service the VA may be your best, and in some cases, only choice.

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