November 29, 2011

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!