If you’re searching for “The best psychologist in Orange County”, this is a ‘how to’ guide for things to consider in finding the best help for what you need. I must confess that I’m guilty of it too: doing an internet search for “the best (fill in the blank)” for anything from toasters to motor oil to psychologists. What comes back is often a list of commercially sponsored websites, posing as unbiased reviews, trying to get you to buy their products or service. It’s just plain difficult to get the information you need to make your own clear choice about what will actually fit with what YOU need.  Finding the right therapist has far more at stake that choosing a toaster.  Does a psychologist do marriage counseling well or is a marriage and family therapist a better option?  Are a pscyologist and a psychiatrist the same thing?  Do all therapists have basically the same training?  Some people don’t even realize the differences that exist between therapists and end up with frustrating results.  Even referral organizations like Psychology Today don’t offer the ability to filter search results by licensing level to help you find the type of therapist you want.

When it comes to getting help for personal and relational issues, I will occasionally get people in my office who tell me “I tried therapy before, but it didn’t work.” When I find out more about their prior experience getting help for themselves, there is often a fundamental mismatch that doomed the situation from the start.  Like the person who said “talk therapy” didn’t help much before, but then I find they were seeing a psychiatrist who is typically only briefly dialoguing with the person to adjust or prescribe medication.  The person was not actually getting therapy, they were getting medication!  There’s a place for both, but to mistake the purpose of a psychiatrist with what a psychologist does is just going to lead to frustration.  I’m glad they persisted and tried again, but I can’t help but wonder how many others never tried again and continue to struggle on in life alone with their issues.

So, if you are reading this post my most sincere hope is that it will leave you better equipped to pick “The best psychologist in Orange County”, or for that matter, a marriage and family therapist, licensed clinical social worker, life coach, psychiatrist or pastoral counselor because they are the right “helper” for you and your situations.

Take your time

You may not want to hear this, but most problems take the time to develop and, in reality, are going to take the time to unravel and change. I will get people calling me on the phone and telling me I was the first one to return their call, so I must be the one they are “supposed to” work with. Like somehow it’s fate. I know it can be awkward and difficult, but please be patient and talk with at least a few therapists before making a choice. Spend 20 minutes on the phone with each and then set up a consultation in person with several of those therapists to get a good idea of how comfortable you will be working together. Unless you are simply looking to be in “counseling”, where you are given information and instruction that you are actually able to put into action, the process of therapy is very personal and the person going with you on this journey matters. I know for myself as an Orange County psychologist that I also take my time in deciding whether I am going to do well with a client when they call me. It’s a commitment on both our parts and not to be rushed into.

What’s in a title: Psychologist, Marriage and family therapist and more

Understand the distinction between the titles of people in the “helping” profession. So first of all, if you thought all people who helped with personal and relational issues were “about the same”, please read on. While all who enter this field have a desire to help improve the lives of people, they are not equally equipped. Each has their own purpose and each has their limitations. For example, people will sometimes think that because I am a “doctor (of psychology)” that I can prescribe medication. They confuse me with a psychiatrist, who is a medical doctor, because of the title. Others will don’t realize I do marriage or family therapy because I don’t have the title of a “marriage and family therapist” when really a psychologist is actually trained to do marriage and family therapy and so much more than a marriage and family therapist, for example. Truthfully, anyone can hang out their sign and do business as a therapist, psychotherapist, counselor or many other professional sounding titles with absolutely no training or licensing.  Very few are able to call themselves a “psychologist,” because it involves a doctorate in psychology from a properly accredited school, thousands of hours under careful supervision, and then an extensive licensing exam.  Even the notable talk radio host, Dr. Laura, started her career with a doctorate in physiology, then only later added a masters level degree to her name.  So Dr. Laura does not have the training or experience to call herself a psychologist.  Confusing (and a bit misleading), isn’t it?  Be informed about what level of help you are getting and whether it is the right choice for what you need. I would strongly encourage you to read more about this on my FAQ page. If you live in Orange County, CA it provides a comprehensive list of the most common types of therapists you will find here. If you live in another state or country, there may be other titles and license levels to understand, but do the research as this is one of the most important pieces of information in getting the level of experience you need.  For your comparison, I am a licensed clinical psychologist from a doctoral program that went five years because it also included an extra year of training focusing on the integration of psychology with theology.

Experience matters:

Malcolm Gladwell (Outliers) writes that it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field.  So a psychologist (doctorate in psychology licensed as a psychologist) already has nearly covered those five years of experience and more mastering the role of a therapist.  But when a psychologist then adds to this years more of experience as a therapist, your getting someone with mastery level capabilities to help you.

I recently talked with two people who had successfully had the same type of cancerous tumor removed. Thankfully they should both live to a ripe old age. One did research to find someone who only did that very delicate surgery and had been doing so multiple times a day for over 20 years. They paid for the surgery out of savings, since that doctor wasn’t covered by insurance, and the results of the surgery were perfect. The other went with a surgeon, much less experienced and not specialized, assigned to them by their insurance company without questioning.  Unfortunately, the surgery ended up with significant, quality of life changing nerve damage that will never heal. I’m sure both surgeons meant well and probably had similar training, but there is no substitute for training and experience. Find a therapist with as much experience and training as possible. They may be more expensive because of their experience and competency, but it gives you the best chance of a successful outcome in therapy.  I know that after over 20 years in private practice, I’ve learned a few things along the way that produce faster and better results than when I first started.

Consider a therapist outside of your insurance:

I understand why people want to use insurance for counseling or therapy. They an insurance premium so why not get the financial benefit and see a therapist for a subsidized fee. However, in the interest of informed consent, I would ask you to please read what I have written about what happens when you involve insurance in mental health related issues. It has long-term implications for health care coverage, life insurance coverage and privacy that can far outweigh any short-term financial benefit. The other reality of seeing any health care provider tied to an insurance company is that the care of health care providers is typically in conflict with the profit desired by insurance companies. When dealing with out of network coverage for some clients of mine, I’ve ended up in debates with insurance company employees about what is optimal care for the patients I see. I’ve had to stop or reduce therapy before my client is ready, simply because a high school graduates insurance representative on the phone, who has never met my client, is telling me, a licensed clinical psychologist, about what was needed for my clients.  I’m not sure why any therapist would choose to be a part of any insurance network and be to told what fee they could charge (usually well below market), regardless of training and experience, and be required to offer limited and monitored care for their clients?  You’re worth better than that!

Saving money can be costly

The cliche of “you get what you pay for” tends to hold true for therapy as well. You would rightfully expect to be paid more in your career with increased experience and expertise because you offer a value to a company that will save them money. Similarly, a therapist with more experience and training should be more expensive, but will get the job done more quickly and competently. This is not a put-down of other therapists, but just common sense. Someone with two years of education or less is going to be less equipped that someone with 4-5 years.  Someone with years of experience as a therapist is going to charge more for the value that experience brings.  When I changed out my toilets last year, it took me a day to get them done because I had to read up on it and was less sure of each step and how to handle some of the unexpected surprises I encountered along the way. I had to go more slowly and make an extra trip to the hardware store. A plumber may have been more expensive because of their training and experience, but they would have had the needed parts and finished in less than two hours. I enjoyed the learning process of doing things like that, so I didn’t mind the cost of the time it took me to take longer and experiment until I got it. What would you like your experience in therapy to be like? I consider the cost of therapy to be an “investment” because the quality of life (and often increased income) will far exceed the dollars you spend on it, so invest as heavily as you are able in the best you can afford.

Jack of all trades, master of none

As good as a counselor or therapist may be, they can not be the expert you need in every area of help. I know there are certain issues and cases that I will not work with. This isn’t because I couldn’t provide some help, it’s just that I know there are other therapists who will provide better help in that area. Unfortunately, there are those that claim to be an expert in a variety of styles and issues and stuff their website full of “keywords” and nonsensical ramblings using those words repetitively, just to get a high ranking on Google when someone is looking for a therapist. Just type in “The best psychologist in Orange County” or “Top psychologist in Orange County” to see what I am talking about. This is where you need to take your time and read what a therapists posts on their website and talk with them to see what their level of comfort and expertise is for the help you specifically need. Is there quality content and information you can relate to, how do you feel when talking to them? If a therapist ranks highly on an internet search engine for what you are looking for, it may mean they are a great marketer. Make sure they are also a quality therapist.

Consider referrals, but think for yourself

Services such as Yelp, Google+ and the myriad of other ways of researching and rating people and services have become a common way of helping consumers make choices. Marketing minds know this and, unfortunately, have created entire services for hire to create positive reviews and bury negative ones. Again, think for yourself as you read and consider a psychologist or other therapist. Even a referral given to you by a trusted source should not be taken as a certain fit for what YOU need. Research and call for yourself. Ask questions and listen very carefully to the answers. Do they make sense? Does it fit with what you need? What is your intuition telling you about working with the person?

So, my hope is that this article has given you a guideline for what to pay attention to when picking the help you need for yourself. If you do decide to work with a psychologist, Orange County has a variety of them for you to consider. Would I be “The best psychologist in Orange County” for you? I put a question mark in the title because I don’t know if that will be true. Read more about me and my services and see if my skills and personality line up with your personality and needs.  If the do, I’d be happy to connect with you on the phone to get to know each other and your situation. Evaluate me and a few others by the same standards listed above and choose well for yourself. You’re worth the best so take the time to choose what will deliver for your needs.