How to Find a Therapist for Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

By John S. March, MD, with Christine M. Benton

Cover image courtesy of The Guilford Press

[Reprinted from the book Talking Back to OCD by John S. March, MD, with Christine M. Benton; copyright © 2007 The Guilford Press; published by The Guilford Press. Reprinted with permission of The Guilford Press. This article may not be reproduced for any other use without permission.]

A therapist trained in CBT almost certainly will be more helpful to a child or teenager with OCD than one who isn't, whether you're using the program in this book or not.

More and more therapists are learning about CBT and about programs such as ours, but it still might be a challenge to find one in your area who has experience in treating kids and teens with OCD.

Finding a CBT therapist can be done in three easy steps. If you still can't find a trained CBT therapist, use the same process to find a therapist you like and find out if he or she is willing to follow the program outlined in this book and in our book for therapists.

Step 1: Put together a list of all the CBT therapists you can find in your area. Go to one of the following websites and use the referral tool to help locate a CBT therapist. Most of the listed CBT therapists will be doctoral or master's-level psychologists and will not do medication management. A few may be social workers or licensed professional counselors. These four are good places to start within the United States.

  1. Obsessive Compulsive Foundation: www.ocfoundation.org
  1. Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies: www.abct.org
  2. Academy of Cognitive Therapy: www.academyofct.org
  3. Anxiety Disorders Association of America: www.adaa.org
Many child and adolescent psychiatrists are also now being trained in CBT for OCD. If you would like to consider medication management and CBT from a single person, consider:
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: www.aacap.org

Step 2: Call or e-mail each CBT therapist to see if he or she works with children or adolescents with OCD. Here is a suggested e-mail:

Dear Dr. [therapist's name],

I am the parent of a child with OCD, and we are looking for a CBT therapist. I found your name and e-mail address through a website for [Organization]. If you are available, I would be interested in talking with you on the phone or by e-mail prior to setting up an initial appointment.

My number is [your phone number].

Thank you,

[your name]

Step 3: Choose a CBT therapist with whom you think you'd like to work. Once you've made contact, you will want to ask some questions to make sure that the therapist is a good match for your child. You can ask these questions over the phone or, if you know a therapist who comes highly recommended, at an initial visit. Here are some questions you might want to ask:

  1. Can you tell me about your experience with CBT for OCD in kids? In adults?
  2. Are you familiar with John March's approach to CBT for OCD in kids? Do you use his approach or something similar?
  1. Do you work with kids and families? How might you expect to work with us as parents in helping [your child's name] recover from OCD?
  2. In your experience, about how many sessions does it take before [your child's name] might expect some progress?
  3. What are your fees? Do you take [name your insurance plan]?
  4. Would you be willing to work with [name doctor] who is managing [your child's name] medications? (if you are seeing a doctor for medications)
You'll want to be confident that the CBT therapist is a good match for you and your child. You'll want to know how he or she will conduct an evaluation and establish a treatment plan. It's very important to ask yourself how you feel about a potential therapist. Do you feel comfortable? Does he or she have the experience and knowledge you need? Without mistaking the "perfect" for the "good enough," keep looking until you're reasonably sure that you've found the doctor you need, and then get started.

Step 4: If you can't find a trained CBT therapist. If you can't find a trained CBT therapist, it may be that one exists in your area, but you simply haven't found the person. Because people with OCD tend rapidly to find out who is good and who is not, you may be able to find a good therapist by contacting members of your local OCD support group. Don't be bashful about asking for advice -- remember, everyone with OCD is in this boat. Use the same questions with the support group that you would use with a prospective therapist.

If you still can't find anyone, consider a "grow your own" strategy. There are many good therapists who have all the skills needed to do CBT but who for one reason or another haven't been trained. Perhaps there's a CBT therapist who works well with depression or ADHD who would do fine with our treatment manual for therapists plus this self-help book. It's a bigger stretch to work with a therapist who does supportive psychotherapy or play therapy, but you may be able to find one who will work with you.

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