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© Copyright 2000-2016 by Carol Goldberg, Ph.D.  

About This Web Site

Finding Help

Finding Professional Help 

By Dr. Carol Goldberg



Q: How do you know if you need professional help?

 A: A person needs professional help when not able to manage satisfactorily.  Indicators can be the same whether problems are emotional, physical, legal, or financial:

  • feeling overwhelmed, trapped, worried, agitated, depressed, or out of control

  • impaired health, work, sleep, eating, relationships, or legal situation

  • inability to stop harmful behavior (including addictions)

  • needing specific expertise

Obviously, if it is an emergency (such as chest pains or feeling suicidal), seek immediate attention from a hospital emergency room or police.  If it is not an emergency, read on for advice.

 Q: How can you find the right professional?

 A:  Ask

  • professionals you know

  • friends and relatives

  • associations of licensed professionals (national, state, and local) may provide guidelines and have referral directories from which to choose

     Check state licensure and violations on your state government’s Internet site.  A licensed professional

  • has at least minimum credentials and knowledge that have been examined by the state more thoroughly than you could do

  • is required to abide by ethics and privacy (may include privilege)

  • can be reported if you have a complaint

  • has legal status (may be important for insurance coverage, court, custody, taxes)

You do not have these protections with unlicensed people. 

     Note not all professions are licensed.  Licensure is by state, may change, and should be checked from time to time.  New York State’s website address is   In New York State, psychologists, physicians, nurses, social workers, dentists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, chiropractors, acupuncturists, attorneys, and CPAs are some of the licensed (or equivalently certified) professions.  Titles can be very specific.  For instance, “certified athletic trainer” is a regulated profession, but “trainer” is not.  In N.Y., titles such as “therapist” and “coach” are not licensed, can be used by anyone (whether or not trained and experienced), and lack government protections.   Furthermore, functions (such as psychotherapy) can be limited to licensed professionals under what are called "scope of practice laws."

     Check whether letters after a person’s name, official sounding organizations and universities, and specialty Board Certification are bona fide by asking state boards for guidance. 

     Find out if the licensed professional has training and experience with your type of problem.   

     Be sure the fee is clear and affordable for you.  If you cannot afford it, you may be able to get help from public clinics, agencies, and universities.

     Finally, use your comfort to decide if a particular professional is right for you.  

  • Are you treated respectfully? 

  • Are you listened to and your concerns taken seriously? 

  • Do you have a similar pace? 

  • Is the professional defensive if you ask questions or want a second opinion? 

If you are not comfortable with a particular professional, go to someone else.

 Q: What about finding help from the Internet?

 A: The Internet provides lots of information, but currently is an unregulated grab bag.  Thus, the consumer must be especially careful about the quality of information and qualifications of professionals on the Internet.  While there are no guarantees, information from the following sources are likely to be the best :

  • government sites such as

  • accredited universities

  • prestigious professional journals (peer reviewed)

  • major newspapers, news agencies, and television stations

  • licensed professionals

  • associations of licensed professionals

  • large non-profit organizations (such as dedicated to a particular illness or public service)

  • situations without conflicts of interest (research that is not paid for by an advertiser or commercial company with a vested interest in the product)

      Be wary of sites that refuse to provide details about identity.  You can judge a site by its content and the company it keeps (ads and links to other sites).

      In addition to being cautious about information, be cautious about online therapy and other professional sounding services.  You cannot be sure with whom you are communicating.  What is on your computer could be used against you.  Furthermore, privacy cannot be guaranteed because the Internet is subject to abuse and break-ins by hackers. 

      The person you consult on the Internet may not have any qualifications.  For example, anyone can use the title “therapist” or “coach” because they are not licensed professions in New York State.  Since licensure is by state and the Internet crosses state lines, practitioners may be unlicensed or hide their credentials.  Even if a professional is licensed, Internet services by that professional may not be regulated by laws, provide protections, or have insurance coverage.  

     With online therapy, there are the following additional limitations.  Online therapy lacks the most important ingredient for successful therapy, the relationship between client and therapist.  Client commitment and openness may be lacking.  Typed messages limit spontaneity and cues.  A self-report of being overweight could hide anorexia since extremely thin people with that condition really believe they are overweight.  Alcohol on breath would not be noticed.  In contrast with the tremendous amount of experience and research which exists about in-person therapy, online therapy is a vast unknown. 

     In the future, there may be improved technology to transmit good visual cues, better privacy safeguards, and online therapy techniques with proven effectiveness.  Meanwhile, unless living in a remote area, online therapy can be settling for less than the best or risking harm. 

                            © Copyright 2000 by Carol Goldberg, Ph.D.  All rights reserved.

Additional information on this topic presented by Dr. Goldberg on           Good Morning America.

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