12/03/2012 02:34 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2013

How to Find a Therapist Who's Good for You

Once you find yourself contemplating the possibility of separation or divorce, conventional wisdom dictates that this is an excellent time to undertake a stint in therapy. What is therapy? As a therapist in Los Angeles, California, I'm asked this a lot.

One patient likened therapy to "emotional vomiting." Another likened it to cleaning out her "junk drawer"; another to "connecting the dots" on his life. Therapy is a place to take a toxic dump in the office and clear your path in the real world. When you safely experience in the office that which feels broken and unsafe outside and leave it between us, then therapy becomes a safe place and a bridge to new ways about thinking and feeling, instead of just reacting.

Friends and family who are normally your go-to trusted advisers will likely have suggestions and names of practitioners. They know you after all, but also may be too close to the situation and too invested. Chances are your feelings today are linked to unfinished business in your family of origin. Your go-to trusted advisers may in fact be players to some extent in the drama that's a current impediment in your life.

Whatever rift was created in your relationship must be repaired through interactions with another human too. That's why in-person therapy is by far the best mode of interaction, though other modes of communication such as the telephone, texts, email etc are also handy. There is a quality of being "all in" by meeting in person for therapy sessions, which is not to be underestimated.

Doctors and lawyers, your insurance company, even the internet can all be good sources for referrals to therapists for first-timers. Reach out to a couple of therapists unless the therapist has a specialty no one else in your community provides.

Keep in mind the following practical considerations: Do you want to commence therapy with a man or a woman? What age range do you want your therapist to be? Are you afraid of or looking to feel you're with an idealized version of your mother or father? Is there a desire, perhaps, to fall in love with your therapist? Maybe you want to choose a therapist who might be tempting in these ways so that you can bring it into the treatment room as soon as possible. Same holds true for a therapist who repulses, thrills or scares you. These are emotions and questions that might come up.

Feelings that surface when you look at photos may also come up when you hear the therapists' voices. Notice those feelings when you hear a voicemail or speak with a therapist on the phone. How fast should a therapist calls back? It's simple: the sooner probably the better, with a second call-back in round two of telephone tag. You want a therapist who is flexible and responsive, and one who also holds strong boundaries.

Beyond considering a therapist's specialties and theoretical approach, think about how the professional makes you feel personally. You are road-testing some of your initial responses to words and pictures alone if the therapist has an internet presence as well as a website.

At this point in your life, you may be up to your armpits in deep suffering. Previous attempts at figuring out your issues have not been working, even though you may be meditating, going to yoga, reading all sorts of self-help books and talking endlessly with close friends and family. You're still a hot melting-down mess and probably acting out, longing for resolution and somewhere safe to unload your broken heart.

Is there a real person -- a therapist -- who you can make a connection with and who is trained to help you? Though this entire blog post may sound like advice, good therapists strive to steer clear of giving advice. They help you contain your symptoms long enough -- whether it is anxiety, depression or obsessions and compulsions -- to make it possible to feel and think rationally so that you can sort out what is going on, heal and self-correct.

The benefits of therapy are nice "work" if you can get it. The effort to figure out your conflicts and motivations on a comfortable couch in a nicely decorated office with one other person, rather than going to court and waging a battle, is well worth it. While I don't have a proverbial crystal ball, I can say with some assurance that the self-improvements and attitude shifts you can voluntarily undertake today to avoid a child custody battle will likely the resemble the ones that you will be court ordered to do after court battles which are too expensive at any price. The choice is yours. Good luck and ever onward as this is tricky territory.