How to Find the Right Therapist for You
Think it might be time for therapy? You’re not alone. In 2019, nearly 10% of adults in the United States received counseling or therapy from a mental health professional, found a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And since then, many psychologists are reporting increases in demand and longer waitlists, according to the American Psychological Association.
But not just anyone will do. It’s important to take the time to find a therapist with whom you feel comfortable and who fits your needs.
In fact, a strong bond with a therapist is one of the most important factors affecting how successful therapy will be, suggests a meta-analysis of hundreds of studies, and can influence whether you’ll meet your therapy goals. “If you feel supported and not judged, comfortable opening up, and respected, and if you believe your therapist is competent enough to help you, chances are [greater] that treatment will be effective,” says Pauline Yeghnazar Peck, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist based in Santa Barbara, California.
6 Tips to Help You Find the Right Therapist
A free consultation call with a potential therapist is a good place to start, so you can ask questions and get a sense of their training, personality, and approach. But before you schedule a chat, here are some things to keep in mind that can help increase your odds of finding the right therapist for you.
1. Get the Facts on Cost
If you have health insurance, knowing whether therapy is covered—and how much is covered—will help you understand what your final out-of-pocket cost might be. “Contact your health insurance provider and find out what your in-network and out-of-network benefits are to avoid surprises,” says Jessica Reynoso, a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Mesa, Arizona. You may be able to save significantly if you use a provider who accepts your insurance and is considered in-network.
You may also need to do more research to get an idea of what you’ll pay. For example, some insurance companies don’t cover couples therapy, Reynoso says.
Then, you can narrow down your options based on your budget and how often you’d like to see the therapist.
If you’re concerned about being able to afford therapy, try using a directory such as those offered by Psychology Today and the Open Path Psychotherapy Collective to search for therapists who offer sessions at reduced rates or on a sliding scale.
2. Consider Their Specialty
To find a therapist who has the training and experience to match your specific needs, look at the specialties listed in prospective therapists’ profiles—they may have focused experience in helping with anxiety, burnout, relationships, chronic illness, or pregnancy and postpartum mental health, for example. Online directories, such as the ones found at APA.org and PsychologyToday.com, allow you to search by specialty, as well.
“Don’t be afraid to ask a potential therapist specific questions about how they have worked with someone with symptoms or concerns similar to yours,” Reynoso says. If you have a history of trauma, for example, prioritize finding a mental health provider who is trauma-informed.
3. Imagine Your Ideal Therapist
Think about what qualities are important to you as you search and narrow down your options. For example, you may want to find a therapist with a shared identity or who you know is accepting of your culture or lifestyle, says Weston Clay, a licensed mental health counselor based in New York City who works with LGBTQ+ clients.
You can also seek a referral from a local community center, or use search tools found on websites for organizations such as Inclusive Therapists, Therapy for Black Girls, Therapy for Black Men, Latinx Therapy, National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network, or the National Asian American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association.
After a series of bad matches, Lisa Giesler, 59, of Houston, finally found the right person to help her manage her anxiety and low mood when she searched for a Christian therapist and first asked potential providers questions to ensure that their religious views aligned with hers. Lisa’s vetting efforts ultimately resulted in a stronger therapeutic relationship, she says.
Some studies suggest that choosing a therapist who can tailor treatment to your religious faith may have a positive impact on your psychological and spiritual well‑being. You can explore therapist options according to their “spiritual knowledge” by selecting this category on Inclusive Therapists’ directory.
4. Express Your Needs and Preferences
You’ll also want to consider whether you’re interested in a specific type or style of therapy, says Christine Aiello, a Chicago-based licensed relationship and sex therapist. For instance, do you like having homework and worksheets between sessions, which is a common aspect of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)? Or are you interested in a more mindful approach that has greater focus on acceptance of thoughts and feelings without judgment, as in acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)?
Many therapists use a combination of different techniques and tailor them to an individual’s needs. If your comfort zone is trying only one certain type of approach, express that to the provider and see whether that falls within their expertise.
For example, when Brittany Mendez, 26, of Nashville, Tennessee, sought therapy, she knew she wanted to learn more about using psychology to reframe distressing thoughts. So, a referral from a friend led her to a therapist specializing in CBT, and it paid off, as it was through that method of therapy that she learned how to adjust her perspective to rescue her mood.
5. Follow Your Instincts
Jor-El Caraballo, a licensed therapist in New York City, advises first checking out a potential therapist’s website and bio to see whether it seems as if their experience level and personality will put you at ease.
Having seen a few different therapists, Jandra Sutton, 32, also of Nashville, says she’s learned that when it comes to therapy, seemingly little things—like where and how you meet and whether your personalities mesh—really matter.
“It almost feels silly to think about something like office décor, but I've had a few less-than-great experiences with more ‘traditional’ therapists who worked in more clinical settings,” Jandra says. “Choosing one who had a laid-back practice with a warm and cozy environment made me feel comfortable enough to be vulnerable and let my guard down.”
6. Ask Questions
Once you’ve found a few prospective therapists, approach them to see whether you can schedule a time to ask them questions that’ll help you gauge whether they’re right for you. Here are a few to consider:
- What is your approach to therapy? (For example, do they specialize in CBT, emotion-focused therapy, mindfulness, and/or psychodynamic therapy, or other?)
- Is your approach evidence-based? Could you share some examples of successful therapy interventions you’ve led?
- How will we know whether the therapy is having a positive effect?
- How long have you been practicing?
- What is your specialty?
- How many years of experience do you have treating concerns like mine?
- What should I expect from a typical session?
- How long does your average client stay in therapy?
- What is your experience working with people in my community? (This could mean people of your race/ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, or religion.)
Keep in mind that it can take time to adjust to a new therapist or counselor, so it’s a good idea to give yourself some time to get used to them. But sometimes, even when you’ve properly vetted your therapist, it doesn’t work out, so if you don’t feel the therapy relationship is working after giving it a chance, Caraballo advises opening up a conversation with your provider to determine what adjustments you can make together or how they might be able to help you find a therapist who’s a better fit.
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