How to Find the Right Therapist for You
Let’s face it. These are challenging times. There’s no need to list the reasons why more people than ever before are struggling with anxiety, depression, grief, relationship strains and much more. Maybe you or someone you know have thought of finding a therapist to support you in making some changes but have no idea where to start. Or maybe the process of finding a therapist is so daunting that staying stuck feels more comfortable! I get it. I’ve been there. Both as a person who has gone on my own search for a therapist, and as the person behind the phones at a busy counseling office. For the past eleven years, I have talked with people daily who are looking for a therapist, and I’ve also talked with my clinical staff about what they would recommend for people searching, and here are some suggestions you may find helpful.
The best place to start is to ask a friend or family member if they know of a good therapist, or ask a school counselor, doctor or pastor for a referral. If you search online, try to get specific about not just the location but the specialty you’re looking for (although location doesn’t matter as much in this age of teletherapy). Once you have the name of someone, call and ask if they offer a complimentary phone call prior to scheduling. If they don’t, consider whether you still want to take a chance or not. If they do offer a call, spend some time thinking about what is important to you in a therapist and what your goals might be. Then, here are some questions that will help you figure out if that person is the right fit for you.
This list will help you discover how to ask the deeper questions so that you will know if you relate well to a potential therapist and if you feel confident that they will be able to help you.
- What is your experience and expertise around my issue?
- Describe your approach to therapy?
- What are your thoughts on a systemic approach? (For individual therapy ask about their thoughts on a systemic approach to individual therapy.)
- How will you go about discovering where I am/we are stuck? How will you help me/us?
- What’s your style of therapy? Are you more talkative or reflective and listening?
- What’s your process?
- What is your theory of how change happens for clients?
- How do you feel about talking about faith/spirituality?
- For child or family therapy: How will you help our family if our child doesn’t want to participate?
- How will you help me/us navigate the changes that we will make?
- How will you help our family when our child struggles with these changes? How will you help me/us as parents respond to our child’s struggles?
- Why do you do this work? What is your “why”?
There are also more general questions you could ask, depending on what’s important to you, such as:
- What is your licensure?
- Are you in network or out of network for insurance, and how does it work?
- Do you offer a sliding scale/negotiated rate?
- What is your availability? Do you have evening hours? Do you have a wait list?
- How do you feel about medication?
- How would you collaborate with other professionals working with me/us, such as our doctor, psychiatrist, or school counselor?
There are things people sometimes don’t consider, that might be helpful:
- Consider a therapist’s bio, but in concert with other sources of information. A bio is never fully able to articulate the personality, expertise and passion of the provider.
- Be open about gender and age. A parent may believe a female therapist would be best for their child, and then discover that their child relates very well to a male therapist. I’ve also seen clients perceive that someone older will be a better therapist because of years of experience. There is value in that and also value in whether the therapist is bright, intuitive, and very well trained, even if younger. If a provider’s philosophy fits but their gender or age doesn’t seem to, consider talking with them about what it is about gender or age that is important to you so you can understand that a little better. Often, you can receive what you’re looking for from a provider that might not fit what you thought you were looking for.
- Just because a therapist that your friend recommended was a good fit for them, that therapist might not be the best fit for you and what you or you and your family need.
- Take reviews with a grain of salt. When looking at reviews, keep in mind that therapists are working with people that are really stuck and really hurting, and sometimes if they’re not ready to hear what they’re hearing in therapy, they might lash out via a bad internet review. If a therapist seems to be a fit for you, but has negative reviews, consider taking the next step to discern for yourself.
If, after talking with a potential therapist, they don’t feel like a good fit to you, talk with them about why. If their response is defensive, you know it’s not a good fit. If they respond in a way that helps you get to a deeper level of mutual understanding, then it could potentially be a fit. If you decide it isn’t, ask for a referral. Also, it’s also okay to move on and try a different therapist if you don’t feel it’s a fit after a couple of appointments. Keep trying until you find the right fit. It is not uncommon to try more than one therapist.
Start your search with these tools in hand and you will find a therapist that is a fit for you, one who will help you get to a better place, even in challenging times.
By Carolyn Boroughs, Office and Outreach Manager at Traverse Counseling & Consulting