How do you feel about your therapist? This may not be a question you commonly hear asked, but it’s an important one. Studies have shown that the therapeutic alliance, or the relationship and client has with their therapist, is linked with better results. But how do you find the right fit?
With therapy becoming more mainstream, the task of actually finding a therapist (let alone the right therapist for you) can be overwhelming and feel like a major barrier to accessing therapy. But as a therapist myself, I want to share the insights I have to set you up for success. Read on for 5 tips I have for finding the right therapist for you.
Think about what you want from therapy.
This can feel hard to do, but skipping this step can make your search directionless. Use these questions to help you: What do you want to get out of therapy? What do you want to talk about? Who might you want to talk to? Are you comfortable seeing someone online or do you want to see someone in person? What’s your price point? Answering these questions is going
to help you during step 2, so don’t skip it!
2. Use online directories to your advantage
There are many therapist directory websites with options to filter by location, price, types of therapy offered, symptoms treated, and so much more. For instance, Psychology Today is one of the original websites for mental health professionals in private practice. Open Path Collective is a great option if you’re looking for sliding scale (lower fees). Fees are capped at $70 for licensed clinicians and $30 for student intern sessions, and you can filter based on other criteria too. But these two are really just the start (there’s Latinx Therapy, Pride Counseling, and Therapy Den to name a few) – now that therapy is becoming more popular, finding therapists online have gotten a lot easier.
Insurance websites are similar to online directories, but often don’t have as much information on each therapist. If you’d like to use insurance, start with the insurance directory and then search the names of the providers that might be a good fit to see if you might find more info.
My tip would be to start with online directories and contact any therapist that looks like they might be a good fit. Read their bio, watch intro videos, check their price to make sure it works for you, and then send them an email to see if their taking new clients. Remember, even if their profile says they are, things may have changed recently, or their availability may not match yours. Contacting a few therapists at the same time not only increases your chances of finding someone who’s available, but also increases the chances that you’ll find a good match.
3. Check out a therapist’s website/social media/blog posts, etc.
Therapists have much more of an online presence now. A lot of therapists have a website, so I’d start there. Look at their credentials, experience, how they describe how they work, and what types of services they offer. This will help you narrow down your search and avoid wasted time in contacting a therapist for individual therapy if they only offer family sessions or contact a somatic therapist if you want CBT for example. Also, don’t worry if you don’t know any therapy jargon – I cover that in step 4.
I would also note that a therapist that doesn’t have an online presence isn’t less qualified than one with thousands of followers on Instagram or a full website with tons of content. Building an online presence takes time, and some therapists either aren’t interested or simply don’t have the time.
4. Ask for a complimentary consultation.
A lot of people still don’t know this is a possibility. Unlike other medical professionals, many therapists offer consultations (typically 15 min or so) to have an initial discussion and answer questions. This isn’t a therapy session, so while you may share what you want to work on while in therapy, it’s not a time to go in depth about issues. Feel free to ask a potential therapist about their professional experience too, and any other questions you feel are relevant. Typically therapists don’t answer personal questions, but anything about how they work, their qualifications, what to expect if you see them as a client, etc are great topics to cover. Also, anything you’ve read on their profiles or website (remember therapy jargon from step 3) that you don’t understand or know what it is – this is the perfect time to ask for clarification.
Not all therapists offer complimentary consultations, and if they don’t, asking questions via email might be a good option. And if they don’t do either, then step 5 becomes more important.
5. Use the first session as a trial run.
You’ve done it. You found a therapist, scheduled an appointment, signed the consent forms, and now you’re in the first session. You may feel like you’ve committed, and you have, but it’s also important to remember you can change your mind at ANY time. If the first session is off, there may be a few reasons why. It could feel strange to be in therapy the first time. This relationship is unlike any other. You go in and talk about what you’re going through, past history, really every detail of your life (if you want), without the therapist sharing much about themselves at all. It can feel one sided in the beginning, but that’s how therapy is designed – to focus on you. Also, it’s common to feel a bit worse at the beginning of therapy because you’re talking about your issues that are bothering you, which can bring up a lot of difficult feelings.
But if you feel like the therapist isn’t the right fit, maybe their feedback isn’t helpful or you don’t feel like they understand your perspective or you find you don’t really want to share with them – listen to that. I want to acknowledge that it can be so hard just to get to the first session that we can feel like it’s not worth starting again, but knowing how important finding the right match is for therapy to be successful, try to view a first session or first few sessions a trial run.
If you feel like something’s not working, you can bring that up to your therapist! There might be small things that can be adjusted. Or, if you feel like it’s not working and you'd like to discontinue, I would also encourage you to share that with them. They can provide you referrals for therapists that might be a better fit and then you’re not starting at step 1 again. I understand how difficult it can be to tell a therapist this kind of feedback, so if that’s not possible, that’s ok too. But as a therapist, I can say that we want clients to be successful in therapy and find the right fit, and a responsibility of therapists is to provide referrals if wanted/needed to help you find another provider if therapy isn’t working for any reason.
With the current mental health crisis, therapy is a crucial tool in providing support and access is key. Finding the right therapist is important, and with these 5 tips my hope is you feel more empowered to take care of your mental health.