How to Find a Good Therapist
You might have noticed more people casually dropping anecdotes about going to therapy in everyday conversation. This is no accident: rates of people seeking mental health treatment have increased, with an estimated 59 million people starting therapy in the past two years. If so many people are seeking treatment, finding a good therapist can’t be that hard—right?
Yes and no.
There are a lot of factors to consider when looking for a therapist, many of which are not common knowledge to the average person. Good therapists can be hard to find, but it is certainly not impossible. Below are a few tips to get you started for a better you.
1. Consider your financial situation.
Contrary to popular belief, therapy is not just for the financially privileged. There are many options for people who have limited resources to devote to therapy such as seeking therapists in your healthcare network if you have insurance, seeking sliding scale therapists who will adjust their fee to meet your needs, and Google-searching “low fee therapy” in your area.
The vast majority of therapists enter this field because they want to help people, and this is the case regardless of how much you can afford.
2. Identify the areas in your life that need help.
It is common for clients to not know what they need help with when they first start therapy, but they know they are unhappy in some way. That is normal, but try to identify at least three specific things you would like to improve in your life.
Therapy is much more likely to work when seeing a therapist who specializes in the areas you are struggling. For example, a therapist who spends much of their time thinking about and researching divorce will be able to help you more than a therapist who has a vague understanding of how divorce affects people.
3. Identify the types of personalities you get along with best.
The therapeutic relationship is the biggest healing factors in therapy. If the client-therapist relationship is not agreeing, then the therapy may not work. It is normal to not know if your therapist is right for you initially, but after about 5 sessions you should see some progress if it is a good match.
Therapists are people, which is why therapy works, but that is also why finding a good therapist takes a while. Therapists have many different personalities just like everyone else, so it is important to identify the values you desire in a relationship.
Do you like people who “call you out” and are more direct? Do you like people who are thoughtful with their words and accept you for who you are? Do you like when people give you advice? Do you prefer talking it out? All of these are important questions to ask yourself when looking for a therapist.
4. Get familiar with some different types of therapy.
One way to choose a therapist thoughtfully is to know a bit more about therapists’ frameworks, which are the lens that the therapist views clients. There are over 400 frameworks, so it would be difficult to learn all of them, but a few common ones are easy to find.
If the things you want to work on are more pragmatic, such as quitting smoking or controlling your anger, you may want to look for Solution-Focused, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) which are more skills-focused. If you want to work on more complex issues, such as relationship issues or low self-esteem, you may want to look for Humanistic, Family Systems, or Psychodynamic therapy, which is more focused on relationships and experience.
Even if you aren’t sure what framework would work best for you, you can ask a potential therapist what their framework is and what it means. There’s a good chance they will love answering that question, and the answer will give you a better sense of how they can help you.
5. Start looking for therapists using different means.
There are many websites that have therapists’ profiles such as Psychology Today, Open Path, and your insurance provider. These give you a good sense of what that therapist would be like in session, but just like with online dating, you can never really know if they are a good match for you unless you meet in person.
Another great way to find a therapist is by asking people you know who their therapist is. In my experience, these are the most successful and long-lasting therapeutic relationships because it gives you reassurance that their therapist is competent and able to help. Even if it turns out their therapist is not taking any clients, the therapist can give you the name of someone who is able to help you.
6. Meet with a therapist in-person.
The best way to know if a therapist is good for you is for you to meet a therapist in person. It’s costly but very common for people to meet a few therapists before they find the one who works for them. You are hiring someone to do a very important job for you, so you should feel like your investment is worthwhile.
You must feel connected to a therapist for therapy to work, so when you meet with your therapist for the first time, know that you are interviewing them. Ask them questions about how they treat clients. Ask them if they treat clients with similar issues as you. Ask them about their theoretical framework. If the therapist has trouble answering your questions, or if you don’t like their answers, it might be time to find someone else.
7. Check-in with your therapist periodically.
Your therapist should be periodically checking in with you to see how therapy is working, and you can do the same. As a therapist, if a client wants me to do something differently, I like and appreciate when they let me know.
Not every session with your therapist is going to be mind-blowing, but you should see some progress in your life. If you feel your therapist is not helping you, talk to them about it. If they are still not helping you, you can always look for a new therapist or ask your current therapist if they know anyone to refer you to. It is in our code of ethics as therapists that if we are not able to provide adequate treatment to clients, we must refer them to someone who can.
Hopefully these tips help you in the journey to find a good therapist.