Learn / Navigating Therapy: 11 Tips for Finding the Right Therapist
Finding the right therapist opens a myriad of available treatment types, session formats, and positive therapeutic relationships in your area. It’s the first step on what could be an effective healing journey.
Finding a therapist that fits your needs isn’t always a streamlined process, but it can be. Keep these 11 tips in mind as you start your search to feel empowered in your decision.
Reflect on your needs and what your goals are in therapy. Do you need help with depressive symptoms? Are you looking to gain coping tools for stress? Or do you know you simply need someone to talk to?
Take a few moments to identify and write down what you need from therapy. Depending on what you find, it can make your process simpler. For example, if you can identify you need help healing from trauma, you can narrow your search down to therapists who specialize in trauma care.
Evidence-based therapeutic approaches include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), and many more.
Some therapists may also specialize in holistic approaches, like somatic experiencing and mindfulness-based CBT to better connect your mind and body. Therapists may also specialize in individual therapy or only offer group therapy.
Different approaches may match better with your personality and treatment goals. You can discuss your options with your primary care provider or a prospective therapist to learn more about what resonates with you.
Therapists may specialize in certain forms of therapy or techniques. For instance, a therapist may specialize in EMDR or internal family systems (IFS) therapy. Therapists may earn specialized credentials or training to perform these types of therapy, or they may dedicate their career to a particular therapeutic approach and gain specialized experience over time.
You can look at a therapist’s bio to learn more about their experience and what they’ve specialized in. Ask them what their specialties are too. They may also have a badge of accreditation included on their profile.
Licensed therapists will have any of the following licensure:
Therapists need a master’s degree in psychology or counseling and pass a licensure exam. Licensed psychologists have their doctoral degree (PhD or PsyD) in psychology and pass a licensure exam.
Ask your primary care physician for their recommendations on a therapist and the therapy approach that may meet your needs. You can also ask family and friends for their recommendations, which can be especially helpful for finding local support.
You can also check online platforms like the American Psychological Association, Yelp, and Google for reviews and summaries of what individual therapists offer.
Researching a therapist may clue you into your compatibility. Or, you can assess your compatibility during your first session. If you don’t feel comfortable with your therapist, it’s important to find someone else. Having a positive therapeutic relationship can increase the benefits of therapy1 and help you heal.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to stick with one therapist. You can stop at any time and look for a stronger connection elsewhere.
If you’re compatible with your therapist, you’ll feel like you’re being heard and validated. You’ll feel comfortable speaking and sharing intimate details of your life or situation. You’ll also feel like your words or feelings won’t be judged, which can help you open up freely and experience more benefits.
Ask your therapist about the approaches they use to hear it described in their own words. In an initial consultation or session, you can learn more about their approaches and why they’ve chosen to provide them. You can also ask about their treatment philosophy to learn more about why they do what they do, and if their motivations align with yours.
If you have any questions about their approach, you can ask them in this session or in online communications with the therapist.
Everyone communicates differently, including therapists. Some may speak more bluntly and directly. Others may prioritize gentleness and will communicate more indirectly.
You’ll typically discover your therapist’s communication style in your first session. If your communication styles align, you’re more likely to develop a positive therapeutic relationship.
To make therapy a practical endeavor, their office should be easily accessible and their services affordable. You can ask your therapist right away if they offer online sessions; their profile or webpage will typically mention this too. If you have to drive an hour to their office, it may be more difficult to commit to going. Expensive sessions can also deter consistent attendance.
Many therapists accept insurance to keep costs manageable. Consult with your insurance provider and their office to see if your plan will cover costs of treatment. In some cases, your plan will only require a small flat rate for each session.
Some therapists offer therapy online for greater accessibility. If you’re comfortable attending online, virtual sessions can offer flexibility and make treatment possible for those in rural areas or with disabilities.
You may find a therapist with all the skills and qualifications you feel you need. They could have decades of experience and a fancy office. But that doesn’t mean they’ll be the right fit for you—if anything feels off, trust your instincts and look elsewhere.
Pursue therapists you form a genuine connection with. You’ll likely notice this right away, or at least within your first 2 sessions. You’ll intuitively feel comfortable with them and open to sharing.
You have as many chances as you need to find a therapist you connect with—it’s not something you have to get right in your first try. You can adjust your expectations by remaining open to the idea of trying new therapists. The first one may not be the right fit, and that’s okay. Keep trying.
Pursuing a stronger therapeutic relationship or a different therapeutic approach can benefit your healing and potential for growth. You can continue self-reflection as you attend therapy to ensure your therapist meets your needs and you’re both achieving set goals.
More intensive care options, like residential rehabs, offer individual therapy as well. You can browse behavioral health centers with individualized care and see prices, insurance options, and reviews.
Kornhaber, Rachel, et al. “Enhancing Adult Therapeutic Interpersonal Relationships in the Acute Health Care Setting: An Integrative Review.” Journal of Multidisciplinary Healthcare, vol. 9, 2016, p. 537. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, https://doi.org/10.2147/JMDH.S116957.
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