Making the decision to go to therapy can feel challenging. First, you need to feel confident that therapy can help you to reach your mental health goals and then you need to find a therapist that can help guide you through the process. Finding a therapist isn't all that difficult. But how do you find a good one?
A "good" therapist can mean many different things to different people. What's really important is to find a good therapist for you - someone that you feel you can be honest and open with and that you trust to provide comprehensive mental health care. You can use this guide to learn more about what to look for and where to look when you've taken that step to prioritize your mental health.
How to Find a Good Therapist for You
Therapy offers you the chance to talk about impactful life events and get feedback or guidance to find mental balance. A good therapist will be able to listen to your needs, provide you with support, and offer a treatment plan that can serve as your roadmap to move forward. But in order for this process to be successful, you and your therapist need to have a connection.
You can think of a strong client-therapist connection like two puzzle pieces. You and your therapist need to fit together in order to make the most progress possible. Once you find the right therapist for you, you can start to do the real work for positive change.
As you go about the process of trying to find a therapist to guide you along this journey, there are a few tips that can make the process easier.
Consider Your Needs First
Every therapist is different. Not only do therapists come from various backgrounds and fields of study, but they also have specific approaches to therapy and unique personalities.
This is why it's important to think about what you want in your therapist before you start searching for a match. Your needs should create a lens that will narrow your search and make the process more specific.
Some helpful questions to ask include:
- Does the gender of your therapist matter to you? If so, which would you prefer?
- Do you have a preference surrounding their age?
- Would you like them to have training in different types of therapy?
- Do you want them to specialize in a specific area?
- Would you prefer a therapist from a background or culture similar to your own?
- Should they be LGBTQIA+-aligned?
- Would you prefer them to be religion-informed?
- What kind of tone would you like them to have? Would you want a more casual flow with occasional jokes, or do you prefer a more academic approach?
Ask yourself as many questions as possible and make a list to keep your thoughts organized. You might not find a therapist that ticks off every box, but you are more likely to find one that is close if you are clear about what your preferences are.
Take Budget Into Consideration
Therapy can be costly. A therapist's rate may depend on their location, their availability, and the type of therapy that they practice. You'll want to do some advanced research to determine if your desired therapist operates within your budget or accepts your insurance to help relieve some of the financial burdens.
One way to find out how much a therapist charges per session is to explore their website. You may also be able to find information about whether or not they accept insurance and the specific types that are accepted. If you have insurance, you can also visit your insurance company's website and search for providers in their directory.
If the billing information isn't readily available on a therapist's website, you can send an email or make a phone call to inquire about rates. Some mental health professionals offer rates on a sliding scale to accommodate people of different incomes. Check for this feature on their site or ask about it during your phone conversation.
Ask Plenty of Questions
Many therapists offer a free consultation before the first official therapy session. Typically, this is either done over the phone or through a video platform. During this time, you can ask the therapist questions to find out if they fit your needs.
"Clients should be prepared to ask any and all questions that they are thinking," says Dr. LaNail R. Plummer, Ed.D, licensed clinical professional counselor (LCPC). You can use the checklist you made earlier about what you want from a therapist to see how their responses match up to what you're looking for.
Some other questions you might want to ask include:
- What is your approach to therapy?
- What is the cost per session? Do you accept insurance? Do you offer sliding scale rates?
- What are your specific credentials and what do you have experience with?
- Do you prefer to give a diagnosis or just work on healing?
- How long are sessions and how frequently would you meet?
- What training have you completed that makes you culturally informed, religion-sensitive, or LGBTQIA+-aligned (if you are seeking these qualifications)?
- Do you offer both in-person and virtual sessions?
Explore Different Options
If your phone consultation went well and you feel like you and your therapist are a good match, then it might be a good idea to schedule a first appointment. However, you don't have to fully commit just yet if you aren't ready.
If fact, it might be helpful to talk to a variety of therapists before you make your final decision. You can do this by scheduling more free consultations with therapists that meet most of your needs.
During your conversations, you can be honest and let them know that you're in the process of trying to find a good match. Even if they aren't the therapist for you, they might be able to give you some additional advice or refer you to a provider that may better suit your needs.
Schedule Your First Session
The first therapy session is often referred to as an "intake session." During this time, your therapist will guide you through the necessary paperwork before the actual therapy begins.
"Professionally, we call this 'rapport building.' Casually we call this 'getting to know you.' Culturally we call this 'let's talk - it's safe here'," says Dr. Plummer. During this time, you and your potential therapist will exchange introductions, talk about what brought you to therapy, and establish goals for the future. This session gives you more time to experience the therapist's personality, and get a better sense of how future therapy sessions will flow.
You can ask more questions, and explore whether or not you feel comfortable and safe talking to this person about your life. At the end of the session, you decide if you would like to schedule another or if it wasn't a good fit after all.
Reflect on Your Session
Therapy requires a lot of reflection. After your first session, and even after your phone consultations, it can be helpful to take some time to think about how things went.
"It's important that clients know and are comfortable with the therapist they chose to work with, especially since they are sharing all of their thoughts, feelings, and emotions," says Dr. Plummer. "We hope that we can make clients feel 'seen'," she says, "to make a client feel comfortable enough to start sharing some of their secrets, private thoughts, or traumatic experiences."
Check in with yourself and see how the conversation with your potential therapist made you feel. Some questions you can ask yourself are:
- Did the therapist make you feel comfortable?
- Can you see yourself sharing your personal life with them?
- Did you feel safe?
- Are you confident in the therapist's professional ability?
- Did you feel like you and your concerns were seen, heard, and understood?
- Do you feel like they get you?
There's no such thing as a completely perfect match, so don't put too much pressure on yourself. Instead, try and find a good match - one where you feel like you can be vulnerable without judgment. If you believe you can establish this kind of relationship with your therapist, then you're headed in the right direction.
Allow for an Alternate Plan
If your first therapy session doesn't establish the connection that you hoped for, it's okay. It doesn't mean that there's anything wrong with you or the therapist you spoke with. It just might not have been the right fit. Try not to be discouraged.
"The client's role is to be open. Be willing to share. Ask questions, breathe, and relax," says Dr. Plummer. If this is the mindset you have in your consultations and first sessions, then you're doing everything you can, and you should be proud of yourself. Keep up your search until you have found a mental health professional with whom you can trust and build rapport.
Tools to Help You Find a Therapist
There are several ways that you can find a mental health professional. For instance, you can search the internet by typing in something as simple as "therapists near me." Or, you might have loved ones that can share the contact information for a therapist they trust. You can also talk to your primary care provider to get a referral.
You can also use therapy locator tools like the ones below to help you find a good match. Many of these online tools have a variety of filters, such as insurance providers, virtual or in-person sessions, and specialties so you can narrow your search.
General Therapy Locators
You can use these broad-scope therapy locators to find mental health professionals all over the United States. Many of the professionals listed have specialties and a variety of experiences, and these sites have all of their contact information in one space.
Locators for Specific Types of Therapy
Have you heard of a specific kind that you wanted to try? Or has a trusted friend recommended a form of therapy that they thought would be helpful for you? If so, you can use the websites below to explore therapists that focus on different kinds of therapy.
Therapy Locators for Specific Communities
Some people might feel more comfortable with a therapist that is knowledgeable about their specific background. For example, veterans, those who have experienced specific trauma, people of color, and members of the LGBTQIA+ community may seek a therapist that has specific training in these areas. The organizations below can connect you to therapists with these specific concentrations.
- Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy AEDP Institute Locator
- Black Female Therapists
- Inclusive Therapists BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ Locator
- U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs Provider Locator
Finding a therapist, and, more importantly, a therapist that is a good fit for you can be challenging. It can take a bit of searching, learning, and discovering what you really need. It might also take a bit of trial and error until you find the right person that can help you open up and create an appropriate client-therapist relationship. When the search seems tough, never forget that you are taking the necessary steps to help yourself heal. Your mental health matters, and finding a good therapist is one way of supporting that mentality.