If you're reading this, you probably fall into one of two groups. You’re either wondering how to find a therapist for the very first time or you've already met with one and were left disappointed with how it went. You’re not alone: it can be difficult to know if the person you’re considering will be right for you.
Still, it’s very important: research shows that the #1 most important predictor of a therapy working well is that the patient (you) feels that the therapist understands you and that you’re working towards the same goals. We call this the therapeutic alliance. Finding someone you can trust and can share personal details about your life, including thoughts, feelings, and struggles, can be a life-changing experience that provides dividends in the future.
There are well over 100,000 licensed therapists to choose from in the United States, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects that number to continue growing in the years to come. But how do you know if the person is right for you? You don’t have to settle for anything less than a stellar therapist – these practical tips will help you find the right one.
1. Find out who they are and their area of expertise
One of the first things you should look for when choosing a therapist is someone with experience in the challenges you’d like to focus on. Depending on what your goals are, the type of therapy you need will likely be different. For example, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an effective treatment for anxiety and also benefits those with ADHD. A therapist who has treated many people ADHD may l recognize that you need help with behavioral management techniques, such as learning time management skills. So if you have anxiety or ADHD, consider looking up therapists who are trained in CBT.
Take time to check out their website. Does the writing style sound like someone you’d want to hear from in person? If so, that's a good sign. When you talk to them for the first time, ask them about their experience. Hearing them share their experience will give you a sense of what it might be like in the room. Remember to take online reviews with a grain of salt. Sometimes disgruntled former patients are the most likely to leave a review, resulting in skewed results. Still, a common theme in reviews may tip you off to how others have experienced this therapist.
2. Their availability to you
The bottom line here is that you NEED a therapist that will be available to work within basic parameters that work for you. A booked schedule may be a sign of a great therapist, but consider whether you can honestly wait for up to 6 weeks for an appointment. Cost and location matter too. If the visits are way out of your price range or way out of your way, it may not be a realistic choice for you. Ask what their availability will be like once you establish care and what types of contact they work with. If they don’t accept text or email contact at all, consider whether that will work for you.
3. What makes a therapist right for you?
Now that you’ve found someone with the right expertise and availability to see you, you may be asking what separates a good from a great therapist. A great therapist will make you feel comfortable and feel like you can trust them. You may not feel like you can reveal your most personal details right away, but you should feel like you can talk to this person openly and that there is potential to continue to build on that initial trust. Great therapists create a non-judgmental atmosphere where you feel safe and heard. This is the foundation for a productive therapeutic relationship (Cabaniss et al, 2016), which will create optimism and an environment where you can work collaboratively to set clear goals and make the positive changes you want in your life. Trust your gut: you know what it feels like when you're with someone who makes you comfortable.
No one is perfect, and that applies to therapists too. Invariably, at some point your therapist will say or do something that you find off-putting. In this situation, the key is to try to bring it up in an honest way and see if you can sort it out together. Discussing conflicts with your therapist will teach you something about yourself, and it may ultimately result in a stronger sense of trust as well.
That said, not every therapeutic relationship can or should be repaired, which brings us to our last tip…
4. Don’t be afraid to switch therapists
You may need to give a therapist a couple of meetings before you are clear about how it feels to be in the room with them. If you have a bad feeling based on more than one visit, and you aren’t able to sort it out with them, it may be time to find a different therapist. You don't have to keep meeting with someone that you don't vibe with. Don't be afraid to ask them for a referral or find another one. A good therapist will try to refer you to someone else who can help. You'll know when you find the right therapist for you.
Therapy works – use these tips to find the right therapist for you and set yourself up for success. The journey is worth the ultimate results.