How Do You Find the Right Therapist for You?

It can be tedious and intimidating to find a new therapist. These tips can help.

Posted Jan 30, 2020

As a mental health professional, it's an everyday occurrence for me to receive a phone call or text from someone in my personal network who’s looking for a therapist—and, of course, I regularly have conversations with potential clients of my own. These conversations always center on an essential question: How do I find a therapist who’s a good fit for me? If you’re presently looking for a therapist or think you could benefit from finding one, here are some simple, straightforward steps to get your search moving in the right direction.

1.) Start with the end in mind. 

Therapy doesn’t operate according to a one-size-fits-all model, so it’s important to consider what you want to gain from the experience. Before you start your search, spend some time thinking about what you want to get out of therapy. I recommend doing this by starting with the end of the experience in mind. In other words, imagine that you’ve just completed your last session with your ideal therapist. How will you know that your work with this person had been helpful? What will you be able to do that you struggle to do now? What will be possible for you then that seems impossible for you now? What will be different in your life, and what will you have done in therapy to make that happen? By imagining what you’ll get out of therapy in your best-case-scenario, you can begin to get some ideas about who can best support you in the process.

2.) Reflect on what’s most important to you. 

Many people assume that if they have mental health benefits through their insurance provider, they should start by finding someone who accepts their plan. This is a logical and valid place to start the search process, of course; but it may not lead you to the therapist who’s right for you. If spending as little money as possible on therapy is your primary consideration, then going through your insurance company is completely reasonable and makes perfect sense. But it may be that other factors are more important to you, like finding someone who has experience working with a particular issue, or working with someone who utilizes a more holistic approach.

Think carefully about what matters most to you, and allow that criteria—rather than the cost of services—to guide your search. You can’t put a price on your wellbeing, and your best life is well worth whatever money you’ll spend on your sessions; so before you let your wallet or insurance card make your decision for you, spend some time thinking carefully about what really matters to you.

Like any relationship, the right fit matters. Thoughtfully consider what qualities your ideal therapist will possess. Whether you want someone of a particular gender, age, secondary language, training, location, availability, skillset, theoretical approach, or background experience, there’s someone out there who fits the bill. Get clear about your must-haves, and let these be your guide.

3.) Do the research. 

Once you have a sense of what you want out of therapy and what qualities your ideal therapist will possess, you can begin the actual search process. Therapy is an intimate interpersonal experience, so word-of-mouth referrals and recommendations from people in your network are a good place to start. If you’re comfortable doing so, reach out to people in your life and ask them to share the names of therapists they’ve worked with and would recommend. Start a list of potential therapists based on the responses you get. Then start exploring other avenues, like the Psychology Today Online Directory, which lists therapists or counselors in your area. Keep adding to your list of potential therapists until you’ve got somewhere between three and 10 possibilities.

Gather as much preliminary information as you can about these therapists, and narrow the list according to the information you gathered in the first two steps of your search process. Use your personal criteria as well as your intuition to come up with the top three therapists on your list.

4.) Start the audition process. 

Once you’ve gotten to this point in the process, the trickier, more annoying stuff is out of the way. Now it’s just a matter of picking up the phone! Many of my clients tell me it took them months, sometimes years, to pick up the phone and call me—and they almost always say they wish they’d done it sooner! I know how intimidating it can be to make that first phone call, but if you’ve done the work of generating a list of potential therapists based on your personal search criteria, you’re likely to find that the initial call is a pleasant and encouraging experience. It’s bringing you one step closer to that future you envisioned, where the problems leading you to therapy are no longer problematic!

As you carry out this step and begin to make phone calls, remember that you’re essentially auditioning or interviewing your potential therapist. Prepare a shortlist of questions to ask during your initial phone call, to be sure you’re talking to someone who’s right for you. Make your phone call(s) at a time when you feel relaxed and won’t be interrupted. You want to be as centered and focused as possible, so you can get a sense of whether or not the person is a good fit. Make an appointment with whoever you feel best about, and remember that you don’t have to commit to the process until you’ve found someone who’s right for you.

5.) Evaluate honestly.

Once you’ve had a session with a therapist (or two, or three, depending on how you choose to go about the audition process), reflect on what you experienced during the session. Did you feel a sense of connection with the therapist? Did they show an interest in getting to know you without judging, labeling, or jumping to conclusions? Was the environment somewhere you can feel comfortable accessing deep emotions and getting vulnerable? Did you leave feeling hopeful?

Remember your reasons for seeking therapy in the first place, reflect on your experience, and evaluate accordingly. If the session was unpleasant or the therapist wasn’t a good fit, don’t be discouraged. You may not find the therapist who’s right for you on the first go-around, but that doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t exist. Go to the next person on your list, and keep trying. You are worth the effort it takes to find someone who’s right for you—and when you do, you’ll be glad you put in the work and stuck with the process.

To find a therapist near you, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.