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How to Find a Therapist

Fortunately, the U.S. and many countries around the world are home to numerous social workers, psychologists, or psychiatrists and other professionals who are qualified, competent, and caring. While training and credentials should be reviewed, studies indicate that the most important factor is the therapeutic alliance, or the relationship the client develops with the therapist and their ability to work together to achieve the client’s goals.

What factors do most people consider?

In searching for a therapist, it’s important to assess potential candidates based on how well the therapist and client communicate and whether it seems like they’ll make a good team. Other factors include accessibility and location. For those who are able to see a therapist in person, a location close to home, work, or school will likely make attending therapy more feasible. For those who are unable to travel temporarily or permanently, or who are in underserved areas, online and teletherapy options are available and can be highly effective.

What qualities are most important in a professional?

It’s important that any therapist under consideration is empathetic, professional, and knowledgeable about the problems the client wishes to tackle. During a typical screening session or first meeting, a potential therapist should listen closely, openly discuss their approach and possible treatment goals, and behave sensitively toward any difficult information the client brings up. Some clients wish to see a provider who shares their gender, race, cultural background, or sexual orientation; consider whether those qualities are important before starting to screen therapists.

What if I can't find a therapist near me?

Some people—particularly those who are homebound or who live in rural or low-income areas—may have difficulty finding therapists who are nearby, affordable, and accepting new patients. In these cases, finding a therapist who conducts sessions via telephone, Skype, or another online means may be the best approach. Though some consider in-person therapy to be preferable, there is significant evidence to suggest that, with a strong therapeutic alliance, therapy conducted online or over the phone can be an effective and accessible option for those who are unable to see a therapist in person.

How does one conduct a phone screen?

The first step in the therapeutic process is usually a brief phone call with prospective therapists, to learn more about them and gauge whether the relationship will be a good fit. Clients looking to initiate a phone screen with a therapist should reach out to them by email, phone, or their Psychology Today profile and request a consultation. This call will likely last less than 20 minutes.

Helpful questions include:

  • How might you best be able to help me?
  • Have you dealt with concerns such as mine before and if so, how frequently?
  • How does this process work?
  • What is a reasonable timeline for meeting and for treatment?

To determine if the relationship will be a good fit, clients should pay attention to whether or not they felt comfortable (or rushed) in the conversation and how knowledgeable the therapist was about the client’s specific concerns. It is also helpful to understand the modality or type of treatment the therapist specializes in, and the training involved in their licensing credential, i.e. social worker versus psychologist.

Is it OK to ask a therapist personal questions in order to gauge a good fit?

Yes—to a point, and with the understanding that they may not answer. Historically, some therapists, particularly those with a psychodynamic approach, have wanted to project a “blank slate” and may decline to answer personal questions out of concern that it could interfere with the client’s progress, though this is on the wane. Cognitive behavioral therapists, on the other hand, may be more willing to answer reasonable personal questions if they determine it will help strengthen the therapeutic alliance.

What if a prospective therapist declines to answer personal questions?

Not necessarily. In some cases, knowing too much about a therapist’s life has the potential to negatively affect sessions, so regardless of modality, competent therapists will set firm boundaries and decline to answer questions that they deem too personal or irrelevant. If a client feels that they don’t know enough about a potential therapist to make a decision, they should mention this to the therapist; together, they can discuss what reasonable information could help the client make an informed choice.

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