How to choose the right therapist in 5 steps

Have you ever browsed through Psychology Today or Google searched for a therapist?  You may have found yourself scrolling through pictures and taglines of clinicians describing their work.  Did you spend hours reading professional biographies, researching clinical jargon, and then after feeling overwhelmed with information, closed the window without calling any of them? You are not alone. Choosing the right therapist can be a difficult task. There is no one-size-fits-all approach in therapy. The steps below will help to narrow down your search of finding the right fit for you.

1. Before you search for a therapist, explore yourself. Identify your preferences in a therapist.
Does the therapist’s gender or age matter? Are you looking to see someone long-term or do you want quick interventions and solutions? Are you looking for someone who provides online therapy? How far are you willing to travel? Do you need someone who offers evening and weekend appointments?  Make those decisions before you begin your search. It will narrow down your outcomes to more specifically fit your needs.

2. When researching possible candidates, make sure they have the tools to solve your problems.
You wouldn’t choose to marry someone because they were your first match on a dating app, would you? Don’t choose the first therapist you see.  Identify what concerns and struggles you have such as anxiety, nightmares, inability to get out of bed, irritability, struggles with parenting, relationship problems and so on. Then, make sure that the clinician you choose has appropriate education and training to help with your concerns.

3. Avoid the Jack of all trades master of none. Find a specialist.
The field of mental health is heading towards specialization – just like the medical field has. Find someone who lists your concerns as their specialty. When we have medical problems, we see a specialist. We don’t see an allergist for leg pain. Although most doctors undergo similar training, specialty is what sets them apart just as with Therapists and their training.  Therapists can’t be a Jack of all trades and be the best at what they do.    

4. An educated client is the best consumer. Have an over-the-phone consultation.
Once you narrow down a few therapists, call for a consultation and ask the difficult questions. This is your time to interview your potential therapist, helper, and your future support system. Ask where they went to school, about their training, and how they developed the specialty for the particular issue you are calling about.  Ask about approach to treatment, fees, and availability. Your questions should be received with openness and enthusiasm. Your initial interaction will give you an insight into what the therapeutic relationship may look like.

5. Attend the initial assessment with an open mind. Commit to at least three sessions before you decide on fit.  
The first meeting is a chance for your therapist to get to know you as much as it is the time for you to get to know your therapist. Many clients experience fear over the first session and thoughts about sharing “their story.” It takes vulnerability and willingness to share personal and private information with a stranger. Sometimes you will feel immediate connection and can safely share your struggles.  In other cases, it takes a few sessions to ease into treatment. Keep an open mind and attend at least three sessions before you discontinue. If you don’t mesh with your therapist, ask for a referral elsewhere. Your well-being should be a therapist’s priority.

Sandra Knapp, MS, LPC
Mind Matters Therapy Services, LLC