If you’re interested in therapy, finding a therapist that’s right for you is an important first step.
For many people, finding a good therapist can be challenging. There may not be many options in your area, or you might feel like you’re not connecting with therapists you meet.
However, a good therapist can help you develop skills and confidence to deal with mental health matters for the rest of your life — so finding someone who’s right for you is worth the effort.
Psychotherapy can be a great tool for improving your mental health. Learning how to pick a good therapist can help you get started with treatment that could help you for life.
The first step to choosing a good therapist is to choose a type of therapy you want to try. There are many different kinds of therapy you can do with a therapist. Choose one that aligns with your goals. Some therapists are well-versed at providing more than one type.
Types of therapy to consider include:
- cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)
- dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
- psychoanalytic therapy
Therapy can have very different costs, depending on where you get it.
Some therapy is available for free. Online therapy can be a relatively lower-cost option. Other therapists can have a higher cost.
Before you start booking appointments with individual therapists, ask your insurance provider what they cover, and decide how much you’d be willing to pay for therapy per month. Knowing this amount will help you prioritize therapists that work for your budget.
Need some more information?
A medical doctor can be a helpful resource when you’re looking for a therapist, according to the American Psychological Association (APA).
Your doctor can connect you with someone who’s able to help you address your specific concerns. They can also help you find someone who accepts your insurance plan, if you have one.
Referrals are a great way to find a therapist.
If you’re comfortable, ask your friends and family if they can recommend one. Your loved ones might give you better insights about a good therapist versus only searching online.
It’s worth mentioning that even if a therapist works with your loved one, they may not be the best fit for you. The right therapist still depends on your personal needs and therapy goals.
Other people or organizations in your network may have helpful suggestions, too:
- Your school. If you go to college or university, your school’s student health department or psychology department will likely be well-connected with a network of qualified therapists.
- Your insurance company. Your insurance provider will have connections with (and usually a list of) psychotherapists they work with, whose services they cover.
- Other professionals you know. These people may also be good resources in your search, even if they don’t work in the healthcare field. Consider asking doctors, lawyers, and other professionals you already know and trust if they can recommend someone from their trusted professional network.
- Your place of worship. If you’re part of a religious community, people there may be able to offer recommendations.
As you’re assessing your potential therapist, it’s important to check their credentials to make sure they’re qualified.
According to the APA, a potential therapist should be licensed to practice in the state or area where they’re located.
Therapists might also have credentials for a specific type of therapy they practice, like exposure therapy.
However, remember that a therapist’s title may not matter as long as they’re qualified in the type of therapy you’re interested in receiving. You might consider getting therapy from counselors, social workers, psychologists, or psychotherapists, for example.
While all therapists are trained in compassion and understanding, having a therapist who is part of your community, or who has experience working with people from your community, can make a difference.
Many folks find it easier to open up with people who “get” their experiences, especially people from oppressed or marginalized groups.
For example, if you’re part of the LGBTQIA+ community, you might find it easier to open up with an LGBTQIA+ therapist, or a therapist who states up-front that they’re LGBTQIA+ friendly.
Here are a few factors you might consider:
- gender identity
- racial or cultural background, such as a therapist who is themselves or explicitly welcomes clients who are from Black, Indigenous, or People of Color (BIPOC) communities
- specialization in LGBTQIA+ issues
- religious affiliations
You can check out this article on how it can make a difference for some people.
Ultimately, finding a good fit comes down to your relationship with the particular therapist. Consider keeping an open mind and making decisions based on the person, rather than relying on assumptions about their background.
The most important thing is to think about who you feel most comfortable working with.
Figuring out what you want from therapy can help you find the right therapist.
If you’re interested in therapy to address a particular issue, that might help narrow your options. Here are a few things you might want to focus on:
- dealing with stress
- trauma you experienced
- interpersonal relationships
- a mental health condition you have or think you might have
- an emotional issue in your life you would like help with
Once you know what you want from therapy, communicate your goals up front to whomever you work with.
Keep in mind that some issues, like relationships and stress, may not require your therapist to have as much specialized training, whereas specific health conditions like depression may benefit from it.
If you aren’t sure what to focus on, but you know you want to talk with someone, that’s OK. A good therapist will help you identify goals and work toward them with therapy.
Over time, they’ll help you gain skills and confidence to deal with emotional challenges and cope on your own.
You can read more about what to expect in your first therapy session here.
Consider asking a potential therapist questions about their credentials and experience. Getting information can help you figure out if this therapist is right for you.
Here are some questions you can ask:
- What are your areas of expertise?
- What kind of therapy do you practice?
- Do you have experience working with people in similar situations?
- Tell me more about your approach.
- How many years have you been practicing as a therapist?
The APA also suggests inquiring about a therapist’s fees and whether they accept insurance.
Finding a match can take some trial and error. Trying out several therapists is a normal part of the process for many people.
However, once you have a therapist you click with, that working relationship can be incredibly beneficial for you over the long term.
In other words, it’s often a long journey to find the right therapist, but it’s worth holding out for.
For many people, online therapy can be a great, accessible resource. Online therapy can be especially helpful if there aren’t therapists in your area.
You can access online therapy via several different apps.
With online therapy, it’s still important to find a therapist who’s licensed and specialized to meet your needs. Make sure to choose an app that only provides licensed therapists.
Some online therapy apps allow you to easily leave a therapist you’re not happy with and will match you with a new therapist quickly.
This is a major plus because it can allow you to quickly and easily try out as many people as you need to find the right fit.
There are many online resources to help you find the right therapist. The databases listed below are from reputable mental health resources. They include trained, accredited professionals who can help you.
- American Psychiatric Association’s Find a Psychiatrist tool
- American Psychological Association’s Find a Psychologist tool
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helplines and Support Tools
National Institute of Mental Health’s Helpline Directory
- Therapy in Color — helps connect people of color with therapists
- Therapy for Black Girls — a resource guide for Black women looking for therapy
- The National Asian American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association — resources for Asian American and Pacific Islander people looking for mental health help
- Therapy for Latinx — helping Latinx people connect with a therapist
- Psych Central also offers a Find Help tool
Here are a few warning signs that a therapist may not be right for you:
Therapists who “specialize” in everything
With therapy, you will have specific needs and things you want to work on.
A good therapist should have specialized expertise so they can address these needs well. As the expression goes, a jack-of-all-trades is a master of none.
Therapists who say they can “cure” you
No matter the issue or mental health condition, therapy is not a quick fix. Therapy can be challenging and your progress can sometimes be slow and nonlinear.
Therapy is often more about managing a mental health condition or symptoms than finding a “cure.”
For this reason, a therapist who claims they can “cure” you is probably overpromising, and they may have unrealistic ideas of what their therapeutic services can do for you.
Therapists with inappropriate boundaries
A therapist is a mental health professional, and that’s just how they should behave — professionally.
While therapy can be “comforting,” a therapist should have boundaries in place that keep the relationship professional.
For example, they should not try and be your best friend. It’s also inappropriate for a therapist to try and meet you in informal places outside of the office.
You don’t feel good around them
You should feel respected and understood with a good therapist. They should be very good at listening and should never judge or bring their personal opinions into the conversation.
A good therapist may challenge you to confront truths and process difficult emotions, but you should always feel comfortable and supported.
If you have a bad “gut feeling” about someone and you don’t feel comfortable around them, that’s reason enough to stop seeing them and try someone else.
Finding the right therapist for you can take some time, but it’s worth the effort.
You may meet therapists who aren’t the right match for your needs. While these experiences can be discouraging, don’t give up.
Therapy can be an important investment in your mental health. Finding the right therapist will benefit you immeasurably for life.