Choosing the right therapist can be daunting. Where to Begin?

Choosing the right therapist can be daunting. Therapy is an endeavor where the relationship itself is perhaps the most important element. So, choosing the right therapist is not an easy task and there are things you can do increase the chances you find someone with whom you can work well, grow and meet your goals.

In my experience both professionally and personally, I often get the sense that many people feel a therapist is just a therapist. They may not appreciate or fully understand the ways individual therapists may be more or less uniquely qualified. Navigating the ins and outs of credentials, specialties, and population expertise that each individual therapist brings to their work is a bit complicated. While those qualifiers give a partial picture of who a therapist is and who they work with, without a direct referral, those basics can be a good place to start when looking for and ultimately choosing a therapist.

Check out their Professional Bio

No one knows you and what you are looking to work on better than you! Even if you have a direct referral from someone you trust, taking a few minutes to check out a therapist’s website bio will let you know if the therapist’s background and experience aligns generally with what you are looking for. If you do not have a direct referral to a specific therapist from another professional or a loved one, I suggest checking out therapists’ bios online.

Therapists’ bios include their professional credentials, training and experiences. They can be found on their practice website or on common online directories such as Psychology Today. A therapist’s bio is typically written by them, so it will also give you a feel for their voice and personality. Their bio is where you can find information on their education, advanced training, special clinical interests or expertise, and theoretical orientation. Again, these criteria are not the only criteria to consider when trying to find a good fit for you, but it can be a place to start.

To learn more about credentials please check out Who’s Who? LCSW, LCPC, LMFT, Psy.D., and more!

Get in Touch: Contact directly and ask questions

Another way to learn more about a therapist is to contact them directly or their practice and speak to an intake coordinator (if the practice has one). Intake coordinators are often therapists themselves who help match people looking for therapy with therapists who can best meet their needs. They may ask you a bit about what you are looking for or if there is a particular problem you need help with. And they can answer some of your questions, and help you clarify what is most important for you.

Write down some of your questions before you call. Feel free to ask whatever is on your mind, and keep in mind it may not be possible to answer your questions in detail because each person’s situation is unique. Take your time on the call and make sure you feel you understand the information provided. It’s okay to say “I don’t really understand that, can you explain it another way.”

Deciding on a Therapist

You may feel comfortable going with the recommendation of a friend, healthcare provider or the intake person you speak with. Choosing a therapist for an initial session is often based partly on information you have and partly on your subjective or felt sense of what is right for you. You may not be 100% sure about your choice. That is okay. The relationship between you and your therapist will take time to grow and deepen. You can learn more about your therapist in your first appointment and in the sessions beyond. Bring your hesitations and questions to the therapist. That way you can start to learn about how your therapist responds to your uncertainty and helps you to address the unknowns in life.

Your First Session:

Your first appointment, even if you have had a phone consultation, is about you and the therapist getting to know one another. Your therapist will want to know what is going on in your life and what it is you are looking to work on. It is wise to ask your own questions of the therapist, as well. Learning a bit about who the therapist is and how they tend to work will help to give you an idea of whether this therapist will be a good fit therapeutically for you. Below are some examples of questions you might consider asking your therapist in those first couple of sessions:

  • What is your educational background?
  • What are your specialties or special clinical interests?
  • Do you have experience or any reservations working with/treating people like me? (This can be specific to any community you belong to, gender identity, religion, race etc…)
  • Do you have any experience or special training regarding my particular issue, problem or concern? (This can be whatever it is you are hoping to get help with in therapy.)
  • How do you feel about (fill in the blank)? (This can be any topic or concern you have; make sure that you ask about things that are important to you. No one wants to feel judged when they are opening up and sharing personally about their life, relationships, family, identities, struggles, etc… For example, I had this experience with my first therapist — they would get uncomfortable when I would talk about sex; even though it was important to me. Eventually, I started avoiding the topic of sex during sessions.)
  • How long/often are sessions?
  • What does a typical session look like? (This is about your therapists’ style and approach. Do they like to start with a check in on how you are feeling? Does your therapist go over what happened at the last session and continue from there, or are they open to working on something that is on your mind in the moment? Do they use different exercises, meditation, or tools in the therapy?)
  • How does the therapist approach setting goals? (If you are wanting to work on a specific issue, are there goals you want to set? How will your therapist help you track them and/or keep you on track?)
  • How long does the therapist think it will take to work on/thru the concerns you are presenting?

A Note on Therapist Self-disclosure:

When you ask therapists these questions, or really any question, it is common that they might want to discuss your curiosity about these topics. Most therapists will gladly share with you information about their methodology and orientation for therapy, information about sessions and what to expect, and their training experience. If you have more personal questions for your therapist – such as questions around their age, gender identity, sexual orientation, relationship status, lived experiences, etc. – not all therapists will answer these without some consideration of the impact and significance of the question and the possible answer.

Therapists are trained to be intentional about what and when they will or will not disclose to clients regarding their personal lives. If your therapist is not answering a personal question, this is typically because they are focused on how their response may impact the therapy you are seeking. Although, some therapists may also want to maintain a certain level of privacy as regards their personal life, attitudes, beliefs, experiences, etc…. How much information your therapist self-discloses might also change as the therapeutic relationship grows.

What if My Therapist and I are Not Clicking?

There is no need to feel afraid to tell your therapist that you are not connecting with them. Clients usually get more out of therapy when they feel good about sharing their experience with the therapist. If you are not comfortable with your therapist, you may hold back from freely communicating or feel compelled to share more than you want – either of those reactions can impact how you feel and benefit from the experience. A good therapist will appreciate and be curious about your discomfort but ultimately will honor your choice if you prefer to stop therapy or would like them to refer you to another therapist.

You cannot force a connection. Take into consideration that you might need a few sessions to become more comfortable, but do not be afraid to say: “This is not working”. After all, research shows that the number one indicator for the effectiveness of therapy is the therapeutic alliance – in other words, the relationship formed between client and therapist.