Finding a good therapist is a lot like finding a trustworthy mechanic, or a consistent hair stylist: you may have to shop around for a while, but the search is worth it. The stakes with finding the right therapist, however, are significantly higher because, when it comes to therapy, the person you ultimately choose to work with can be the difference between greater well-being or staying very much stuck where you are.
Daunting as the process may seem, here are few questions to ask yourself as you begin your search.
What kind of expertise do I need?
Sometimes you don’t know the answer to that question, because you don’t know exactly what’s wrong, and that’s okay. No one expects you to figure out your challenges on your own, but you do want to think carefully about what is going to make the most sense for your situation.
For example, are you already taking medications for anxiety and depression? If so, then you may want to work with a therapist who has the ability to manage medications and provide prescriptions. Are your troubles primarily related to problems between you and your partner? Then you’d be wise to seek the help of a specialist in couples therapy. Is your school-age child having a lot of behavior problems? Then look for someone who does family therapy or child play therapy. It’s really important that the person you’re seeing specializes sufficiently in your needs to be effective.
Where should I look?
There are several major therapist directories on the web that will list therapists in your area. Two of the biggest are Psychology Today and GoodTherapy.org. The problem with sites like this is that you learn very little information about potential providers from their listing alone. You really need to go to their website to learn more about them and what they truly have to offer.
You can also Google for therapists in your area specializing in your particular need. I find this to be a better approach, because Google tends to bring up more relevant search results than the directory websites.
If you feel comfortable doing so, ask friends and family if they could refer you to someone. You’d be surprised by the number of people who either know a therapist, or have themselves been in therapy.
Lastly, you can always ask for a recommendation from your primary doctor. He or she will often have a number of referral options available, and these referrals will usually be good trustworthy starting points.
What should I look for on their website?
No matter how you get the name of a provider, I would recommend you visit their website. When you do, here are few key questions to keep front and center:
- Does it feel like this therapist really gets my problem or challenge?
- Does he or she have expertise in the area I’m concerned about?
- How easy is it to contact them, and do they offer complimentary consultation sessions?
- Do I connect with the content on their site?
Notice I did not include a question about how much they charge. Obviously, if you are running on a tight budget, then price must be a factor, but I encourage clients not to consider it as the first factor. People who are shopping for a therapist based primarily on their hourly charge are usually doing so because they aren’t aware of the importance of choosing the right therapist.
Getting therapy is not like shopping for the best deal on a television. It’s about connecting with a person that makes you feel comfortable and has the expertise to help you. In fact, a number of studies have shown that more than 25% of the effectiveness of any therapy comes down to the quality of the relationship between the therapist and the client. If you find a provider you really dislike but only charges $25 a session, you may very well spend more in the long run than you would seeing a therapist with whom you have a strong rapport who charges $75 an hour.
Is this provider right for me?
A lot of people come to therapy wondering if they will be accepted and validated by the therapist, and they may even question whether the therapist will continue seeing them. It’s hard not to feel this way as a new client coming in for a first visit.
The truth, however, is that you are as much in charge of the first session as the therapist is. Your first session is an opportunity for you to take a serious look at the therapist sitting in front of you and evaluate whether this person is the right one to help you get better.
If you don’t feel comfortable with the person, or you don’t have confidence in their ability to provide you with help, then it’s best to cut your losses and move on to someone else. Therapy hours spent with a therapist you don’t really trust will be mostly wasted hours.
Is the relationship still working?
It’s not uncommon for your initial impression of a therapist to be very positive, but then for things to shift later in the therapy. Now, some of this shift may be the result of something called “transference” which has to do with projecting negative things onto the therapist. But it also may be the case that you just don’t feel that good about the relationship you have with the therapist. Maybe you don’t feel as though you’re connecting or on the same wavelength.
Whatever the case may be, there is nothing wrong with asking for some time to re-evaluate you relationship with your therapist and to assess together whether the relationship is working or not. If you decide a change is needed, that’s okay. It often takes people a couple tries to find someone who really clicks with them.
Finding a therapist can feel like an overwhelming task, and you may be tempted to cover your eyes and throw a dart at a list from a therapy directory to choose your therapist. But I’m here to tell you that a systematic search, with realistic expectations about the process of finding the right therapist to match your needs and personal style will yield you vastly superior results in your therapy.
Good luck in your search!