June 23, 2024
How to Find a Therapist That’s Right for You: 8 Key Tips

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In your search to find a therapist, it’s important to know what you’re looking for and where to look. Getting started can be the hardest part. Check out our tips for what to keep in mind.

If you’re considering therapy — whether to restore a relationship, recover from trauma, adjust to a new life phase, improve your mental health, or just to talk with someone — finding the right therapist is the first hurdle to cross.

Researchers have found that the bond between you and your therapist is likely to have a big impact on your growth. That’s why it’s important to do your research, ask questions, and pay attention to your own responses in your search for the therapist right for you.

If you’re new to therapy, the number of mental health professionals can be overwhelming and confusing: What’s the difference between a therapist and a psychologist? Do you need a psychiatrist, or is a psychologist OK?

The chart below highlights the main differences between the types of mental health professionals who can help you decide what kind of help you need:

After figuring out what type of therapy is best for you, the next step is figuring out exactly how your therapist can help you.

Here are some tried-and-true steps to keep your goals in mind while searching for a therapist.

1. Think about your goals ahead of time

Whether or not you know your starting point, you’ve decided to look for a therapist.

Ask yourself what you want to accomplish and what you need help with. According to a 2018 study, when you and your therapist work together toward the same goals, your outlook will be better.

Having an idea of the areas you’d like to work on can assist your therapist in gaining insight into the areas you believe you need to work on, and this can help kick off therapy, said Ashley Peña, LCSW, executive director at Mission Connection.

“Developing goals can be a team effort between you and your therapist,” she said.

If you think medication may help with your symptoms, you’ll want to find a psychiatrist or practitioner who can prescribe medications.

Also consider which type of therapy could best suit your needs.

If you’ve heard that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy have been effective for others with your condition, you can look for a therapist with certifications or specialized training in those treatment approaches.

If you want to be part of a supportive network of people who understand your experiences, you may want to consider looking for a therapist who’s involved with support groups or group therapy sessions.

Your goals may change as you work with a therapist. It’s OK to talk with your therapist about changing the direction of your treatment plan as your needs evolve.

2. Consult your insurance and finances

Therapy can be costly, so it’s important to look at your finances and understand your budget. Also be sure to check whether your insurance plan offers help with mental health services.

If you plan to pay for therapy through your insurance plan, your first step might be to look through your plan’s network for a therapist.

It’s also a good idea to find out whether your insurance plan limits the number of sessions you can attend each year and whether using an out-of-network therapist will affect your out-of-pocket costs.

You can still work with a therapist outside of your health insurance, but it may be more expensive. However, if you develop a strong connection with a mental health professional not covered by your network, you can check whether your insurance will reimburse you for appointment costs.

Another option is when therapists offer sliding scales or free services, said Darren D. Moore, PhD, MAED, LMFT.

“Individuals might also consider training programs that may be connected with colleges or universities, like student interns who are working towards their degree, are typically supervised by a licensed professional and/or credentialed faculty member while they are providing services,” he said.

“Some therapy practices in the community also take on interns who can see clients, typically at a reduced cost or in some cases free of charge,” Moore added.

Learn more about finding a therapist in your health insurance network here.

3. Ask someone you trust

A referral from a friend, colleague, or doctor you trust is another way to find a therapist who might be a good fit for you.

While a referral is a good place to start, it’s important to recognize that you may have different needs and goals with your therapy than the person giving you the recommendation. So, a good match for one of you might not be as beneficial to the other.

Remember that finding a therapist can be an overwhelming and long process due to the current therapist shortage, Peña said, so try not to get discouraged if a personal referral doesn’t pan out.

“Starting somewhere is your first step,” she said. “Although it can be a challenging time identifying a therapist, therapy has never been more accessible due to telehealth services.”

Telehealth services can be a great option if you don’t know anyone in therapy or can’t use a personal referral.

4. Explore local resources

If you’re part of a specific community, some resources may be available.

Some examples include:

  • students with access to a university counseling center
  • a workplace wellness or employee assistance program
  • group or one-on-one therapy through a local advocacy organization
  • faith-based treatment through a church, synagogue, mosque, or other worship center

Additionally, depending on where you live, there may be local support groups or organizations you can attend at neighborhood meeting spots, like a community center.

“For people who can’t afford traditional therapy, they may be able to take advantage of these groups that may be available in person or virtually, some of which may be completely free or at a reduced cost,” Moore said.

5. Use a reliable online database

Several mental health organizations maintain up-to-date, searchable databases of licensed therapists.

“If you feel overwhelmed and are having difficulty identifying a therapist through local referrals, searching online can provide immediate resources,” Peña said.

Your search could start simply by typing in your ZIP code to generate a list of counselors in your area. You may also be able to search for specialists, like marriage and family counselors or therapists who focus on drug and alcohol use.

Some of the most commonly used online search tools include:

6. Reach out to organizations that address your area of concern

If you’re looking for a therapist to help with a specific mental health condition, you might find local therapists through a national association, network, or helpline.

Here are a few examples of organizations that offer search tools to help you find a specialized therapist near you:

Additionally, many workplace organizations and trade unions have resources to help you identify professionals who can assist with mental health needs.

For example, the International Association of Fire Fighters offers help with mental health, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and substance use.

7. Ask questions about the things that matter to you

Coming to therapy without any set expectations can be very beneficial, Peña said.

“Beginning therapy with an open mind and vulnerability can assist with identifying areas you’d like to work on,” she said. “Sometimes, the areas we think we need to work on are only the tip of the iceberg, and the true work may take place looking deeper.”

That said, it’s important to ask your therapist some questions to assess whether they will be a good fit for you.

When you meet your therapist, whether online, on the phone, or in person, have some notes handy to remember anything you’d like to ask.

The American Psychological Association suggests a few questions to consider asking your therapist during your first session:

  • Are you a licensed psychologist in this state?
  • How many years have you been in practice?
  • How much experience do you have working with people who are dealing with [the issue you’d like to resolve]?
  • What do you consider to be your specialty or area of expertise?
  • What kinds of treatments have you found effective in resolving [the issue you’d like to resolve]?
  • What insurance do you accept?
  • Will I need to pay you directly and then seek reimbursement from my insurance company, or do you bill the insurance company?
  • Are you part of my insurance network?
  • Do you accept Medicare or Medicaid?

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America adds questions like these:

  • If I need medication, can you prescribe it or recommend someone who does?
  • Do you provide access to telehealth services?
  • How soon can I expect to start feeling better?
  • What do we do if our treatment plan isn’t working?

Note: If you’ve ever been abused by someone in authority or affected by trauma or racism, you may want to ask questions that help you find out whether a potential therapist is culturally informed and sensitive to your experiences.

8. Pay close attention to your own responses

No matter how many professional accreditations your therapist has, your own feelings of trust and comfort should be your top priority.

Will therapy be uncomfortable from time to time? Possibly. After all, you’ll likely be discussing difficult, personal topics.

But if you feel uncomfortable with your therapist for any other reason, it’s all right to look for someone else.

You don’t need a reason to switch therapists. It’s enough that you don’t feel comfortable.

Here are a few things to notice as you talk with your therapist:

  • Does the therapist interrupt you, or do they listen carefully to what you’re saying?
  • Does the therapist respect your time by being prompt to appointments?
  • Does the therapist brush off or invalidate your concerns?
  • Do you feel seen, heard, and respected during your session?

Teletherapy is therapy done remotely over the phone or video. It can make it easier to explore therapy and its options.

Many therapists now offer teletherapy through their private practices. You can search for teletherapy the same way you would if you were looking for an in-person therapist.

Teletherapy is convenient. Studies have shown that therapy conducted over video chat can be just as effective as in-person therapy.

Talkspace and BetterHelp are online platforms that only provide teletherapy. They both offer tools to help you explore the kind of therapy you want. They can also match you with a licensed, accredited therapist you can work with online or via phone.

Some people find a digital therapy platform to be more convenient and affordable than in-person therapy. Weekly sessions may range from $35–$80 for online therapy.

At least one study found that people with depression felt that their symptoms improved after online sessions. It’s worth noting, however, that two of the researchers involved with this study were consultants or employees of the digital therapy provider used.

Below, find some teletherapy options we vetted and found useful. Some also include tester reviews.

Telehealth comparison chart

Your first therapy session might be a little uncomfortable, just like most new experiences, Peña said.

“Feeling anxious can be expected,” she explained, especially if you’ve never been to therapy.

The initial meeting with your therapist will most likely consist of a series of questions and discussions to connect with the professional. You can share an overview of what brought you to therapy, what’s going on in your life currently, and any important details from your past that inform your present.

Peña suggests asking yourself the following questions during and after your first session to help you assess whether you two are a good match:

  • Can I see myself being vulnerable with this therapist?
  • Do I feel safe talking with them?

If you meet with a therapist for the first time and decide they’re not a good match for you, know that that’s completely fine.

It’s totally normal and happens to many people. It can take some time to find someone with whom you feel completely comfortable.

Keep in mind the aforementioned potential red flags to determine whether your discomfort is just general nerves from starting therapy or if you are truly feeling uncomfortable with your new therapist.

If you feel like you can’t talk with them honestly, or like they’re not fully listening, these might be reason enough to discontinue therapy with them.

At the end of your first session, your therapist may want to schedule another appointment. If you know that you do not want to meet with them again, you can let them know at this time. You can say that while you appreciate their time, you don’t think it’s a good match right now.

If you’ve been seeing your therapist for some time but feel like you do not want to see them anymore, or you notice some red flags, you might consider sharing this with your therapist, if you feel comfortable, Peña said.

“Your therapist may be able to help you understand why they aren’t a good fit and provide you with referrals for other therapists who may be able to meet your needs in a different way,” she explained. “One thing to remember is trusting the process and giving it a chance. It may take some time to really connect and build trust with your therapist.”

If you do not feel comfortable communicating this to them face-to-face, you can also text, call, or email them to let them know you’re no longer interested in seeing them.

Regardless of how you choose to tell the therapist, it’s important that you do inform them instead of not showing up to your next appointment without an explanation.

Many therapists have cancellation policies, so make sure you cancel at least 24 hours before your appointment to avoid a fee.

How much does therapy cost?

The cost of therapy can depend on the type of therapy, the therapist’s experience, and whether you’re talking with a therapist in person or through teletherapy.

Therapists may charge between $100 and $200 per session for in-person appointments. In bigger cities, therapy can cost more. Some therapists may offer sliding scale rates. If you have insurance, you may pay a portion of the fee depending on your coverage.

Teletherapy is generally less costly. The price per session starts at around $50. Some platforms offer unlimited therapy with a weekly or monthly subscription.

How do I know if I need to see a therapist?

Moore said you should see a therapist if you’re finding it challenging to cope with normal, day-to-day stressors, and if you feel like you may struggle with normal daily functioning.

“This could include feeling intense emotions, fear, anger, depression, anxiety, hopelessness, withdrawal, stress, issues with sleep and issues with food, among other factors that might interfere with or disrupt one’s ability to function normally on a day-to-day basis,” he said.

Peña added, however, that there doesn’t have to be a large event or a crisis to lead you to treatment.

“Therapy does not have to be a reaction; it can be a proactive step you take,” she said.

What types of therapy are there?

There are many types of therapy. The type you choose depends on your needs and preferences.

Some common types of therapy include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT helps you identify and change negative thinking patterns and behaviors.
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT): DBT combines elements of CBT with structured skill-building in mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness.
  • Psychodynamic therapy: This type of therapy focuses on your unconscious thoughts and emotions.
  • Interpersonal therapy: The focus of interpersonal therapy is on your relationships with other people.
  • Family therapy: This type of therapy helps families resolve conflict and improve communication.
  • Group therapy: In this type of therapy, you meet with a group of people who share similar experiences.
  • Art therapy: This type of therapy uses art to express emotions and help process trauma.
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy: EMDR is an interactive form of psychotherapy used to relieve psychological and trauma-based stress.

What are the benefits of therapy?

Therapy has several benefits, including improving mental health, resolving personal issues, and increasing self-awareness. Therapy can also help people learn new coping skills and manage stress.

Some people see therapy as a way to prevent mental health issues or as a way to address underlying causes of mental health conditions. Others use therapy to work through traumas or difficult life events.

Therapy is an effective treatment for many mental health conditions, including:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • PTSD
  • eating disorders

How do I choose a good therapist?

Aside from making sure that a therapist has the proper credentials and comes well recommended, choosing a good therapist is a highly personal endeavor. You want to find someone who will be good for your specific needs.

Identifying areas of stress can be helpful when identifying the right therapist for you, Peña said.

“Most therapists specialize in specific areas, such as employment anxiety, social anxiety, family therapy, grief, and loss, etc.,” she said.

Choosing someone with experience helping others who are going through the same things you are can be very beneficial.

What do I do if I don’t like my therapist after a while of sessions?

It’s OK to let your therapist know you don’t feel like you’re a good fit. In fact, your therapist can help you find another professional who might be a better fit for you. Or they may work with you to better meet your needs.

To help avoid mismatches in the future, Peña suggests asking to schedule 15-minute consultations with potential therapists to assess the connection before scheduling your initial appointment.

Whether you’re coping with grief, trauma, or relationship issues or want treatment for a mental health condition, finding a helpful therapist can make a big difference in your well-being.

To find a therapist who’s a good fit, start by considering practical matters, like licensure, insurance coverage, location, and specialties.

You may find that friends, colleagues, and healthcare professionals are a good source of referrals. You may also find options by using search tools provided by organizations that address your specific concerns.

When you’ve narrowed down your choices, you may find it helpful to think about your goals and questions. This way you can be sure you and your therapist are well matched and aligned on your treatment plan.

Ultimately, finding the right therapist is a personal matter. Human connection is at the heart of effective therapy, and you can build that sense of connection whether you talk with your therapist in person, on the phone, or online.

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