Mental health is an indispensable part of comprehensive well-being. While there are several resources for maintaining or improving one’s mental health independently, seeing a therapist every week or every other week, depending on your lifestyle and the concerns you would like to discuss with a therapist or counselor, is a great way to bolster well-being and protect your health from stressful life events or negative health outcomes. Therapy can provide you with the tools you need to combat stress and build resiliency. But finding the right therapist for you can be quite time-consuming, at times frustrating, and perhaps even a bit overwhelming.
There are a lot of professionals out there who all have very different backgrounds and who utilize various different therapeutic interventions. Even if you at first feel a connection to your therapist and that the both of you can form a strong therapeutic alliance, your feelings may change. You may decide later on that their particular modalities or approach just is not for you. Or maybe you just rather see someone else.
The following will provide some general tips to help those who are looking for the right therapist for them. However, it must be recognized that all individuals are different and unique. We are all experts in ourselves, which is why my number one piece of advice is to simply trust your instincts!
Use your feelings as input. Let your emotions and thoughts guide you along the way. Oftentimes, individuals are made to feel as though therapists or counselors are always in all matters, 100% correct, and that questioning their insights or practices is to question their knowledge and standing as professionals. While it is certainly true that therapists have worked increasingly hard and been through rigorous training and certifications, they are- like us, still human beings, and capable of error, growth, and change.
A compassionate therapist acknowledges this fact and uses it as motivation for continual improvement and deeper understanding. I encourage all individuals to trust in their insights and to communicate to their providers when they feel uncomfortable or disconnected from them. If a client communicates their apprehensions or concerns and they remain unheeded or ignored, consider switching therapists and finding a provider whose treatment focuses more on the individual and their expert knowledge of themselves as people.
Examine what your motivation(s) is for seeking therapy
Before opening up a new browser and looking into all the therapists available near your area, I would first recommend sitting down with yourself and asking…
- “Why do I want to go to therapy?
- What are my goals (if any) for attending therapy?
- What changes would I like to see in myself, my relationships, and my life?”
Now, it is definitely worth mentioning that you do not need to have an official DSM-V diagnosis of any kind to attend therapy. Going to therapy does not necessarily indicate that something negative has happened or that there is anything wrong with a person.
An individual may feel perfectly content with their relationships and themselves, and still choose to attend regular therapy. However, if you feel you have a serious concern and need additional or more collaborative support, please do not hesitate to consult with a trusted medical professional who can support you through the process of finding a reputable healthcare professional.
While it is true that no one needs to have a medical diagnosis to attend counseling, there are healthcare professionals who have more experience treating or addressing certain concerns, which is why it is important to discuss with your primary physician.
Research your therapist
Websites like PsychologyToday.com can and TherapyDen.com prove to be very useful. Using PsychologyToday.com and TherapyDen.com, prospective clients can find therapists in their area who take their insurance or who offer sliding scale fees. Some therapists and counselors also provide free therapy to those who qualify, so I highly recommend reaching out to any therapists you are interested in and finding out what a payment plan might look like.
Furthermore, PsychologyToday.com and Therapyden.com are the perfect places to read up on the professionals you are considering. Information such as where they went to school, what credentials they have, the training(s) they have completed, modalities they specialize in, and populations they serve are all provided on the website. Some counselors have their educational background in psychology or counseling, but not all. There are also counselors with backgrounds in clinical social work, for example. This might be of importance for some clients, and it may not be that important for others, but I think this is a great piece of information to have.
Knowing your therapist’s school of thought can help orient you in the expansive world of therapy. The biographies provided on the site will also mention whether or not the provider has had experience working in particular areas, such as with infidelity, grief, addiction, etc., or with particular populations, including the LGBTQ+ community, those who identify as spiritual, religious, or atheist, members of the BDSM community, and individuals who practice polyamory or Consensual Non-Monogamy (CNM). Knowing this information beforehand can help to prevent any distressing, traumatic interactions.
Open up a word document if you can and create a list of providers who seem knowledgeable and who appear to be able to provide the care you are looking for. Include as many as you like in the list. Some providers might not be able to see new patients, some may have retired and forgotten to deactivate their profiles, and perhaps there are a few who do not accept your insurance plan.
Apart from professional profiles, you may consider reading any reviews other clients have written about providers. While it is advisable to take all reviews with a grain of salt, reviews can illustrate potential themes. If the reviews for a provider all generally repeat the same concerns, this might be an indication that the highlighted concern is particularly salient and worth discussing.
Try to steer away from vague, non-committal reviews or reviews that seem to lack objectivity and focus solely on antagonizing the provider. Researching and looking for providers may allow you to feel in control and reassured knowing that you are taking charge of your health.
Connect with Providers
After conducting some research, and gathering a list of potential providers, the next step would be to contact professionals from that list. Calling therapy offices directly and leaving a voice message often results in a faster response than an email, but if there is no option to place a phone call, an email will work just as well. In the email or voice message, introduce yourself and briefly bring up your reasons for seeking out counseling.
However, it is extremely important not to share any confidential or sensitive information through their email services as these channels are not private and as such, including sensitive information may result in a privacy breach. You may opt to not specify the exact reason(s) you are looking for a therapist until you are on the phone with either the provider or their desk assistant.
That being said, it is still important and a good idea to discuss your goals for therapy and motivations so that you can better gauge if this therapist is for you or not. I would highly recommend asking questions when you contact the therapy office or the actual mental health provider. Asking questions such as “Where did you obtain your counseling degree? What kind of training did you receive? Do you have experience with treating (insert)?” can give you a better idea of what to expect with this provider and if their approach to therapy compliments what you are looking for.
Even if you already read a short blurb about their training, experience, and specializations on their PsychologyToday profile or Therapyden profile, or their professional website, talking about these topics can provide more clarity.
The First Meeting
Your first experience with a potential therapist can be intimidating or awkward, but it is nonetheless very significant, no matter what is exchanged and what is left for the following session, assuming there will be a follow-up. The therapist that is right for you is someone with whom you feel safe with and at ease. You should not feel judged by your provider or that they are exceedingly critical of you. If these feelings come up it may be a sign that this is not the right match. With the right therapist, you should be able to bring up any negative emotions you feel towards them and feel heard in this regard.
If you bring up feeling unheard and unseen with them and they dismiss you or refuse to help you feel more at ease, I would highly suggest finding a different provider.
It is impossible to make any positive progress or see a long-lasting change in therapy with a counselor who makes you feel belittled, ignored, or undervalued. But do not be discouraged! There are a lot of mental health professionals out there and so I would encourage anyone who is interested in attending therapy, to search for the right fit. It is okay if the first five or so therapists just aren’t for you and it’s also okay to keep searching for a professional you feel comfortable with and who you think can really help you with your therapeutic goals.
During the first therapy session, what usually takes place is the therapist shares a little about the work they do, the techniques they employ, and what to expect in therapy, while the client shares with the therapist a bit about themselves. In this meeting, generally speaking, the client discusses their medical history and perhaps some of the reasons that brought them to therapy. It is up to the client to decide how much they wish to disclose and when, as well as how fast or slow they wish to proceed.
Therapy is an extremely individualized process and no two paths will look the same. A client may or may not know immediately following the first session whether or not this is the therapist for them. Which is totally okay and normal. It may take a couple of weeks to decide whether to continue with this provider or not.
- Underrepresented populations
- National Asian American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association (naapimha.org)
- Home – Therapy for Black Men
- Therapy for Asian Americans – Mind Connections NYC – NYC
- APISAA Therapist Directory — Asian Mental Health Collective (asianmhc.org)
- Feel Better, Connect with a Latinx Therapist Today (therapyforlatinx.com)
- Home – The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation (borislhensonfoundation.org)
- Therapy For Black Girls
- Physical Therapy
- Domestic Violence
- Victims of Crime and Violence
- Sex Therapy
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