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5 Tips for Finding the Right Therapist

Finding a good therapist can be a process.

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If you’re considering therapy, 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 that’s right for you.

How to Find a Good Therapist in 5 Steps

Finding a therapist that you connect with can be a process, but don’t give up if the first one doesn’t work out. Here are a few solid steps to follow.

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1. Streamline Your Search

There are many different avenues you can take to find the right therapist. If you plan to pay for therapy through your insurance plan, look through your plan’s provider network. Find out whether your 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 also look through online databases. A number of mental health organizations maintain up-to-date, searchable databases of licensed therapists. (American Psychological Association has a good one.) Just type 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.

And don’t forget about local resources. If you’re a student, your school might provide access to a counseling center. If you’re employed, your human resources team might offer a list of therapists available through a workplace wellness or employee assistance program.If you want your faith to inform your treatment, you might consider reaching out to your place of worship for a list of licensed therapists affiliated with your faith.

2. Find a Fit For You

If you’re looking for a therapist to help with a specific mental health issue, you might find local therapists through a national association, network, or helpline, like the National Eating Disorders Association or National Center for PTSD.

If your job is a source of stress and anxiety, you might find local therapists through a professional organization. Many of these organizations and trade unions have resources to help you identify professionals who can assist with mental health needs. (The International Association of Firefighters, for example, offers help with mental health, PTSD, and substance abuse.)

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Access to culture-conscious therapists is an important factor, as well. Here are some resources for people of color to consider when looking for a therapist: The Yellow Couch Collective (an online support group for Black women); The National Asian American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association (a nonprofit dedicated to the mental health and well-being of the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities); and WeRNative (which provides Native American youth with tools for holistic health and growth, including mental health resources).

3. Consider Going Online

One “good” thing to come out of the pandemic? A change in how we go about the therapy process. A study published in JAMA Psychiatry found that internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helped patients manage fear and anxiety just as well as a 45-minute in-person session by using a self-guided instructional book combined with weekly 10-minute therapy sessions conducted on a secure platform. Another study found that people with depression felt that their symptoms improved after online sessions.

“Therapist-guided online CBT is based on the same strategies and exercises [as in person therapy], and patients can interact with the treatment content at any time of day,” says lead author Erland Axelsson, Ph.D., licensed psychologist at Karolinska Institute in Solna, Sweden. And because health anxiety is similar in nature to other forms of anxiety, Axelsson believes it also could apply to a broader population.

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

4. Ask Lots of Questions

About things that matter to you! It’s not uncommon to completely forget every question you wanted to ask. Keep your notes app ready and jot down a few things ahead of time.

Don’t know what to ask? Here are some questions the American Psychological Association and Anxiety and Depression Association of America suggest considering 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 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?
  • Do you accept Medicare or Medicaid?
  • 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?

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5. Pay Attention to How You Feel

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. But if you feel uncomfortable with your therapist for any other reason, it’s all right to look for someone else. 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?
  • How does your body feel during a therapy session? Do you feel tense?
  • 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?