choosing a therapist

A Psychologist’s Guide for Choosing the Right Therapist for You

Finding the right therapist can feel like an overwhelming task, especially if you are already feeling distressed.  Yet it’s also the crucial first step toward emotional wellness.  This post is designed simplify and demystify the process of choosing a therapist.

You’re doing yourself an important service in being thoughtful and choosy when picking a mental health provider.  This is someone you want to feel safe opening up with, even when it’s uncomfortable.  And you need someone who will offer you a unique perspective and new strategies beyond what you’ve already tried on your own.  You deserve to find a therapist who is both comforting and appropriately challenging so you can safely grow. Following these simple steps and using trustworthy resources will give you confidence that you’re making a good choice.

Steps for Choosing the Right Therapist for You

Recognize when it’s time to get help.  During difficult times, we try our best to cope using our own familiar strategies.  Often this is sufficient to get us through temporary challenges.  But sometimes we recognize that our typical coping strategies are falling short.  This post better describes signs for when to consider therapy: When is a Good Time to Start Therapy.  Most people wait for weeks or months to decide it’s time to seek mental health help, often enduring a great deal of unnecessary emotional suffering.  Choose to begin therapy when you are open to change and willing to commit to your own wellness.

Clarify what you want to accomplish in therapy.  It’s helpful to be clear about your goals for therapy and educate yourself about different treatment approaches so that you have an idea of what to look for.  If you’re struggling with anxiety, for example, do some research on symptoms of anxiety and effective treatment options.  If you’re struggling with something more complex or specialized, like coping with multiple emotional and physical concerns or managing complex grief, then it’s helpful to seek a provider with more specialized training.  This way you can hone your search for providers who are experienced with the most effective treatment approaches for your issues.  Here are a few helpful websites with trustworthy information on mental health conditions and treatment guidelines.

Ask for referrals.  Many people find a trusted therapist by asking for names from medical professionals.  Primary care doctors and even medical specialists often keep a list of mental health providers they often refer to for specific concerns.  If you feel comfortable opening up with family or friends, this can be another way to learn about providers in your community.  The more people you ask for guidance, the more you can cross check the names that keep coming up.

Research therapists online.  Most mental health providers have some level of online presence that allows you to learn about them, their expertise, their approach to care, and their practice. Mental health centers and larger medical centers often provide profiles of each provider on staff.  Private practices usually have websites and profile listings on pages like Psychology Today.  You can often get a good feel for a provider and a practice by reading these pages and can even find out details about scheduling, insurance, specialty focus, and fees.  It can be difficult to understand the differences between the various types therapists and their training when choosing which is best for you.  Generally, the more complicated or specialized your concerns, the more useful it may be to find someone with higher levels of training and specialization. The following link from the National Alliance on Mental: Types of Mental Health Providers.

Make a few phone calls.  Once you’ve narrowed down your choice to 3 to 5 providers you’d like to learn more about, it’s time to take a deep breath and make some phone calls.  Most providers will provide a complimentary phone call where you can ask questions about them and their practice.  The main goal of this conversation is to determine if you feel comfortable talking to this person and whether he/she has some expertise to offer you.  You’re looking for someone who can provide support and guidance beyond what you may already receive from friends and family.  Explain what your concerns and goals are.  Then try asking some of these helpful questions:

  • How would you help me with these concerns?
  • What is your experience or expertise working with people who have concerns like mine?
  • What are your hours and scheduling policy?
  • What are your fees or insurance panel status?
  • How often and for how long do you typically see patients?
  • Do you provide emergency services?
  • How do you decide when it’s a good time to end treatment?

Continue to reassess.  Even after you choose someone to begin psychotherapy with, it’s important to assess how it’s going from time to time.  Effective therapy is based on having a good working relationship with your provider.  You want to feel a connection with this person, like he/she understands and accepts you.  And you want to feel like you are making progress towards your goals, even though this progress may feel uneven at times.  Your mental health provider should be open to conversations about the progress of therapy.  It’s okay to switch providers as well.  Different mental health professionals may have something different to offer you over the course of your journey.

Written by Suzanne Smith, Ph.D. for the Lakefront Psychology Blog. If you are interested in more original articles about mental health, postpartum issues, wellness, relationships, and parenting, please subscribe to the blog using the button below.  If you would like to schedule an appointment with Dr. Smith, please contact Lakefront Psychology, LLC at 216-870-9816.


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