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Gillian Dreher
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One of the most challenging parts of beginning therapy is selecting the right therapist from the many available options. Therapists come from a range of backgrounds and have a variety of specialties, licenses, and conversational styles. With all of these choices how is a help-seeker supposed to know which one will be best for them? 

To find out, we spoke to licensed therapist Angela Whittinghill, LMHC. In this article she explains what to look for in a therapist, how to interview a potential therapist, and how to determine if a therapist is a good match for you.

What to look for in a therapist

Angela notes that a great first step is to research the best methods for treating your or your loved one’s specific mental health concern(s) and then search for therapists who specialize in or have experience with those methods. 

For example, if you are struggling with symptoms of depression, such as low mood and lack of motivation, you might be interested in a therapist who specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), or interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT). Reliable websites to look up best treatments are the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), American Psychological Association, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website.

Once you have an idea of the types of treatment that are best for your concerns, it's time to search for therapists whose backgrounds fit the information you found. Angela says that you will likely need to spend some time scrolling through the different specialties that therapists have listed on their bios but that it’s important not to skip this step. 

“The same way you would go to a specialist for specialized medical treatment, you want to seek mental health services from a specialized therapist,” she says. Look for therapists who have experience with the treatments you’re interested in or who have experience treating concerns similar to your own.

Above all else, Angela notes that you or your loved one “must feel that you can trust the therapist.” Evidence shows that good rapport based on trust and a genuine connection can be even more effective in treatment than specific techniques or skills. While you may not be able to get a good sense as to the rapport you have with a therapist until speaking with them, you can look for therapists who feature video bios to get a sense of whether they feel like a good fit even before speaking with them. 

Alongside all other factors, therapist availability can be a difficult issue. It’s often hard to determine from a therapist’s website or online profile their current availability for seeing new clients. The best practice is to email or call potential therapists early in your search to inquire about availability. This will ensure that you don’t get too far into your search only to realize that the handful of therapists you’ve narrowed down to are unavailable.

Interviewing a potential therapist

Because getting a feel for your connection with your therapist is so important, many therapists offer free 10-15 minute “introductory calls” or “phone consultations” where you can ask questions and gather information about the therapist. Even if a therapist does not offer an introductory call on their website or online profile, it’s worth asking for one in order to get a feel for your connection with them. 

To prepare for your introductory call, write down any questions you have, including logistical questions about scheduling, session length, and their experience treating issues similar to yours. Angela notes that you’ll want to make sure you’ve got a quiet place with plenty of privacy to have your call and to be as forthcoming as you can about what you or your loved one are experiencing while remaining concise. Do be respectful of the therapist’s time by staying within the time allotted for the call.

During your introductory call, the therapist will likely want a brief overview of your reasons for seeking therapy, any symptoms you’ve been experiencing, and how long you’ve been feeling this way. Remember to keep this brief as your call will be quite short and you’ll want time to ask questions. 

Here are some sample questions you may want to ask:

  • How long have you been a therapist?
  • What is your experience with treating (type of client or symptoms you or your loved one are experiencing– eg “children with ADHD” or “women experiencing low mood and motivation”)?
  • What type of therapy do you typically use when working with (type of client or symptoms you or your loved one are experiencing)?
  • Do you offer in-person or telehealth sessions?
  • What are your fees?
  • What is your cancellation policy?
  • Are you available in the evenings? (This can be especially important if you are seeking therapy for a child who is in school)

Some therapists don’t offer consultations, in which case you’ll need to attend a session to determine if you are a good fit. Remember to come to your initial session prepared with questions and treat this first session as a time to get to know each other. 

Making a decision

After learning more about your potential therapist through their online profile and/or through an introductory call, it’s time to make a decision. If things feel like a good fit, that’s great news! You should let the therapist know that you’re ready to move forward with therapy. 

If things don’t feel like a match, you have no obligation to keep meeting with that therapist and should let them know that you don’t feel like it’s a good fit. It can be very nerve-wracking to let someone know that you don’t want to continue working with them. Rest assured that they have heard this before and will appreciate you letting them know. Angela reminds us that “If a client doesn’t feel like they can work with the specific therapist or don’t feel like they can trust them, then therapy won’t be effective.” Trust your instincts and make the choice that is right for you!

It’s possible that the therapist may let you know that they aren’t a good fit for you or your loved one. Angela says the reasons a therapist might decide this can include the age, level of care, or concerns of the client being outside the scope of the therapist’s specialization. If this happens, the therapist will offer you guidance on how or where to find someone more suitable and will provide you with necessary referrals.

Once you make your decision, Angela notes that you are always able to let your therapist know if you don’t think they are a good fit after all, even after the first few sessions (or later!). Therapists are prepared to make referrals out to other therapists who might be a better fit for you.

Getting started

You can search Healwise’s directory for affordable mental health services in your area.

Finding A Therapist
Understanding Your Options
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