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Choosing a Therapist in a Sea of Faces

Updated: Apr 3

Embarking on the journey of mental wellness and self-discovery is a courageous step towards a more fulfilling life. On this journey, there is no shortage of self-help workshops and books with distinct life philosophies one could adopt, internet influencers with quick fixes and life hacks, and friends with “you should just do this” type of advice. While any of these avenues could be helpful along your journey of improving or healing, a trained therapist can offer an unbiased, psychological science-based treatment that can cut through the noise of the self-help field and help you along your journey.


But how does one find a good therapist? The right fit may not be as simple as a click of a button. Here are some tips that may help during your search:


1. Self-Reflection:

Before diving into the search for a therapist, take some time for self-reflection. Identifying what you want to get out of therapy and acknowledging that going to therapy requires a time, financial and emotional commitment is important to ground yourself in the search process. The thought of going to a stranger to speak about your personal problems is overwhelming and requires some degree of working through anxious feelings on the way to finding a therapist.


2. Research Therapeutic Approaches:

Therapists utilize various therapeutic approaches, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), psychoanalytic, humanistic, internal family systems, EMDR, mindfulness-based techniques and the list could go on forever. These approaches are all designed to help people feel better, but they do so with somewhat different philosophies on what causes suffering. Often there is abundant overlap between these approaches, but some things may be quite different. For example, if you are looking to process a major trauma versus receive treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder, you might find some therapies more effective than others. Research these approaches to understand which resonates with you. However, you might notice that many therapists list multiple types of therapeutic approaches on their profile pages. This is because many practitioners integrate multiple approaches and adjust their approach based on the client’s issue at hand.


3. Credentials and Licensing:

Ensure that the therapist you choose is licensed and accredited. Licensing requirements vary by region, so check the regulatory boards in your area. A licensed therapist has met specific educational and training criteria, providing assurance of their professional competence. You will often find LPC’s and LCSW’s in the field, both of which are master levels clinicians. You will also find PsyD’s and PhD’s, both of which are doctoral level clinicians.


4. Specialization:

Therapists often specialize in certain areas, such as anxiety, depression, trauma, or relationship issues. For instance, not all therapists will see couples or families as this requires very different training as compared to the training required to treat individuals. Keep in mind that most therapists are equipped to treat depression and anxiety, but not all may be able to treat a couple or PTSD.


5. Insurance Coverage:

Check whether your health insurance covers therapy and, if so, which therapists are in-network. In the outpatient therapy world, you’ll find that many therapists are not accepting insurance. This is often due to the significant amount of work therapists must put in to become paneled with a company and chase their money due. Therefore, if you are paying out of pocket with a therapist who does not accept insurance, be sure you know their out-of-pocket fee and ask for a “superbill” which is a detailed document insurance companies will need to reimburse you in the case of having out-of-network benefits.


6.  Initial Consultation:

Most therapists offer an initial consultation or phone call to discuss your concerns and assess if there is a good fit between their expertise and your expectations. Having this brief interaction with a therapist is a great opportunity for you to ask questions about therapy, gauge their approach, determine if their schedule matches your own and generally gain a gut feel for whether you like this person. Choosing a therapist might be a bit like dating – there are many options and if it feels like a good connection, you might consider booking a first appointment and giving it a try.


7.  Cultural Competence:

Consider the cultural competence of the therapist, especially if you belong to an underrepresented community. A therapist who understands (or is at least aware there is a gap in their understanding) and respects your cultural background is critical. All aspects your identity and experience are relevant to treatment and a therapist who misses the mark in this aspect could cause harm or reduce the degree of improvement.


8.  Therapeutic Alliance:

The therapeutic relationship is a cornerstone of successful therapy and is proven so in therapy research. If you move from a free initial consultation to a first session, pay attention to your gut feelings when talking to this new person. A strong therapeutic alliance is characterized by trust and open communication. While it is awkward to talk to a stranger about painful feelings, someone who is a good fit will make this process much easier. You may notice that ease in their warmth, perhaps appropriate humor to bring levity to any awkwardness, a deep sense of caring and empathy, a transparency about the process or perhaps reminding you of someone familiar. What is important to know is that in the early stages of therapy, you are still assessing fit. Once you feel it is the right therapist, keep in mind that if something about the relationship feels off later, it is important to tell your therapist. More about this in a future post.

9. Listings:

If you choose to use insurance, most insurance companies have online portals that you can log into and will list therapist names based by zip code. You can then do a quick Google search of that therapist's name to find their personal website and perhaps their Psychology Today page. Psychology Today has become the largest listing directory for outpatient therapists. Here you can filter based on insurance, therapy modality, zip code, gender, etc. If you find yourself in the situation of neither having health insurance and not being able to afford an out of pocket fee, you may try Open Path Collective, where therapists offer significantly reduced fees.


Finding the best therapist involves a thoughtful and intentional process. By combining self-reflection, research, and proactive communication, you can identify a therapist who aligns with your goals and provides the support needed for your mental wellness journey. Remember that finding the right therapist may take time, but the investment in your well-being is well worth it.

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