It can take courage to acknowledge that professional treatment may be appropriate in order to effectively address symptoms, situations, and challenges that life throws at us. The process of getting to this point may be difficult (and the hardest for some) however once a decision has been made to go to therapy, the next step of finding a therapist becomes the focus. This step can be intimidating and overwhelming, especially for individuals who have not participated in any form of therapy before and do not know where to start.
How does someone pick a therapist when there are so many to choose from? Although a therapist’s education, experience, and credentials are primary factors that most of us consider when researching our options, the most crucial aspect that contributes to therapy being effective is the quality of the therapist-client relationship. In other words, a therapist’s training and interventions will not be effective if a strong, safe, and trustworthy therapeutic relationship with the client is not established first.
Luckily there are some factors we can consider that will help assess whether a therapist is the right fit for us. Here are some things to think about during the therapist search:
- What qualities do you look for in a relationship? How would you know that you feel safe?
- How can you tell if your therapist is trustworthy and authentic?
- Are you looking for a therapist who specializes in the problem areas that you are facing?
- Are there specific treatment interventions or approaches you prefer a therapist to have training and experience in?
- Is your therapist in agreement with you about your goals of therapy?
- What specific characteristics do you prefer to have in a therapist (gender, age, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion, language)?
- How do you feel about therapist self-disclosure? How much is too much or too little?
- What type of boundaries do you look for in a professional-client relationship?
- How do you prefer to communicate with a therapist in between sessions (phone, email, text)?
- When do you expect a therapist to be available for both appointments and communication/crises in between?
- How important is a therapist’s office location and how far are you willing to travel?
- Do you prefer a therapist to have a particular professional credential (psychologist, licensed marriage and family therapist, licensed clinical social worker, licensed professional counselor, psychiatrist)?
- Do you want to use insurance or are you willing/able to pay a therapist’s set fee? Do you need to be accommodated with a sliding scale?
- Do you have any special needs that may impact therapy (medical conditions, job, transportation)?
- Is a therapist able to explain what to expect in therapy as well as discuss what some of the potential risks are?
- How does a therapist address miscommunications or problems that come up within the therapy relationship?
This list of questions if far from exhaustive but includes some general areas of treatment that are recommended to think about. Because all relationships are subjective, what one client may find appealing in a therapist another client may find to be a turn off. Sometimes this process may involve attending a few sessions with a therapist in order to determine if the relationship is worth investing in. It may be as simple as paying attention to your gut feeling. Don’t become discouraged if a therapist turns out to be the wrong fit since each therapist’s personalities, expertise, and approaches are different.
Most therapists (at least good ones) should be open and understanding about a client’s decision to discontinue therapy due to a poor fit and be willing and able to provide a list of other therapists who may better meet a client’s specific treatment needs. Therapists should also be able to educate clients about alternative forms of treatment that may be effective in addressing a specific issue.
One more thing to consider is that like any professional discipline, therapists are regulated by state licensing boards, which are in place to promote ethical, sound, and safe treatment. Therefore when choosing a therapist, clients have the right and ability to review a therapist’s credentials in order to ensure that no complaints or disciplinary actions have been made against him or her. This information is usually made available on most state licensing boards’ websites in which you can find a link labeled “verify a license.”