When it comes to finding a therapist, it can be challenging to find someone who’s right for you. In fact, some people say that finding the right therapist can be a bit like dating — you might need to get to know a few different people and explore your options before you find the right one for you.
Finding the right therapist can be a bit like dating — you might need to get to know a few different people and explore your options before you find the person who’s right for you.
Ask yourself what you’re looking for in a therapist and what qualities are most important (e.g., style, personality, training, etc.).
The most important thing is to find someone you’re comfortable sharing with, though remember that you’ll often grow more comfortable with someone new over time.
Still, there are some things you can do to increase your chances of finding a therapist who can meet your needs.
What to look for in a therapist
If you’ve never worked with a therapist, it might feel daunting to start searching. So, before beginning your search, ask yourself the following questions to help guide you:
Would I be more comfortable with a male or female therapist? Some people prefer a therapist of their own gender, and others don’t feel it matters to them.
Would I prefer a therapist older than me, younger than me, or my age? Some people feel more comfortable talking to someone similar in age — they believe they “get them”. Others have no preference.
Do I want to work with someone who shares my race, sexual orientation, or religion? If you hold an identity that’s important to you — especially if you are a member of a marginalized group — you feel more relaxed speaking with someone from that same group.
How important is it that my therapist has specialized training in the topic I need support with (e.g., anxiety, trauma)? While all therapists are trained to listen empathetically to your struggles, certain therapists have specialized training that might provide a deeper level of support and treatment.
Is there a particular therapeutic technique I’m hoping to try (e.g., cognitive-behavioral therapy, EMDR)? Suppose you’ve already tried basic talk therapy and are looking for something more specific. In that case, finding a therapist who uses a more advanced technique can be helpful.
Would I prefer to work with someone in-person or online? If you live in a remote or rural area, being open to virtual appointments can widen the net of potential therapists to work with.
Would I prefer a therapist who asks lots of questions or uses silence more? Therapists have different styles, so think about which style of questioning might work best for you.
Do I want someone who will be direct and hold me accountable or someone whose approach is warmer and more comforting? Every therapist is different. Consider which approach would be best for your needs.
How frequently would I like to meet with my therapist? Some therapists schedule weekly appointments, others every other week or even multiple times a week. A therapist’s client calendar may impact session frequency, so consider this as you evaluate your options.
The most important qualities in a therapist
There are many different qualities to look for in a therapist. Some come down to personal preference, personality, and style, while others should be prevalent in any therapeutic relationship.
Most importantly, find a therapist you can trust and feel comfortable with. It’s crucial to find a person with whom you can open up and feel relaxed sharing. Then, you can develop a supportive, working partnership with the right therapist. This is called the “therapeutic alliance”, and research tells us that it’s one of the most important predictors of whether therapy will be successful or not.
Importantly, feeling this comfort and connection is less about the individual therapist and their training but more about how you “click” with them. Because of this intangible factor, finding the right therapist can take a few tries.
Steps for finding your best therapist
If you’re ready to find a therapist who can meet your needs, here are some steps to take.
Figure out what you’re looking for. Ask yourself the questions above to identify the most important qualities you need in a therapist. Once you’ve identified what you’re looking for and what kind of therapist will meet your needs, consider which of those qualities are most must-haves and which are flexible. For example, if you might prefer to work with a female therapist who’s trained in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, but would also be open to a male therapist with EMDR training.
Insurance. Unfortunately, therapy comes with a financial cost, which may be expensive in some cases. Do some research to identify whether your insurance covers therapy. Your insurance provider might also have a database of providers who are in-network and covered by your insurance.
Scheduling initial appointments. Once you’ve found one (or several!) potential therapists, it’s time to reach out and schedule some initial appointments. Some therapy practices will offer free 30-minute introductory sessions to see if you’re a good match, while others will ask you to schedule a full session.
Reflect on initial appointment(s). Once you’ve completed your initial appointments and met with one or two therapists, reflect on your experience. Did you feel heard? Did you feel comfortable sharing? Do the therapist's style and personality seem well-matched with your preferences?
If the answer is yes, then congratulations on finding a match. If you don’t feel like the person was a good fit, it’s okay to keep looking. The therapy practice might even be able to re-match you with someone else at their practice.
If you’re unsure if a therapist is right for you or if you felt uncomfortable with them, consider how much of that is anxiety regarding the therapy process. Often, you’ll grow more comfortable with a therapist over time. However, you may still need a few sessions to determine whether a therapist is right for you.