Choosing the right therapist can be stressful. It can feel like you’re putting your mental health in their hands—so how do you make sure you pick someone who will take the best care of you?
The biggest thing to look out for is whether or not someone is a good fit for your needs. Spend some time thinking about what your goals and motivations for therapy are. What do you want to work on or change? What problems or issues do want to address? If you don’t know, that’s okay—you’ll figure it out as you start meeting with your therapist.
Who do you feel most comfortable with?
Your therapist is first and foremost a person. Your relationship with that person—the “therapeutic relationship” is one of the most important factors in therapy. And we all have an easier time building relationships with some people than others. Here are a few things you might want to consider:
- Gender: Some people feel more comfortable opening up about their feelings to someone of a particular gender.
- Sexual identity/orientation: If you’re part of the LGBTQ+ community, you might feel comfortable with a therapist who’s part of that community, too.
- Religion: Some therapists specialize in providing therapy through a religious or spiritual lens.
- Race, ethnicity, and culture: In a perfect world, therapists of all backgrounds are supposed to be culturally competent—able to understand the unique issues faced by people from minority groups or different cultures. But at the end of the day, sometimes it makes sense to trust someone who shares your ethnic background.
- Language: If English is your second language, you might benefit from speaking with someone who speaks your first language.
At the same time, it’s good to keep an open mind. No one is ever going to understand your situation completely. Any therapist you meet with is going to depend at least as much on empathy (being able to put themselves in your shoes) as on any shared background. Most therapists don’t really talk much about themselves anyway—that’s not what you’re there for.
Areas of focus/expertise
Most therapists are pretty well trained in treating depression and anxiety, since those are the most common mental health conditions. But if you’re struggling with something specific, it might make sense to look for someone who specializes in that particular issue. Examples of more specialized issues include: addiction, bipolar disorder, trauma, relationships, sexuality, and more.
Some therapists will advertise that they use a particular type of therapy. Most therapists mix and match techniques according to your needs, but if there’s a type of therapy you’ve heard of that you think might be beneficial, you can look for a therapist who specializes in that type of therapy.
Your needs change over time
Have you had other therapists before? What were some of the things you liked or didn’t like about them? You can look for therapists who are similar to your favorite therapists from before—or you can look for someone who can bring a different perspective to your sessions.
Finding the right therapist can be a trial and error process. What worked for you in the past, might not work for you now—and what works for you now, might not work for you in the future. Remember that recovery is a process. Your needs are bound to change over time.
How do I find someone who fits my needs?
Mental Health Match and Psychology Today have excellent search tools you can use to find someone who meets your needs. Your insurance company might also have tools that can help you. For more information, read our article on how to find a therapist.