How to Choose a Therapist

Published: November 13, 2019

Choosing a therapist, whether for yourself, your child or for you and your partner can be overwhelming, confusing and intimidating. Finding a new therapist requires some research much like what you might do when buying a car or house. To start your list of potential therapists, ask your trusted family, friends, physician, or clergy for recommendations. Also, be sure to search the online listings for therapists at sites such as Psychology Today, The Gottman Institute (couples and relationship therapists), and the Association for Play Therapist (therapists for children and parents). Checking with community mental health agencies as well as with Families First can be another source for finding therapists.

Next, check the licensure of the therapists that you are considering. A counseling license gives you an idea about the training and experience of a therapist. Therapists with a master’s degree and required experience are licensed mental health counselors (LMHC), licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFT), or licensed clinical social workers (LCSW). At the doctorate degree level for therapists that are psychologists (PhD, PsyD), the most advanced endorsement after licensing is health service provider in psychology (HSPP).

Membership in a professional counseling organization is another sign of competence to look for in a potential therapist. Another consideration is to look for therapists who accept your insurance. There is usually an online listing available or check if your employer offers EAP.

• Questions you can ask a therapist before you meet with them:

o Some therapists are more comfortable addressing the immediate problem, while others want to focus on the deeper issue. Which are you?

o What are your strengths as a therapist?

o Have you been in therapy for yourself?

o Do you identify strengths and encourage clients to capitalize on their strengths, rather than concentrate on their deficits?

o Do you take calls or texts after hours?

o Are you family-centered and do you encourage members of the family to participate in the treatment?

o How do you work with young children (if a child is going to be the client)?

o If the therapist is employed at an agency or institution, always ask about the rate of therapist turnover. The answer to this question can help determine the likelihood of the therapist being available long-term, or not.

• Once you’ve met with the therapist, ask yourself these questions:

o How soon did you feel relaxed and able to go at your own pace when speaking with the therapist?

o Did you feel heard and understood?

o Did you receive useful information and responses from the very first session, or was it filled with technical jargon or vague statements?

o Imagine your deepest, darkest secret — could you imagine telling this person about it?

Searching for a therapist that is right for you and your situation can be daunting. With some research and checking with a range of resources, your experience can be a rewarding, empowering life experience!