How to Choose Your Therapist
Most people who are looking for a therapist want to know how they can know if a therapist is a “good therapist.”
The number one predictor of therapy success (the client meeting the goals they have for therapy) is the relationship you have with your therapist.
How much you like them.
How much you respect them.
How much you trust them.
These things matter the most. It doesn’t matter how “good” or “skilled” or “credentialed” someone is on paper if you don’t like them. If you don’t, therapy will not be a pleasant experience and you’ll be far less likely to experience the growth you’re seeking.
So how do you find someone you like?
I’d start by asking your friends if they have a therapist they like. Some of my best referrals (where the new client and I had an immediate connection and shared understanding) were from my previous clients. It makes sense - they knew me, could explain what I’m like, and make an honest recommendation on whether I would jive with their friend.
If you don’t have recommendations from friends, then your next best bet is an old fashioned google search.
Before you jump in though, I recommend writing down some of the essential things you’re wanting, such as location (telehealth or in-person), method of payment (insurance or self-pay), modalities (EMDR, art therapy, etc.), and specialties you’re wanting (depression, autism, bi-olar etc.).
You can also note if you have a preference for specific identities, such as gender, race, or sexuality. Don’t worry about being biased here. Our lived experiences make us more comfortable with certain preferences and it is okay to honor that. For example, someone who is gender non-conforming may want a therapist who understands the challenges of being gender non-conforming in our culture. I also know of many women who are not comfortable with a male therapist due to past traumatic events that involved a male. It is alright for a woman to honor this and seek a woman therapist.
Once you have these items, you are prepared to start your search. You can type in the key words, such as: Tucson therapist, EMDR, trauma, female.
You can also add key words that reflect some of your values. For example, when I look for a therapist for myself (I advocate strongly that therapists need their own therapist), I include the words “neurodivergent” and “feminist” because these are key to my life and I want someone who holds similar understandings and values.
You will get many, many results. If you’re trying to use insurance, it can be easier to go through Therapy Den, Inclusive Therapist, or Psychology Today (they let you search for your specific kind of insurance).
If you’re doing self-pay, you can stick with google and look at the therapist websites that come up. When you examine their websites, read about their approach, check out their specialities, see if they have professional social media accounts and more. You’re wanting to see if their material speaks to your needs and resonates with you.
If not, move on. Keep looking at other websites. There are some therapists who do not have websites and solely lists themselves on therapy directories (Therapy Den, Psychology Today, etc). If a therapist does not have a website, it typically means that a therapist is so busy that they don’t need one or that they’re not established enough to invest the time and resources (or may be in the process of doing so).
I personally want someone who is not too busy (I’m against hustle culture) and is already an established therapist. So I take a solid, thoughtful website as a good sign. Plus, it helps me understand the therapist better.
Once you’ve found someone you like, reach out and schedule a consultation. Note the therapist’s response times. I personally want a therapist who responds to me in a respectable amount of time.
Once you have a phone consultation scheduled, prepare questions around the topics that are important to you. For example, you could ask about how they help someone with anxiety or if they have experience working with someone who is neurodivergent.
As you and the therapist converse, pay attention to the way you feel.
Are you enjoying the therapist’s style of conversing?
Are you feeling excited to work together?
Do you like the questions they ask you?
If anything feels off or not a good fit, walk away. I know it can feel like you need a therapist NOW and you just want the search to be over, but it is not worth settling for someone you do not feel confident about.
It can also feel awkward to tell another person that you’re not interested in working together, BUT DO IT.
As a therapist, I would much rather an individual honor their feelings and not work with me then secretly not feel good about it. Furthermore, it does not “hurt” my feelings or my self worth as a therapist if someone chooses to not work with me. I understand I have a unique style and work with a narrow population. For some, I’m the perfect fit. For everyone else, I’m simply not.
Again - it is the therapeutic relationship that matters the most.
This is the time to be picky.
You are going to be investing your time, money, effort, hope, and trust.
The time to listen to your gut and the messages it is giving you.
It may take time to find the right match, but it makes all the difference.