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Finding Your Therapist

Updated: Sep 25, 2023

Whether this is your first time, or you are a seasoned client of the mental health world, it can be daunting to find the right therapist. It can be scary to open up to a stranger. Often, we are going to therapy to address an issue that we either do not like about ourselves or do not want others to know about us – or both. It definitely feels overwhelming and like you don’t know where to start. Maybe you even feel a little hopeless because you want to see someone sooner rather than later. You might be wondering whether you need therapy, how to find it, who the right person is, and how much it costs. The goal of this post is to answer those very questions.

How do I know if I need therapy?

Sign on a building asking "How are you really?"

I want to start this by saying there is absolutely nothing wrong with going to therapy. People go to therapy for a lot of reasons. Some just simply need to talk to someone and feel validated, some have things going on that are making it difficult to enjoy life, some are struggling to do what they need to do from day to day. Regardless of the reason, there is someone out there for you. Finding the right fit is subjective. You need to think about how you are experiencing your life. Most therapists are going to ask their clients if their struggle is impacting their ability to function at work or school, connect with friends and/or partners, and perform basic self care, like whether they are not eating, showering, sleeping, etc. Again, sometimes you also just need to process out loud with an objective individual. It is completely okay to go to therapy not really knowing what your goals are. You and your therapist can work to help identify that together.

Where do I even find a therapist?

There are a lot of search engines out there for this. What’s here is by no means comprehensive, but they are good places to start. To be clear, I am not receiving any financial contributions for promoting these platforms. Here are some resources that I have found to be helpful for myself, friends, clients, and colleagues:

Some of these sites are more popular than others. Many of them serve the same overarching purpose. Psychology Today, Therapy Den, Mental Health Match, and Meet Monarch make things easy because you enter your zip code and several therapists in your area will appear. Across these websites, several therapists in your area are going to appear. One of my favorite things about these search engines is they have several filters. You can filter by gender identity, therapeutic approach, and specializations, which are great for finding a good fit. You can also filter by insurance companies that they are paneled with. Open Path Collective is great for those who have financial hardships or lack adequate insurance coverage, and still providing the same types of filters. Inclusive Therapists is also a wonderful search engine with core values related to social justice and serving marginalized populations.

Of course, search engines are not the only way to find a therapist. If you have health insurance, most companies have a place on their website for you to identify covered providers in your area. Asking your doctor or any medical provider for a referral is also an option. You can also check with local community centers where some therapists have networked. It is also absolutely okay to reach out to a therapist to see if they know someone in their area that focuses on your needs. Therapist marketing heavily relies on word of mouth networking. So, even reaching out to someone in your area that may not be the best fit for you approach wise or financially could be beneficial.

Who is the right person for me?

Follow up question: What do all these letters behind their names mean?

The many letters behind the different therapist’s name can cause confusion. There was even a study about it (Sheperis et al., 2019)! Maybe it leaves you wondering if one set of letters is better than others. Simply put, while there is a wide array of letters across fields, states, degrees, and certifications, you can rest assured that the letters are not an exclusive indicator of who you should work with. Common titles you may see include but are not limited to: Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC); Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT); Resident in Counseling; Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW); Supervisee of Social Work; Licensed Clinical Psychologist; National Certified Counselor (NCC); Clinical Mental Health Counselor (CMHC). Again, these are common credentials (certainly not all of the ones that are out there), any of which indicate that someone is qualified to work with you.

Follow up question: How do I find a therapist whose style fits me?

Therapy is much more than the letters behind the name. It is a professional relationship. This is someone with whom you need to feel comfortable. How you and your therapist fit with one another is so important for how you progress (DeAngelis, 2019; Lavik et al., 2022). The first step is reading about them. Most therapists have a profile or website with information about their approach and background. You want to look at what areas they tend to focus on, what populations they work with, and their location – even if they are fully virtual, they need to be licensed in your state of residence. Once you find a profile that resonates with what you are looking for, you should reach out to them.

It is never too early to reach out, and you do not have to reach out to only one person. In fact, I encourage you to reach out to at least 3 or 4 individuals whose profile speaks to you. Sometimes therapists may not be available. You should give them about 3 business days before following up. If all of them reach out saying they are available, you can narrow the decision down based on your preferred appointment time, cost, and comfort. I would recommend scheduling a consultation call with them to see how they feel in a conversation. It is also a great time to ask questions.

Two individuals talking at a table

There is never a bad question to ask a therapist. Whether it is an email inquiry, a consultation call, your first appointment or your 100th appointment, you should always feel safe to ask your questions. Here are some suggested questions you could ask your therapist to help determine if they fit for you:

  • How will you help me identify my goals?

  • What is your typical approach in a session?

  • Am I able to talk about things outside of my goals that are bothering me too?

  • How do you decide your approach for addressing someone’s needs?

  • How do you measure progress in therapy?

  • What extra trainings have you done?

  • What insurances do you take and what is your out of pocket cost?

What if I can’t afford it?

It is definitely frustrating. Most therapists are not in it for the money. However, they have bills, family, and are humans who need time outside of work just like you. It is a broken system. As such, some therapists have flat rates are harder to meet. But this does not mean that having a therapist is automatically inaccessible. To start, treatment is meant to be customizable to your needs and ability. While this can get complex, you can negotiate your level of care with your therapist. Unless there is a major risk involved, you could meet with them more or less frequently and still be successful. Remember that you have a lot of control over your treatment plan.

If you have health insurance, many therapists are paneled with those same companies. Some therapists also offer sliding scales based on your income (Open Path Collective is a great resource for this!!). If you cannot find an answer about those options on their websites, it is always okay to ask. If ultimately you cannot work together, it is absolutely okay to ask for referrals for other therapists. Even if we cannot be your main helper, we want to be as helpful as possible.

Another option is looking at therapy interns. Typically, these are therapists in training who are still in school. Similar to residents, associates, supervisees (there are several titles for this), they are under supervision by a fully licensed individual. They are absolutely at a stage in training where they are ready to work with you. Often, services are free or at least a significantly lower cost.

Chalk saying "You got this" on blacktop.

Therapy is a place for you to share safely, receive objective thoughts on a situation, be challenged, and heal. It is so important to do it with someone that can make you feel comfortable enough to be vulnerable, open, and honest. It is my hope that in reading this, you received some clarity in determining the if, where, how, and who for your next steps. There are also some references here to places I’ve read or consulted in writing this post. Feel free to continue researching. Remember that you are autonomous and have a say in your therapeutic journey.


References and Resources Consulted:

APA Div. 12 (2017, July 31). How do I know if I need therapy?

Ardito, R. B. & Rabellino, D. (2011). Therapeutic alliance and outcome of psychotherapy: Historical Excursus, Measurements, and Prospects for Research. Frontiers in Psychology, 2(270).

Bloudoff-Indelicato, M. (2016, March 3). The 14 questions you should ask a therapist before your first appointment.

Boden, M. (2022, September 19). Ten questions to ask your psychotherapist.

DeAngelis, T. (2019). Better relationships with patients lead to better outcomes. Monitor on Psychology, 50(10).

Lavik, K. O., McAleavey, A. A., Kvendseth, E. K., & Moltu, C. (2013). Relationship and Alliance Formation Processes in Psychotherapy: A Dual-Perspective Qualitative Study. Frontiers in Psychology, 13(915932).

Sheperis, D. S., Korani, K., Milan-Nichols, M., & Sheperis, C. J. (2019). Marketing of professional counselors: A q-short study of best practices. Journal of Counseling & Development, 97, 25-32.

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