How to Find a Great Therapist

So you made the decision to go to therapy- good for you!  It takes a tremendous amount of courage sometimes just to make the decision to go.

But once you have decided you're in the market for a therapist, the even more daunting decision of who to see comes into question.  How do you find the right one?

Here are a few helpful suggestions on how to find the right counselor.

  • Friends and Family- Have any of your trusted friends or family members seen a counselor they liked?  This is often a great place to start your search because your loved ones can speak from firsthand experience.  You'll be able to get an honest opinion, and ask questions about the strengths and weaknesses of the therapist.
  • Your Place of Worship- Churches often have a list of therapists in the area who they have vetted and trust.  Simply call your church and ask for the person in charge of "Care Ministry" or "Counseling Ministry."  Some of the larger churches even provide a counseling center on site or employ a counselor on staff. 
  • Your Primary Care Physician or OB/GYN- Your primary care physician or OB/GYN often have a short list of referral names they can offer regarding therapists they recommend in the area.  If you have insurance, one benefit of checking with your doctor is they often have names of therapists who are on the same insurance panel if you plan to use mental health benefits.
  • Consider utilizing an online search like the "Find a Therapist" feature on Psychology Today.  One fantastic benefit about this site is people have many options in how to filter their search results.  You can search by zip code, treatment issue, insurance panel and treatment orientation just to name a few.

Once you have honed in on a few top names, it's important to continue doing due diligence.  Research the names online.  Check out their website if they have one.  Many therapists offer a short, complimentary phone consultation where you can ask some of your questions before you even step foot into the office.  Some therapists, like myself, offer a complimentary consultation face-to-face.

When prospective clients come to my office, I always tell them counseling is not a "one size fits all" endeavor.  Time and time again, studies show that the best predictor of positive treatment outcomes in therapy is about how strong the therapeutic alliance is between the client and the counselor (not some of the more commonly thought of things, like treatment orientation, or years of experience.)  Sometimes, the only way you'll really know if there's a good fit is once you've had a few sessions with the therapist.  You'll be able to get a better understanding of how they approach counseling, how their personality plays out in session, and whether or not you feel like you're benefiting from their services.  If you find that it's not a good fit- that's not a bad thing.  In the process, you've probably discovered some more values/goals you have for the process that you can take to your next therapist. 

A final word to the wise- there's no such thing as a "perfect" counselor.  Even with the most talented therapists, there will be days you'll walk away from session confused, frustrated, and even angry.  Negative feelings are to be expected when we're dealing with the precious content that often comes up in counseling sessions.  Hang in there- and make sure to talk about the feelings you're experiencing with your therapist.  Good ones will not only be able to talk about these feelings, but they'll welcome this type of feedback and be able to process with you collaboratively about those feelings.

How Do You Know When to Seek Counseling?


Things aren’t that bad- isn’t counseling for people who are really messed up? 

Is it worth the money? 

Can’t I just confide in a trusted friend- why do I have to pay someone to listen?

Is this really going to work?

 Sound familiar?  Questions often race through our mind as we’re weighing out whether we should seek professional counseling.  Often times, we can experience ambivalence about the process.  On one hand, we really think it’s just a “rough patch,” we’ll pull through this without help.  On the other hand, we feel stuck- and if we could get out of this, wouldn’t it have already happened by now?  Many prospective clients experience these types of questions (which are all fair ones by the way!)

Here are some additional questions that may be helpful as you consider whether to enter counseling or not.

  1. Is the problem you’re facing impacting daily physical needs?

    • We all have occasional nights where we’re restless thinking about all the to-do’s of the next day and we don’t get the quality sleep we need.  But when anxiety, nightmares or flashbacks are consistently keeping us from sleep, this leads to exhaustion.  In the same way, skipping an occasional meal happens.  We lead busy lives, and time just gets the better of us.  But when we're consistently missing meals due to anxiety or purposeful food restriction, our bodies don't get the adequate nutrition it needs.  Adequate sleep, adequate nutrition from food- when you're consistently struggling with these types of physical needs, it's time to see a professional.

  2. Is the issue you’re dealing with getting in the way of everyday life? 

    • It is natural and normal for people to feel “down” or sad on occasion.  But when the sadness is so profound that you don’t feel like taking care of yourself (i.e. you’re not showering consistently or performing normal hygiene), this is getting in the way of everyday life.

  3. Is the problem adversely impacting your school or work performance?

    • We all experience times when we just can’t concentrate.  This is normal.  But when we’ve studied as much as we can, put in extra work with a tutor, spent dozens of extra hours on a project that should have taken much less time- and we’re still failing at school or work, it may be time to see a counselor.

  4. Are you turning to substances (alcohol or drugs) to cope with what is going on?

    • There is a difference between having a drink with friends over a meal and drinking to forget.  When we’re actively seeking to drink or drug to relieve pain, it’s not a long term fix, and often gets worse as tolerance builds up and you need more of the alcohol or drug to get the same effect.  Turning to substances is a sign you need to reach out to a professional to develop more long-term, effective coping strategies.

  5. Is the amount of social support in your life lacking?

    • Consider the important friends and family members in your life.  Are there people you can trust to share emotionally?  Do you feel like you have the support you need from others?  Sometimes (maybe due to a recent move to a new city, or a significant break-up) we go through seasons where our social support is not as strong.  This is often an opportunity to find someone to help you get through this season until other trusted friends or family are in the picture.  A therapist can never be a replacement for good friends and family, and the relationship is a professional one.  But during difficult seasons, seeing a therapist can help bridge the gap and provide a safe place while you’re building up other relationships.

If you answered yes to any of these questions, and you’re thinking about counseling, I’d love to meet with you for a complimentary consultation.  In that consultation, I’ll be able to hear more of your story and give feedback on whether counseling might be a good fit.  Contact me today to schedule an appointment.