Question: I’m looking into finding a therapist. How do I find a good therapist?
Research over the past 60 years has demonstrated that there is one factor—more than any other—that is associated with successful therapy: the quality of the relationship between the client and the therapist.
Sadly, the mental health field is saturated with therapists, and like most professions, there are therapists that are good and those that are not.
Finding the right therapist is a daunting task especially when you are entering into a world you are unfamiliar with. So how do you find a good therapist and how do you know if they are a good fit for you? There are a few good tips for finding a good therapist.
Tip #1: Know that it might take more time to find the therapist that is right for you. Similar to the advice from the weatherman during a winter storm advisory, (or the advice from a traffic report) it is helpful to remember to plan ahead and give yourself more time to reach your destination– in this case more time to find the right therapist for you. Although it is difficult to be patient when you or a loved one are in the angst of making the decision to seek out a therapist, it is worth finding a good therapist and is essential for success. Getting an appointment can take time. Many good therapists have wait lists-which can actually be a positive indicator. Therapists with a high client turn over (an indicator they are not very good) often have more appointments available, so know that patience might be required.
Tip #2: Reach out to trusted friends and family members for referrals. Anyone who has completed or started their journey in mental health has had to begin walking the same path in finding a therapist. Their recommendations for therapists can be a useful starting point as you can learn from their experiences (positive or negative) and can help lead you to find a therapist that is right for your situation.
Tip #3: Online Research. All therapists should have an online bio which will tell you several key pieces of information.
First, it will tell you their gender, which can be a determining factor for a good fit for you. Although this may not be a factor for everyone, some people feel more comfortable discussing their thoughts and feelings with a particular gender.
Another thing you can learn from their bio is their education. Where did the therapist go to school? While the best schools don’t necessarily make for the best therapists, you are going to want to make sure they went to an accredited school and not an online coaching certificate. You will want to know that they have invested in their education, as you will be the beneficiary of that investment.
The online bio will also tell you whether or not they are licensed. If they are an associate, (an intern who has graduated with their required educational requirements and is working on hours towards their licensure), that doesn’t mean you should discount them. The benefit of working with an intern or associate is that they would need to be working under their supervisor’s license and so you would be getting a potential two for one deal. If they do not disclose that they are an associate, or what being an associate means, then that is a good indicator that you should continue your search to find a therapist. Honesty is key in a working therapeutic relationship.
You should also be able to find online information regarding cost. When it comes to therapy, there is no set industry standard. The cost of therapy can vary widely depending on a number of factors including experience, level of education, degree of expertise and specialized training. The average session is between $80-$150 per 50 minute session. Some therapists will work with a sliding scale fee schedule, which means their fee will depend on your income level. You cannot take cost out of the equation, but it also is not the best idea to bargain shop for your mental health.
If you would like to use your insurance to help cover the cost of therapy you are going to want to make sure you consult with your insurance. Insurance companies will often have a list of in network therapists for you to select from. While the coverage with each insurance plan varies, the industry standard is between 6 and 8 sessions. Some other factors to consider if you are going through insurance is that the insurance will require information including a ‘covered’ diagnosis to be shared by your therapist with your insurance. Some insurance companies will also only provide coverage if a certain modality is used, such as cognitive behavioral therapy.
Finally, the online bio will also tell you about their training, experience, specialities, additional certifications and their modality or their method of therapy. The more you know about what you are looking for in your personal journey, the easier it will be for you to identify therapists with the experience and training that will most help you. Seek out a specialist in that area where possible.
Tip #4 : Call for a Consultation. After evaluating the information you found online, the final key step in finding a good therapist would be to call and consult with the therapist. Consultations are free and are a great way of being able to get a sense of whether or not they would be a good fit for you. Share a little about your presenting issue and see how the therapist responds. Have they worked with anyone else with similar issues? If after consulting with the therapist you do not think it will be a good fit for you and your situation, you can always ask them for a referral for someone they would recommend to address your specific issues. I often would refer out to other colleagues that would better meet their needs.
Tip #5: Trust Your Feelings. Searching for the key information online and consulting with potential therapists are key steps in finding a good therapist, but how can you know if you have found the right therapist fit for you? The key to knowing if you have aligned with someone who can assist you in your journey really is a feeling that only you can recognize during your first couple sessions. It is not that you feel necessarily feel comfortable- therapy can often bring up uncomfortable feelings- but you should feel safe to be able to share your thoughts and feelings in a place that you can process them. Do you feel heard when you speak? Do you feel like they are invested in you? Do you feel like they have a plan that meets your goals? The latest research indicates that this feeling, called ‘joining’ in the mental health world, should occur by the third session but the feelings often start during the second and can begin during the first session. If you do not feel this by the 3rd session, you should seek a different therapist as this is not likely to be the right fit for you.