Deciding to begin therapy is a courageous choice, but choosing the right therapist can feel like a daunting task, especially when you are struggling with your mental health. It may feel overwhelming when you first start sifting through the therapists in your area, but these four factors will help you narrow down the options to find the right therapist for you.
Therapeutic Approach And Specializations
To choose the right therapist, you should first reflect on what you hope to get from your therapy work, and whether these goals will align with your therapist’s approach. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Psychodynamic Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, Internal Family Systems — there are countless different approaches to therapy. To get some clarity on the jargon and understand more about how your therapist approaches their work, ask them to explain what a typical session might look like, and if you’re not sure what their stated approach means, ask! In addition to their therapeutic approach, it’s valuable to explore whether your therapist has experience working with your specific concerns, and if there are any particular areas of expertise that they are bringing to the table.
**Remember: While many therapists are competent at supporting clients with a variety of mental health concerns, if you are seeking support around a particularly specialized concern (ex: sex therapy, substance abuse) you may want to work with a therapist who has more extensive training or experience with your specific concerns.
Availability And Accessibility
Availability and accessibility can at times get overlooked when choosing a therapist. If you plan to attend sessions in-person, the office must be located somewhere that is feasible for you to regularly visit. It’s also critical that your prospective therapist is available for appointments at a time you can attend regularly. Like any working professional, a therapist’s office hours can be limited. It may require some creativity to find a mutually available time to meet, particularly as mental health services are currently in high demand.
Fortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has normalized working remotely, and virtual therapy has become more widely available. Remote therapy, or ‘Telehealth,’ can offer greater flexibility in finding time for your appointment if your calendar is particularly tight. It may also allow you to work with a practice that is not necessarily in a convenient location.
**Remember: Choosing to start therapy means choosing to prioritize your mental health, and maintaining consistent session attendance and making time for your therapy sessions is a part of that commitment. Set yourself up for success by ensuring you find a therapist with appointment openings that you will be able to commit to. This way you can maintain the session attendance necessary for making progress.
Financial Cost And Practice Policies
In addition to being a time commitment, therapy is also a financial commitment. If planning to use insurance, it’s important to understand how sessions will be billed. Will there be out-of-pocket expenses that you will incur? Alternatively, working with a “self-pay” therapist can be more straightforward for determining out-of-pocket expenses. There can be some sticker shock when navigating the costs of therapy. Clarifying these details will allow you to make an informed decision and determine what is financially feasible for you on an ongoing basis.
In addition to therapy costs, it may be helpful to get more information about any practice policies when you begin working with a new therapist. Some questions to consider: how long are sessions, how frequently will sessions be scheduled, are in-person sessions available? Are there any important policies, administrative details, or fees you should be aware of? Clarify expectations at the onset of therapy to avoid any surprises or unexpected expenses.
**Remember: When considering the cost of therapy it is important to be realistic about what you can afford. However cost should not be the only deciding factor in choosing the right therapist. Ultimately your mental health is a worthwhile investment. Settling for a therapist whom you are not comfortable with or confident in, for purely financial reasons, could be short-sighted. It could ultimately be damaging to your mental health and result in more costs in the long run.
At the end of the day, therapy ultimately is a connection between two people, and that connection is perhaps the most important factor to consider when choosing a therapist. Research has consistently indicated that above any particular therapy style or approach, it is the quality of the relationship between the therapist and the client that best predicts positive clinical outcomes. Your therapist is not your friend and your therapeutic relationship should not feel like a friendship. However, establishing a comfortable and open rapport will be necessary for your therapy to be successful.
Although there may be some initial discomfort when you first begin working together, overall your therapist should help put you at ease and encourage you to open up. Your therapist’s personality will likely influence this. Consider factors that might make you more comfortable in therapy. Is it important to you that your therapist remain strictly formal, or would you prefer someone who integrates some humor into their work? Would you prefer a therapist who is more directive, or one who allows you to guide the sessions? Many practices will offer a free 15-minute phone consultation. This is a great opportunity to get a read on your therapist and ask any questions you might have.
Another consideration is whether you feel it’s important for your therapist to share any aspects of your identity. These can include age, race/ethnicity, and gender. Will these details impact your comfort level and ability to disclose? Some people have a preference about the gender of their therapists, or prefer to work with someone of a similar age. While therapist demographics may not be your top deciding factor, they can certainly help or hinder the rapport-building process. You may want to consider whether you have a preference about who is sitting across from you in session.
If your therapist does not share aspects of your identity, it may be a priority to confirm their competency in working with people who share your identity. For example, many clients who are BIPOC or in the LGBTQIA+ community want to ensure they are working with a clinician who understands and can affirm their identity and lived experiences. These are meaningful questions to explore with your therapist before you start working together.
**Remember: Although some clients find it helpful or validating to share aspects of their identity with their therapist, shared identities will not guarantee a therapeutic fit. A therapist is ultimately offering expertise in their field that they have gained through significant training and experience. Many therapists are able to provide meaningful therapeutic support despite not sharing the lived experiences of their clients.
Therapy can be life-changing, but it’s not a magic pill that will erase all your problems in one session. Outcomes can be difficult to determine at the start. Be sure to maintain an open and ongoing conversation with the therapist you do select to continue assessing fit. Don’t be afraid to share feedback with your therapist. You can collaborate on ways you can continue developing the therapeutic relationship and working towards your goals.
Choosing A Therapist
If you’d like to start your search right here, feel free to contact us for a complimentary 15-minute consultation. Good luck and happy therapist shopping!