How to Choose a Therapist


You know it’s time to seek therapy -- your struggles have become too much for you to cope with on your own (or with the support of family and friends) -- but you’re not sure how to go about finding the help you need.

Choosing the right therapist is important because therapy is a very personal relationship. To really open up and face your inner struggles, you need to feel safe. So, the natural question is, How do I choose a therapist?

To help you with this decision, consider these four guidelines:

Clarify the issue you are looking to address. You can do this by asking yourself some relevant questions, such as:

  • What is the problem I am struggling with?
  • How does it show itself in my emotions, thoughts, and behaviors?
  • How is it impacting the different domains of my life? (e.g. emotions, social, work, parenting)

Define your desired goal for therapy. Do this by asking yourself these questions:

  • How do I want to be different?
  • How do I want my life to be different?
  • How will you know when therapy has been successful?

Find referrals for a therapist. Your search for a therapist will be determined, in part, by how you pay for therapy. Because it can be expensive, consider whether you can afford to maintain this expense for the length of therapy – a process that may take longer than you originally think. In thinking this through, decide whether you will need to use insurance, go in-network, or find a therapist who will adjust your fee based on a sliding scale.

If you have insurance that requires you to choose someone in-network, begin by getting a list of in-network therapists in your area. Once you have the list, you might ask your physician whether they can recommend anyone on the list.

If you will be paying out-of-pocket or you can use out-of-network therapists, begin your search for a therapist by asking for a recommendation from family, friends, or your physician. You might contact your insurance company for referrals. You can also contact the American Psychological Association or your state’s psychological association for the names of psychologists in your area.

Learn more about the therapist’s experience and approach. Once you have the name of a therapist or a few of them, it is important determine whether they have the necessary experience. Check out their website, if they have one, and speak with them on the phone.

Ask questions, such as:

  • Are you licensed?
  • How long have you been practicing for?
  • What is your area of specialty?
  • Do you have experience treating the type of issue I need help with? (after briefly explaining your situation)
  • What approach would you use with my situation?

Consider whether the therapist is a good fit for you. No matter how experienced, or even renowned, a therapist is, the success of your treatment will be very much affected by your connection with the therapist. So, when you speak with therapists on the phone, try to get a sense of how well you can connect with them.

After deciding on a therapist (or two), schedule an initial appointment. During this appointment, the therapist can gain a better understanding of your problem and how to help you. You can also assess whether you trust and connect with the therapist. It’s worth repeating that no therapist is a good fit for everyone. So, before you commit to this therapist, be sure that they are a good choice for you.

Once you commit to a therapist, do your part to give the therapy every opportunity to work. This often means telling the therapist when you feel the therapy is not working or if you have concerns about the therapy.  By actively working with the therapist, the two of you can create a successful outcome.

by Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD