The right connection is crucial — here's what to look for and ways to get started.
If you've never seen a therapist, the task of finding one — let alone diving into the process — can be daunting. And since there isn't a one-size fits all approach, it’s important to find a therapist who is “dedicated to your growth and healing as a whole person, including your race or any other part of your identity that’s foundational to who you are,” noted Carolyn Kylstra, the Editor-in-Chief of SELF, on a recent episode of the podcast Checking In.
Luckily, resources for finding the right mental health practitioner are becoming more available and also more nuanced — and those advances couldn't be happening at a more apt time given that we're just coming off a high-stress and isolating year and are still coping with an ongoing global pandemic.
If you're searching for a therapist, start with the tips below:
Know Your Needs
Therapy is inherently meant to be a safe, healing and deeply personal experience, so finding the right therapist begins with knowing your individual needs — taking into account everything that makes up your individuality, such as your upbringing, gender identity, political views, race, sexuality, relationship history or experience with trauma.
For example, it may be important to you to seek out a therapist who recognizes that "systems of oppression are intrinsically linked to mental health,” said Jennifer Mullan, Psy.D., a psychologist at New Jersey City University's Counseling Center, on Checking In.
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Do Your Research
Directories like Psychology Today or your health insurance company’s list of in-network therapists are great places to start your search. (Also, check out the list of resources at the end of this post.)
Keep in mind what Dr. Darin Bergen, a psychologist in private practice in Portland, Oregon told THE CUT: "There are many different approaches to therapy, and there is little evidence that any one therapy is better than another."
Learn what approach a therapist uses in sessions — cognitive behavioral therapy or psychodynamic therapy, for example — to assess if their approach feels right for you. This in-depth list from Good Therapy offers insight into more than 50 different types of therapy.
Teletherapy is particularly helpful in finding a therapist who isn’t local, but is great in every single other way.
Virtual meetings are the norm nowadays. But even when the need for social distancing comes to an end, you may still want to consider teletherapy (counseling over the phone or through video chat), which vastly widens the pool of practitioners you have access to. It may help you find a therapist “who isn’t local, but is great in every single other way,” notes Barnes.
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Schedule a Consultation
Once you identify a therapist who seems like a good fit, schedule a time to chat with them either on the phone or with a video call, ideally before committing to a first session.
This is the time to confirm what your research turned up about their education (certifications or licenses they have), but also their experience and process with the issues you may want to address.
A few questions to consider asking:
- Can you tell me a little bit about your training related to ______? Fill in the blank with what you want to focus on (like anxiety/depression/trauma/race/gender).
- How long have you worked in this field?
- What type of approach do you typically use?
- What kinds of treatment or therapy do you think might help me?
- How often should we meet?
- How will we track and assess my progress?
- How soon should I start feeling better?
- How should I prepare for sessions?
Of course, it’s also important to ask about fees, cancellation policies and other policies. Ongoing therapy can be expensive, so be sure to check with your insurance company (if you have one) to see what your plan covers. Many therapists offer a sliding scale, meaning the amount they charge can vary depending on factors such as income level. Thero.org, allows you to exclusively search for providers who charge on a sliding scale.You can also check out this guide to finding an affordable therapist.
Tune into Your Gut
During the consultation and (if you go forward) in the first few sessions, focus on the feeling you get when talking with the therapist. According to Dr. Jim Seibold, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Arlington, Texas, the research is clear — a good rapport with the therapist is vital to success, so take the time to choose wisely.
- American Counseling Association
- Association of LGBTQ+ Psychiatrists
- Black Female Therapists
- Health Resources and Services Administration Database of Health Centers
- Inclusive Therapists
- National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network
- Psychology Today
- Tia: A modern medical home for women’s health
- Therapy for Black Girls
Tip: If you want to verify a therapist’s credentials, go to the Department of Consumer Affairs website for your state, or the state that your prospective teletherapy practitioner work in.