Seeking help from a psychotherapist for counseling can be a transformative step toward better mental and emotional well-being. Whether you're dealing with trauma, anxiety, depression, an entrenched relationship, family issues, or simply seeking personal growth, finding the right psychotherapist is crucial for a successful therapeutic journey. In this guide, we'll explore the key factors to consider when searching for a suitable psychotherapist. I'll also share what to ask and how to know if a therapist is skilled and considered experienced or an expert in a specialty, like trauma or relationships.
Before embarking on your search, take some time for self-assessment. Reflect on your reasons for seeking therapy, your goals, and what you hope to achieve through counseling. Understanding your needs will help you narrow down the type of therapist who can best address your concerns.
2. Types of Psychotherapists
There are various types of psychotherapists with different specialties and approaches. Common types include cognitive-behavioral therapists, psychodynamic therapists, humanistic therapists, and more. Each modality has a slightly different lens. Many therapists have an integrated approach, meaning, they integrate several theories which informs how they work with clients. For instance, someone might blend Internal Family Systems (IFS) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) with a twist of Systems Theory, a sprinkling of Attachment Theory, and a foundation in Humanistic Psychology. Research the different therapeutic approaches to identify which aligns with your preferences and needs. While in consultation, ask your potential therapist(s) what therapeutic models they base their approach to counseling. Write them down and research them for yourself. Do those align with what you’re looking for?
3. Credentials, Licensing, and Ethics
Ensure that the therapist is licensed and credentialed to practice in your state or country. Look for relevant degrees (such as PhD, PsyD, LCSW, LMFT, LMHC), certifications, and memberships in professional organizations (like the American Psychological Association, National Association of Social Workers, American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy). Ask your therapist how much training they’ve had as a therapist, years of experience in a specific specialization, etc. It’s generally considered unethical for therapists to claim they are experts in areas where they lack a significant amount of training and experience. Speaking of ethics, here are a few more tidbits that people generally are unaware of. It’s unethical for a couple therapist to work with folks individually within that couple, which is called a dual relationship. It’s also unethical for therapists to have a relationship outside of therapy, such as dating, friendships, or otherwise. Hollywood movies often portray therapists and clients getting together, initiated by either the client or therapist. Filmmakers and producers have sent the wrong message to the world, inviting the idea that an otherwise inappropriate and unethical relationship is a possibility. Dual relationships are considered unethical. If your therapist initiates, run. If you’re looking for a date, don’t look for it in the therapeutic relationship, and this is probably a therapeutic issue that you can work with in therapy around healthy boundaries. And I’ll step down from my soapbox now.
4. Referrals and Recommendations
Seek recommendations from trusted sources, such as friends, family members, healthcare professionals, or online communities that have had notable successes with a therapist. Personal referrals can provide valuable insights into a therapist's effectiveness and compatibility. That said, everyone is different and has different preferences. A friend might rave about a therapist, and you may meet them, and it doesn’t feel like a good fit. That’s okay. Keep looking. There are many therapists out there. With telehealth as a modern option, you have access to many more therapists in your state than you previously had.
5. Online Research
Utilize online resources to research potential therapists. Many therapists have websites that detail their background, approach, and areas of expertise. Read online reviews, testimonials, and articles to gather information about their reputation and track record. That said, online reviews can also tell certain stories. People typically leave reviews when they’ve had an excellent experience, or a very poor experience. I recommend step 6, the initial consultation, to get a better feel for your therapist’s approach and style.
6. Initial Consultation
Many therapists offer an initial consultation, either in person or over the phone, where you can discuss your concerns and get a sense of their approach. Use this opportunity to ask questions about their experience, treatment methods, and how they tailor their approach to individual clients. Ask in the consultation if they have worked with the issues you're wanting to work on. Consultations can be anywhere from 10 minutes to a full hour, depending on what your prospective therapists offer. The first few sessions, although paid, should also be treated as initial sessions. It’s difficult to get to know anyone in one hour, however, by the second or third session, you should have a better idea of if it’s a good therapeutic fit. However, if you don’t get a good feeling in the consultation or first session, trust your gut and move on.
7. Compatibility and Rapport
Establishing a strong rapport with your therapist is crucial for successful counseling. During the initial consultation and early sessions, assess whether you feel comfortable, heard, and understood by the therapist. A positive connection is essential for building trust and open communication. You should feel comfortable talking with your therapist, even if you're generally uncomfortable talking or sharing about yourself. If you do not feel comfortable, you can share that feedback with the therapist, or decide to keep looking for a new therapist (or both!).
8. Specialization and Experience
Consider whether the therapist has experience dealing with the specific issues you're facing. Therapists who specialize in areas like trauma, addiction, hypnosis, LGBTQ+ issues, or couples therapy should have also had the appropriate training to appropriately claim that they can specialize in those areas. A therapist with relevant experience and training is more likely to provide effective guidance and support. Ask prospective therapists about their training and experience with the issues you’re seeking counseling for. For example, someone who has never worked with couples should not be doing couples therapy or claim that they can work with couples if they’ve never had training to do so. Nor should they claim they are an expert in couple's therapy; this would be considered unethical, a major faux pas. Issues that come up in couples therapy and how they are processed are typically very different from individual therapy. Your relationship therapist should be adequately trained and able to comfortably navigate the issues on the table in a generally egalitarian and supportive way.
9. Cultural Competence
Cultural awareness, inclusivity, and competence are vital for a successful therapeutic relationship. Ensure the therapist is open to and respectful of your cultural background, identities, values, and beliefs. Even if you have different backgrounds, identities, values, and beliefs, as the client, you should feel respected and understood by the therapist.
10. Logistics and Practicalities
Evaluate logistical factors such as location, session availability, fees, and insurance coverage. Choose a therapist whose schedule and fees align with your preferences and budget, as much as possible. From a therapist perspective, it’s important to honor your side of the relationship as well, such as the terms of service, cancellation policies, payment policies, etc. When you reach out to a therapist, ask if you can see their paperwork to make sure you’re able to honor the logistics and practicalities. Afterall, therapeutic relationships are a two-way street. If you’re using insurance, I recommend checking your insurance’s website first to find out who is covered. Not everyone takes insurance, but therapy can often be reimbursed if you have a Health Savings Account (HSA). You can also use websites like www.psychologytoday.com and www.goodtherapy.org and filter by coverage.
Finding the right psychotherapist for counseling is a significant step toward improving your mental and emotional well-being. By conducting thorough research, considering different factors, and trusting your gut, you can increase the likelihood of establishing a meaningful therapeutic relationship that promotes personal growth and healing. Remember, the journey toward finding the perfect therapist may require some time, effort and even getting on a waiting list for that perfect fit. But the benefits of effective counseling are well worth the investment. Good luck!!
About the Author
I am Stephanie Moberg, M.A., an integrative life coach and intuitive energy practitioner. With a master's degree in psychology specializing in child, couple, and family therapy, along with a bachelor's degree in health psychology, I have built a strong foundation in the coaching field. Over the course of 18 years plus, I have gained extensive experience in the mental health and research fields, enriching my practice and integrating a wealth of knowledge into my work with clients.
Since a young age, I have nurtured a deep connection with my intuition, and I now utilize this gift to provide personalized support to my clients. Drawing upon my profound understanding of energy and intuition, I empower each individual by equipping them with practical and customized tools and techniques for their personal growth and transformation.
In my coaching practice, I prioritize creating a safe and compassionate environment, offering a nurturing space where clients can openly explore and overcome obstacles, thoughts, emotions, and challenges. My approach revolves around facilitating alignment with your goals and personal well-being. I am dedicated to providing invaluable guidance to those who are navigating their unique life's journey. Together, we can embark on a transformative path towards self-discovery, empowerment, and fulfillment. Visit www.wholebeingalchemy.com for more information.