Whether it’s to improve your mental health, adjust to a new season of life, recover from trauma, or restore a relationship, deciding for yourself that you need to see a therapist may have been a big hurdle for you.
And now, the next big hurdle comes: finding a therapist.
It’s important to take careful consideration when choosing a therapist.
Research shows that your growth is likely dependent on the bond between you and your therapist.
Knowing what to look for in a therapist, what questions to ask them in the beginning, and what to expect in therapy can help you choose the right therapist.
This article will give you the tools to do just that. We’ll cover the different types of therapy, what to expect in therapy, the importance of a good therapist, and how to find one.
Lastly, we will go over what questions to ask your therapist so you can make your decision—and what to do if it doesn’t turn out to be a good fit.
Different Types of Therapy
There are a few different types of therapy.
If this is your first time looking for a therapist, it can help to know what types of therapy are available so you can choose the one you think will work best for your situation.
The three main types of therapy are group, couples/family, and individual.
- Group therapy: You meet with other people who are dealing with an issue that’s similar to yours. There is a therapist present who moderates the group. The different members of the group share their experiences and get feedback from others.
- Couples/family therapy: You and your significant other or your whole family meet with a therapist to work through any issues you are having together.
- Individual therapy: You meet one-on-one with a therapist. You can discuss your problem(s) and the therapist will help you work through some solutions and give you tools for moving forward.
What to Expect in Therapy
Whatever type of therapy you choose, the first session will be similar.
Your therapist will have a few general questions for you, including why you decided to seek therapy and if your family has a history of mental health problems.
There will also be a confidentiality agreement to fill out and sign, and the therapist will go over scheduling and payment.
From there, the format of your sessions will depend on which theoretical framework your therapist uses.
A theoretical framework is the way a therapist views how problems develop and how they can be solved.
Each framework has a different approach to treatment, but a therapist can combine and adapt elements of different approaches depending on who they are working with.
Here is a look at the main theoretical frameworks:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): This is the most popular approach to treatment. It involves identifying and then correcting patterns of thinking that are contributing to mental health problems.
- Psychoanalysis: This is the approach that delves into memories and experiences from childhood to see how they may be affecting your current life.
- Behavioral therapy: This method focuses on changing behaviors using techniques such as biofeedback, stress management, and relaxation training.
- Music and art therapy: Music or art is used to discover deep issues and learn how to work through them. This approach is especially helpful for people who have trouble verbally expressing thoughts and emotions.
- Family systems therapy: This framework is usually used in family therapy. The therapist helps everyone understand and break the patterns of dysfunction.
- Humanistic therapy: Human-centered or humanistic therapy develops a warm and supportive environment in which your potential can be achieved through your growth.
The Importance of Finding a Good Therapist
Therapy is a large investment of your energy, time, and money, so it’s important to be honest with yourself about your needs and what you are comfortable with.
Don’t be afraid to keep looking until you feel like you have found the right therapist.
Although it’s not the only factor to consider when choosing your therapist, it is important to make sure the person you work with has the proper training and meets all the qualifications needed to practice therapy.
Let’s explore the different types of credentials:
- Licensed professional counselor (LPC): This is a person who has a master’s degree and a state license to practice. They can provide group and individual therapy as well as diagnose mental health conditions.
- Licensed clinical social worker (LCSW): A social worker is a counselor who has a master’s degree in social work and has a state license to practice. This person can also provide group and individual therapy as well as diagnose mental health conditions. On top of this, a social worker can also provide social services in the community, such as assisting families to get access to affordable housing or removing a child from an abusive home.
- Psychiatrist (MD): A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who is trained in diagnosing and treating mental illnesses. They are different from therapists in that they typically only prescribe medication, but some are also trained to provide therapy.
- Psychologist (PsyD or PhD): A psychologist has a doctoral degree in psychology. The main difference between psychiatrists and psychologists is that the psychologist focuses on psychotherapy. Psychologists can also perform psychological testing and assessment, which makes them different from master’s level therapists.
- Licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT): This type of therapist focuses on the mental health problems of someone’s family, marriage, or other close relationships. They may work with a person individually or involve a significant other or family member.
- Certified alcohol and drug abuse counselor (CADC): This is a counselor who is trained in helping people overcome problems with alcohol and substance misuse. This can be done through individual or group therapy.
- Certified career counselors (CCC): This is a counselor who has also become a certified career counselor. They help people choose a career path, complete job searches, and prepare for interviews.
How to Find the Right Therapist
There are many qualified and wonderful therapists you can work with, but this step of the process can feel daunting with so many options, so let’s take a systematic approach to it.
Consult with your provider
Most primary care providers have a list of referrals, and you can ask your doctor for a copy of that list.
You’ll need to double-check that the therapists on the list are in your insurance network, though.
Your insurance company can go over what type of mental health coverage your insurance plan covers, including whether your plan has limits on the number of sessions you can attend each year.
If none of the therapists from your doctor’s list are covered by your insurance plan or if you don’t like the options, your insurance company can give you a list of providers that are in your area and your network.
Online therapy apps
There are a bunch of online tools you can use to find the right therapist, including apps like K Health that connect you with a therapist online or via phone for immediate connection and feedback.
You can also search for a nearby therapist using different reputable websites.
For most of them, you simply type in your city or zip code and then get a list of therapists in your area.
You are usually able to see their contact information, credentials, cost, and area of expertise.
- Anxiety & Depression Association of America
- American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy
- International OCD Foundation
- American Psychological Association
- Academy of Cognitive and Behavioral Therapies
- American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry
- American Board of Clinical Social Work
- American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry
- Attention Deficit Disorder Association
Consider your goals for therapy
Before you start looking for a therapist, you want to decide on your personal goals for therapy.
This will help you choose the right type of therapist.
Here are some good questions to ask yourself:
- What do you need help with? Are you having trouble with your significant other? Do you want to make a career change? Are you struggling with anxiety or depression?
- What can you afford? Make sure to contact your insurance company to find out what coverage you have for mental health treatment. If you need to pay out of pocket, figure out what you can afford each month.
- What kind of personality works best for you? Think about the type of person you would feel comfortable talking with. Would you do best with someone straightforward and blunt or kind and nurturing?
- What type of therapy are you interested in? What type of setting would be best for you? Would you prefer a group setting where others are dealing with the same issues that you are? Or would individual therapy be better? Do you and your significant other need to do this together?
- Would you rather do it online or in-person? Many therapists are now offering telehealth sessions. Does online therapy interest you or would you prefer to meet in person? There is no right or wrong answer; it’s just about deciding what would be best for you.
Explore local resources
The people closest to you may have recommendations based on their experiences with therapy, so ask your family and friends what therapists they have used.
If you attend church, the pastor may have a list of recommendations, too.
If you are currently a student, most colleges offer free counseling to students.
If you are looking for some free or reduced-cost therapy, you can find free support groups through the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Other low-cost options include local nonprofits and community mental health clinics. If you need help with substances, you can find clinics through the Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator.
Questions to Ask a Therapist Before You Meet
Here is a list of questions you can jot down to ask your therapist when you have your first conversation.
Have a paper and pen handy to take notes.
- Are you licensed as a psychologist in this state?
- How many years have you been practicing?
- How much experience do you have dealing with clients that have [the issue(s) you’d like to work on]?
- What treatments have you found to be most beneficial for [the issue you’d like to resolve]?
- What do you consider to be your specialty?
- What insurance do you accept?
- Will I pay you directly or will you bill my insurance?
- Do you provide telehealth services?
- What are the goals of therapy and how are they measured?
- What do we do if our treatment plan isn’t working?
- Are you able to prescribe medication if that’s what I need?
- How soon could I expect to start feeling better?
What to Do if Your Therapist Isn’t a Good Match
Hopefully, after all the work you put into finding a good therapist, it will work out well.
However, that isn’t always the case.
There are a few telltale signs it might not be working out:
- You are telling the therapist what you think they want to hear instead of being completely open and honest.
- You are not meeting the goals of your treatment, and you don’t feel better.
- The goals of treatment are unclear to you, making it confusing to know if you are progressing.
- You don’t feel comfortable advocating for yourself and telling your therapist what you need from them.
- Your personalities aren’t clicking, and while you aren’t looking for a new friend, you do want to be with someone you can feel comfortable with.
If these red flags resonate with you, maybe it’s time to move on. And that’s okay.
There is too much at stake for you to stay with a therapist who isn’t helping you move forward with your issue. It’s okay to tell your therapist that it’s not working.
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Frequently Asked Questions
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