Choosing the right therapist for you is key to having a positive counseling experience—whether you’re seeking therapy to help you cope with life stressors, or for a diagnosed mental health disorder.
The “right” therapist will mean something different for everyone since therapy is such a personal and individual process. There are so many dynamics that go on when you walk into a counseling office, sit in the chair, and begin the journey of exploration, learning, self-improvement, and healing; dynamics involving you, your emotions, where your mindset at the time, and the therapists approach, style, and interactions with you. If the therapeutic process seems kind of elusive, that’s because in many ways, it is. There are so many elements of this interaction between you and your therapist—both spoken and especially, unspoken—that contribute to an experience that can be life-changing for you. However, finding the right person to go on this journey with you is critical to truly achieving growth and transformation in therapy.
There are two primary criteria that a good therapist must fulfill and that is: 1) personality fit, and 2) competence. These two primary factors can be considered the deal breakers, meaning that if your therapist doesn’t check off these two boxes, then you might have to seek out someone else. Then there are a few other factors in between that while maybe not being total obstacles, are still important to make the therapy process accessible, affordable, and convenient for you. Below, we’ll discuss the top 3 important things to look for when finding the right therapist.
1. Vibe-ing with a competent therapist.
Personality fit or “clicking” with your therapist is a very important factor in finding the right one for you. If you visit a dentist or surgeon, you don’t necessarily have to love their personality. How well you get along with a provider is likely low on your list of priorities when you need a root canal or coronary artery bypass. For certain healthcare services, you’re likely looking for competency in the provider you choose. Do they know what they’re doing? Have they done this many, many times before? Will I be okay? When choosing a provider for certain healthcare needs, you need to be able to answer yes, yes, and yes to all of these questions so that you have peace of mind. Sure, bedside manner, including receiving empathy from your doctor, is important and can actually influence your recovery from a health issue, but personality fit likely won’t be a deal breaker.
However, choosing a therapist is totally different. If personality fit and expertise were in a race, they would be neck and neck. The reason for this is because if you really click with a therapist, but the therapist isn’t a good one, then you’ll likely have more of a rent-a-friend experience in counseling. The therapist won’t be able to really provide good, evidence-based care and teach you strategies to help you recover from your symptoms and concerns. So, how do you check for these two important therapist qualities?
Checking for personality fit might involve attending one or two sessions, but oftentimes, you can learn a lot about your potential future therapist by checking their website and/or social media accounts. Many therapists share details of their style and approach in therapy, which can let you know if the therapist seems right for you. Checking for competency involves looking into the therapists qualifications, license status, and training background. Many therapists will have this information available to potential clients on their website or social media. Make sure to find out about your therapists areas of expertise, as this can influence whether they are the right therapist to help you with your specific needs and goals. If you’re struggling with anxiety, a therapist who specializes in developmental disorders in children might not be a good fit for you. So, ask questions and do your research.
2. Cost: Think and plan ahead.
When you find a therapist who is really good at their job and you get along great, you’ll likely look forward to your sessions and leave feeling relieved, hopeful, and (with time) ready to take on the world. However, keep in mind that right behind personality fit and expertise is money. It will, of course, be important that you’ll be able to pay for therapy.
Make these arrangements ahead of time because there’s nothing worse than finding an excellent therapist and making good progress in your treatment, only to discover that your insurance will cover a maximum of 6 sessions per year. Before making an appointment, call your insurance provider and find out your benefits for behavioral health, including co-pays, number of sessions covered, and whether your therapist can potentially ask for authorization for additional sessions, if needed. If you’re seeking counseling for a specific life stressor, ask what happens if you don’t have a DSM-5 diagnosis—will your insurance cover your sessions? Then, talk to your newfound awesome, amazing therapist and ask how many sessions he or she recommends for you. All of this information will help you plan ahead and ensure that cost won’t interfere with your ability to benefit from your journey in therapy.
Okay, so this one is probably not a total deal-breaker, but keep in mind that therapy is often a weekly commitment. If you have transportation issues, a hectic work and personal schedule, school, and/or kids or caretaking responsibilities, finding the right therapist could mean finding one with a practice close to your home or workplace. If you have to travel far or if the therapist is located in a high-traffic area that takes long for you to get to or find parking, then going to therapy might bring some inconvenience and stress. So, consider the therapists location and hours and make sure these factors are something that will work for you when it comes to weekly or biweekly appointments.