Finding a therapist is hard. For one, “therapist” is a vague term that can mean a lot of things. Secondly, it’s hard to know what questions to ask, especially if you’ve never done this before! Therapists are innately different people with different training, backgrounds, and specialities– meaning no two therapists are exactly alike, and research has found that the right “fit” for you is an important factor in therapy outcomes.
Finding the right therapist can take time and consideration. Although finding a therapist can be a complex topic, let’s talk about some tips to help identify what you need in a therapist to join you on your mental health journey.
Considering what You Need
Before you even log onto any therapist directory or look at the list of referrals from your physician, it’s important to take a minute and consider what’s important to you in a therapist.
As you consider all of these questions, keep notes to better understand what you’re looking for. Use these questions as a guide in your search, helping you narrow down your options.
Cultural and Identity Considerations
Cultural awareness is a vital part of therapy. A good therapist is empathetic about cultural considerations. Different therapists have different levels of familiarity with specific cultural needs and considerations, just as different clients have different cultural needs. Therapists will often list their experience working with varying cultural or identity groups, or they may share about their own cultural background to help clients know who they’re connecting with. Depending on what you might be looking for, here are example questions:
- Am I looking for someone who comes from a similar identity background as me?
- Do I need someone who is trained in and actively committing to antiracist mental health care?
- Am I looking for someone who has experience with autism from a neurodiversity-affirming philosophy?
- Do I want to work with someone who has training in gender-affirming care?
Therapists have specialties which they developed through experience or training. These specialties might be specific mental health concerns or types of treatment. An ethical therapist will never claim to be an expert in all areas and will clarify their level of expertise with a specific area– for example, a therapist may be familiar or comfortable with a topic, which may be different than having expertise in a topic.
Therapists also utilize specific theories or modalities. You may be familiar with specific theories or be interested in trying a specific sort of treatment. Considering what the therapist specializes in and how they approach treatment can help find the perfect fit.
- Am I looking for someone who has considerable experience working with social anxiety?
- Do I need someone who is trained to work with body image concerns?
- Am I interested in trying a specific theory I’ve heard good things about?
- Do I want to avoid therapists who use a specific theory because of a negative past experience?
Interpersonal Style and Identity
A therapist’s interpersonal style – how they interact with people – is just as important as their specialties. Similarly, each therapist may have different values that guide their personal and professional way of being. Two therapists may utilize the same approach very differently depending on their beliefs about counseling.
You can often learn a lot about how a therapist approaches therapy through how they describe their work in bios or on their websites. For example, one may call themself a guide while another may describe following a client’s lead. A few questions which may be helpful to consider:
- What values do I need my therapist to act from to feel comfortable? (Empathy? Community? Spirituality? Toughness?)
- What behaviors do I need to see from a therapist to feel safe? (Patience? Advocacy? Transparency? Humor?)
- \What do I need from others to have a strong relationship?
- What role do I want a therapist to play in my journey? (Someone to hold me accountable? Someone to be a guide? Someone to help me understand myself?)
- What do I not want in a therapist?
It’s important to consider insurance or cost, travel, accessibility, or any other factors that will impact your ability to see this therapist. Most directories will let you narrow down your therapist search by these practical factors. Other questions which may be worth considering:
- Do I need someone who can meet remotely because I don’t have transportation?
- Am I looking for someone who is covered by my insurance?
- Do I need an office that is wheelchair or scooter accessible?
Interviewing a Potential Therapist
Once you’ve found a therapist who feels like a potential fit, the next step is to schedule a meeting. This first meeting is your opportunity to interview the therapist and learn more about them. Many therapists offer free, brief consultations for this purpose. If the thought of interviewing a therapist makes you nervous, consider that interviewing a potential therapist helps the therapist too. Knowing what clients are looking for helps therapists individualize therapy and determine fit as well.
Consider your criteria for a therapist before attending the first meeting with a therapist. You can also ask some of the following questions to the therapist to get a better feel for their approach.
- What do you believe are the roles of a therapist and client in therapy?
- I need a therapist who has expertise in _______. How do you approach this?
- In the past, I’ve struggled when therapists did _______. How do you address situations like this?
- My biggest concerns about therapy are _______. How do you address those situations?
- How do you handle when a conflict arises in therapy? What do you want clients to do if they feel therapy isn’t working?
These questions can help you decide if a therapist is a right fit for you. It’s okay if you don’t feel this therapist will work. You can even ask who they recommend based on what you’re looking for. Most therapists understand that clients need to find the right fit, and if they get offended, that may be a red flag on its own.
Even if we have found a therapist who feels like a great fit, sometimes conflicts or disagreements arise. To help navigate these challenges, check out Take This’ guide to Advocating for Yourself in Therapy.
Laura is a clinical mental health counselor in Cleveland, Ohio, who specializes in gender-issues, power dynamics, and advocacy. She is a doctoral candidate studying Counselor Education and Supervision and she researches power in counseling, the intersection between mental health and pop culture, and mental health access. Laura teaches and supervises counselors-in-training and she presents regionally and nationally on issues pertaining to counselor development.
This article is not a substitute for medical advice or professional counseling. While we at Take This want to provide you with resources, we do not recommend or endorse any particular site, treatment, therapy, or resource. We provide these links at our sole discretion but have not necessarily vetted or reviewed any particular resource. We assume no liability for the use of the information or resources on these sites and encourage you to use your own best judgment when reviewing these resources.
If you live in the US and you’re having suicidal thoughts, reach out to the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline or call/text 988. If you’re outside the US, you can find local crisis lines at Suicide.org. If you’re even debating whether you should call them, you should call them. The Suicide & Crisis Lifeline handles all psychological crises, not just suicide.