Jan 26, 2021Finding the Right Therapist

How Do I Find the Right Therapist?

You’ve made the decision to start therapy.  Now what?

The therapeutic process is about forming a secure relationship with a professional who can help you explore your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in a vulnerable way. The therapist and client make up the relationship, so ensuring that they work well together has to be a top priority. With so many therapists available, it can be difficult to determine which is the right one for you. A large number of therapists offer a free consultation prior to officially enrolling in services with them.  This is a guide to help you navigate the process of finding the right therapist for you including potential questions and topics for your consultation.

First, determine what your needs are. 

The large majority of independently licensed counselors are required to have a graduate degree in counseling, therapy, or some related field.  This gives a general knowledge and foundation in the field.  This means most therapists are trained to be able to treat general problems and diagnoses such as depression, anxiety, and adjustment disorders. They may also have additional training in other common problems, as well.  If you have a more specific problem or diagnosis (personality disorder, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, PTSD, etc.), you may feel more comfortable working with a clinician who has specific training in that area.  Sometimes, when you find a counseling agency, clients are matched to therapists based on skill, experience, and fit, whereas others may match based only on availability. 

Some ideas for possible questions to ask are:

  • What is your degree in?
  • What special certifications do you have?
  • What is your experience in working with people with my diagnosis/symptoms/problem?
  • (If going to an agency or group practice) How do you assign clients to clinicians?

Next, determine what your wants are.

Counseling and therapy can take on numerous different forms.  Are you someone who prefers to talk about feelings? Do you need someone who can give you homework and skills to practice? Would you rather work with someone who uses art to express feelings? Would you benefit from animal-assisted therapy? Do you prefer someone who counsels from a religious perspective?  Like with specialized training for diagnoses, therapists often need to seek additional certification for other therapeutic modalities such as art therapy, play therapy, animal-assisted therapy, music therapy, etc.  Even within traditional “talk therapy,” there are still a multitude of various modalities such as cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, somatic therapy, and more.  Certain clients and diagnoses are more receptive to certain treatments.  Others may be more widely-encompassing.  

Some ideas for possible questions to ask are:

  • What type of therapy do you use the most?
  • Have you had training in art/music/play/DBT/etc. therapy?
  • Does art/music/play/DBT work well to treat my diagnosis or presenting problem?

Determine if you have any deal-breakers

Not every therapist is the right fit for every client.  Even if a therapist has training in the areas that you need and want, they may still not be the best person for you.  Prior to seeking a therapist, try to determine if you have any deal-breakers. Maybe you need a therapist of a certain race or gender to align with your own.  Maybe you require someone with evening or weekend availability.  Some clients need more than the traditional one hour per week of individual therapy. Some therapists work alone in private practice settings and are unable to offer more flexibility.  Others may work in teams with more scheduling flexibility and availability.  Some therapists run groups to offer more client contact.  Others choose to stick to individual therapy. There are different options in the field to meet the needs of a diverse client population.  You should find a therapist who is the right fit for you so that you have the best chances at recovering and accomplishing your goals in therapy.

Some ideas for possible questions to ask are:

  • What is your availability?
  • What is your cancellation policy?
  • Do you ever see clients more than one time per week?
  • Do you offer groups?
  • How do you handle clients of different demographics than you?

Finally, trust yourself

Although a therapist may answer all of these questions in a way that seems fitting for you, you may still not feel that they are the right person for you.  Again, not every therapist is the right therapist for every client. If you do not feel comfortable with your therapist, you probably will face challenges in opening up and making progress.  In some cases, this can be mitigated.  Other times, it cannot.  Ultimately, it is up to you to determine if these challenges are something you see yourself overcoming or if you need to keep searching for a better fit for you.

Counseling Services of Olympia offers free 15-minute phone consultations for potential new clients. If you have been thinking about starting your counseling journey, feel free to contact us to set up a consultation with one of our talented clinicians.