5 Min Read

How to Find the Best Therapist for You: A Beginner’s Guide

Jaclyn Lopez Witmer, Psy.D.

Mental health matters—and the stigma surrounding mental health should never hinder you from seeking the help you need. Plus, the stigma that might be holding you back is starting to evaporate as people talk much more openly about their mental health struggles. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, mental illnesses are common in the United States, affecting tens of millions of people every year. However, only half of those with mental health issues seek treatment.

Seeing a mental health professional for the first time can feel both intimidating and liberating. You can be vulnerable, express your feelings, and talk through specific issues with a qualified specialist—in a completely different way than you can talk to friends and family members.

Sounds promising, right? But you still need to find the strength to search for a therapist and go to your first session. And you need to be prepared to open up during therapy, or you’re not going to get what you need out of it. What do you need to know about finding a new therapist, how can you tell whether it’s a good fit, and how does therapy work?

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What is psychotherapy?

Everyone has unique mental health needs, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to therapy. Therapists use psychotherapy or talk therapy to treat a wide range of issues, from mental health conditions like ADHD and bipolar disorder and relationship problems to stress management and substance abuse. Some common treatment approaches include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT involves analyzing thinking and behavioral patterns. After your first session, your therapist will help you set clear goals and figure out the best way to work toward them. CBT helps patients learn healthy coping skills, identify their strengths, and make a positive change in their thinking and behavioral patterns.
  • Group therapy: Group therapy is an umbrella term for working with a therapist with a group of people struggling with similar mental health issues. While group therapy encourages everyone to talk, there’s no requirement. If you find the idea of an individual therapy session intense, group therapy might be right for you. Many therapists also offer family therapy and couples therapy.

In addition to different types of therapy, there are different types of therapists who are licensed to provide psychotherapy and counseling services, such as:

  • LPC: Licensed Professional Counselor
  • LMFT: Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
  • LCADAC: Licensed Clinical Alcohol & Drug Abuse Counselor
  • LICSW: Licensed Independent Social Worker
  • LCSW: Licensed Clinical Social Worker
  • Licensed Psychiatrist
  • Licensed Psychologist

How can I find the right therapist for me?

Finding the best therapist for you can feel daunting and confusing, but there are ways to make the process easier. Many people use Google to find a new therapist or ask friends and family members for suggestions, while others ask their primary care doctor for a referral. However, a doctor’s referral isn’t required to meet with a mental health professional. Many insurance providers also provide databases to search by location, type of therapy, and specialization.

Ultimately, therapy works best when you feel comfortable with your therapist, so many people search for therapists who share their identity or personal preferences. According to the American Psychology Association, whether you’re searching for a social worker, family therapist, psychiatrist, or clinical psychologist, it can help search for a therapist based on a shared identity, such as race or gender.

It’s essential to keep in mind that finding the best fit can be a matter of trial and error. You might try meeting with a few types of therapists or scheduling multiple consultations before finding the right fit—and that’s normal.

How much does therapy cost?

Unfortunately, although mental health is as important as physical health, some insurance providers do not consider mental health services “medically necessary.“ However, if you have extended healthcare benefits through your employer’s health insurance or coverage that you’ve purchased on your own, you may qualify for some type of coverage.

Don’t let a lack of health insurance coverage prevent you from seeking mental healthcare. Some psychologists, counselors, clinical social workers, and private practice therapists offer affordable options or lower fees for uninsured patients. There are often lower cost clinics and training institutes in many cities that provide therapy as well. If you find a good fit, and you’re struggling to pay the fee, ask your therapist what options you may have and if they offer sliding scale options during the first appointment.

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What questions should I ask my therapist?

It’s your right to ask your therapist questions. If you have a concern, question, or fear about anything—from your therapist’s credentials and qualifications to paying for therapy—don’t be afraid to ask. Being able to ask questions—and receive honest answers—is integral to forming a strong therapeutic relationship. Above all else, trust is fundamental to successful mental healthcare.

If you’re trying to figure out whether a potential therapist is a good fit, consider bringing a list of questions to your initial consultation. If you’re seeking help for a specific issue, be ready to tell your therapist when the issue began, how it affects you, and why you decided to seek therapy. 

It’s also important to consider each potential therapist’s specialty. When you’re working with a new therapist, it can be reassuring to know you’re working with a specialist who has training and experience treating similar problems. For example, if you’re struggling with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), working with a professional counselor who has experience treating OCD patients can help you feel more comfortable.

What about medication?

Mental healthcare doesn’t necessarily involve medication. However, if medication is something you have questions about, it’s essential to bring this up with your therapist—just don’t be surprised if they advise you to wait for a bit.

If you and your psychotherapist decide that medication is the best option for you, you’ll likely be referred to a separate provider. In most states, psychologists do not have a license to prescribe medications, and many psychiatrists do not offer psychotherapy.

In the best-case scenario, your psychotherapist and psychiatrist will stay in contact with each other—especially during your first therapy sessions and diagnostic visits. However, this isn’t always the case. It’s best to keep your therapist updated with your medications and let them know about any concerns you have during the treatment process.

How do I know if it’s a good match?

There’s no rule about how quickly you’ll figure out whether you and your new therapist are a good match, but it’s normal to have a gut feeling during your first call or within the first few therapy sessions. This doesn’t mean your intuition is always right, though—if you doubt whether or not therapy is right for you in the first place, it’s worthwhile to ask yourself why you feel this way.

However, if you’re feeling generally uncomfortable or don’t feel like your treatment is helping, consider searching for a new therapist. According to psychoanalyst Michael Bader, a reliable way to gauge the quality of mental healthcare is to be direct about any concerns you have and see how your therapist reacts. Good therapists offer honest and transparent conversations about progress, and it’s a good sign if your therapist is willing to experiment with different approaches. If your therapist is defensive or unwilling to discuss your progress, this could be a red flag.

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re seeking short-term therapy for relationship struggles or long-term therapy for a specific issue, finding the best therapist can feel daunting.

To start your search, reach out to a licensed therapist through WithTherapy. WithTherapy uses science and research to connect each patient to a shortlist of mental health professionals, regardless of personal preferences and requirements. One of the licensed therapists on the WithTherapy platform will help you take control of your emotional health, manage everyday stresses, and find strength.

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