Updated: Nov 16, 2022
Finding “the right fit” therapist is arguably the most important of all the elements contributing to successful treatment in therapy. Remember, therapy is a relationship between you and another person. Like other relationships in your life, finding the right therapist is crucial to getting the most out of this investment in time, money, and effort.
Since this is vital to getting proper support, I have outlined some essential tips for finding a therapist that is right for you. Finding the right therapist entails knowing what you are looking for in therapy, knowing what to ask potential therapists during consultation calls, and knowing when you have found the right one.
Keep reading to learn about these three stages and feel more confident in beginning your therapy journey.
Know What You Are Looking For
Start by Doing Some Research
Most of us begin the process of finding a therapist from scratch, with little knowledge of the various options available. Just like any other consumer decision you face, doing some research can help to assure you are making the right choice to meet your needs.
There is a wide range of therapeutic models by which therapists practice, all of which have different points of emphasis and hold different beliefs about how change happens for clients. Cognitive-Behavioral therapists focus on thought patterns and how they influence our feelings and actions. Somatic therapists emphasize awareness of the physical sensations of emotions within the body. Depth psychotherapists prioritize the role of unconscious thoughts and feelings and explore how these influence the relationship between client and therapist in session. Your therapy experience can be extremely different depending on your therapist’s approach. Knowing more about these varieties can help you avoid potentially starting therapy with someone who doesn’t practice a style you feel in tune with.
If you are unsure what style or approach suits you, talk to any friends or family members with experience in therapy. Finding out what others liked or disliked about their experience may help clarify what you seek.
Clarify Your Own Qualifying Factors for a “Right Fit”
Besides researching various therapeutic styles and approaches, taking some time to self-reflect on what qualities and characteristics are essential to you can be equally crucial for your search. One guiding question for this process could be: What will make it easiest for me to feel safe and understood and allow me to lean into this work wholly.
You might feel that specific identity-based characteristics would significantly influence your comfort level when working with a therapist. Does it matter to you whether your therapist is male or female-identified? Are there cultural, racial, sexual orientation, or other identities you would hope your therapist shares with you? Or, perhaps, you desire to find a therapist with a different identity than yours in some way.
Some people feel uncomfortable working with therapists who are younger than them. In contrast, others might feel concerned that their therapist is not “too old” or is otherwise out of touch with the issues influencing their life. Assuring a therapist has the experience and competency with specific problems you seek therapy to work on might be a qualifying factor you prioritize.
In any case, it is worthwhile to consider what qualities matter to you. Otherwise, these mismatches could make therapy feel more difficult or prolong the crucial trust-building process with your therapist.
I cannot overstate this one enough. Allow yourself to make an informed, thoughtful choice about with whom you will work. Get a feel for what is out there. Do not feel compelled to say “yes” to the first therapist you get on the phone with for a consultation. This is an important decision! Take steps to help you make the right choice.
Use online directories to look at many therapist profiles and see which ones speak to you. Schedule more than one consultation phone call. Use the research and self-reflection you have done ahead of time to ask questions and clarify if a therapist meets your needs.
Lastly, use the first few sessions with a therapist as a testing ground. Do you feel comfortable and understood? Are you talking about what feels most important to you? Is your therapist responsive to feedback? Even if you cannot fully define what feels “off,” it is perfectly acceptable to decide to look elsewhere if the fit isn’t right.
I would, however, highly recommend being open and honest with your therapist if you are questioning the fit. Discussing these concerns openly in session could lead to a powerful relationship-building experience between you and the therapist. And if not, this would simply confirm that the fit isn’t right.
Know Your Budget
For therapy to be successful, you need to be able to commit to the process. Therefore, starting treatment at a cost that is not sustainable for you is not in your best interest. Clarifying your budget for therapy is essential both for finding an affordable option, and for making your search more efficient and successful.
If you hope to find treatment covered by your insurance, make sure you contact your insurance provider to understand the extent of your coverage and who is “in-network.” You can also ask whether they offer any reimbursement for the cost of seeing providers who are “out of network.”
Know What to Ask Potential Candidates
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask All the Questions You Have
When you schedule a consultation phone call with a therapist, don’t hesitate to ask anything that feels important or helpful for your decision process. This is where you get to put all your research and self-reflection about qualifications to work!
Keep in mind that not all therapists share the same values or comfort level with things like self-disclosure about their personal experiences. However, hearing how a therapist handles a boundary like this can be valuable to understanding what it might be like to work with them, so ask anyway!
Ask About Their Approach and Get a Sense of Their Style
“How do you typically work with clients with _________ issues.”
This question can allow you to get clearer on how a therapist understands your presenting needs and therapy overall. I like this question because it is open-ended, and the answer you hear may lead you to other questions for them.
Try to imagine being in the room with this person. Are they active and engaging? Do they leave a lot of space for you to talk? Do they ask a lot of questions? Don’t hesitate to ask directly about their style of engagement if it doesn’t come across over the phone.
How Will I Know When I’ve Found the “Right Fit” in a Therapist?
Trust Your Intuition
When you know, you know. It can be easy to get caught up in questioning if a new therapy is a good fit or not. Try not to overthink it and trust that your intuition will signify when you’ve found a good match.
You Feel Heard and Understood
One of the most meaningful experiences you can get from therapy is having a space for your inner world to be heard and validated by another person. It can be very frustrating if you feel your therapist is not fully understanding or hearing you correctly. When you’ve found a good fit, this will likely be something you haven’t had to think about because they have shown understanding and validation for your experience in session.
Even If the Work is Hard, You Feel Safe
Let’s be honest. Therapy is not always comfortable. However, there is a big difference between safely moving through trauma or difficult emotions and doing so in a way that is re-traumatizing. If you are regularly leaving sessions feeling dysregulated or ungrounded, you should bring this up with your therapist. And, if they cannot take steps to make the process feel safer and more contained, then you might not be working with the right person.
Your “right fit” therapist will be someone with whom you feel safe enough to bring the most difficult parts of your life.