Once you’ve decided to pursue therapy, it can feel daunting to find the right fit. If you don’t know the landscape or the lingo, all the information out there can blur together and feel downright discouraging. Here’s a guide to help give you some direction.
1) Decide if you want to go through your insurance. There are pros and cons to using your insurance. Pros include lower cost and a built in list of people who you could work with from your insurance provider. Cons include issues with privacy, your policy limiting the number of sessions your insurance will pay for, a diagnosis going on your medical record, and difficulty finding a provider who has current openings.
2) Figure out if you need to see someone with a specialty. If the primary issue bringing you to therapy is a breakup or another relational issue, mild to moderate anxiety or depression, or trouble adjusting to changes in your life, chances are most therapists are capable of working with you. But if you’ve got a specific issue like bipolar, a phobia, food anxiety, or trauma, you should see someone who has specialized training and experience with that issue. Or maybe you don’t need someone with a specific specialty, but want to see someone from your same racial or ethnic group or sexual orientation. That’s important to be clear on too, and depending on where you live, can help narrow your search.
3) Ask a trusted friend or colleague for a recommendation. Not everyone feels comfortable telling people they’re looking for a therapist, and that’s okay. You’re absolutely entitled to your privacy. But if you are comfortable asking for recommendation, it takes a lot of legwork out of your search, and there’s no better endorsement than the stamp of approval from someone you trust. You can also try asking your doctor, nutritionist, yoga instructor, or hairstylist.
4) Look online. There are many online directories for therapists. The most popular one is Psychology Today, but there are so many therapists listed there it can feel overwhelming. For a smaller pool and more customizable search options, check out TherapyDen.
5) Don’t get too caught up in therapy lingo. You may have seen words or acronyms like psychodynamic, CBT, somatic therapy, and solution-focused around. There are so many different types of therapy and acronyms for various protocols, it literally requires a Master’s degree to understand them all. Don’t worry too much about how a therapist describes their theoretical orientation; the truth is that many therapists have an eclectic style that draws from several different modalities. For some issues, it may be best practice to go with a specific kind of treatment, but any therapist worth their salt will know what direction to point you in if that’s what you need.
6) Try out a few therapists. Yes, this is okay. The relationship you have with your therapist is too important to settle for the first person you feel just-okay with. However, be honest and upfront about it with the therapists you’re trying out, and don’t drag it out for more than two or three sessions. Therapists aren’t supposed to treat people who are simultaneously seeing another individual therapist, and it can put them in an awkward position if you haven’t been upfront about it.
7) Go with your gut. A therapist may have all the degrees and certifications and come highly recommended, but that doesn’t mean they’re the best therapist for you. If you feel like you click with someone who doesn’t have as many letters after their name, or whose office is a little funky, go with what you feel. Remember, the relationship and trust you have in your therapist is paramount. The rest is details.
8) Ask questions. Therapy can feel awkward for people who aren’t used to having a directional relationship. Generally, therapists don’t talk about themselves much (and if yours does, rethink seeing them). Not knowing much about your therapist can make people feel like they’re not allowed to ask anything. You are allowed to ask questions that will help you be more clear about what therapy is and how it works, and about your therapist’s experience and training. If therapy feels confusing or secretive, speak up. In therapy, there’s truly no such thing as a dumb question. You're paying for someone's expertise.
9) Remember you can stop whenever you want. Committing to therapy isn’t a lifelong contract. You can leave when you want or need to. If you feel like therapy isn’t working, or the relationship isn’t quite a match, or you just need a break from introspection for a bit, that’s fine. Most therapists will ask you to come to one or two more sessions to wrap things up, but they shouldn’t try to change your mind unless they have concerns for your safety.
Got a questions about finding a therapist? Comment below!
Laurel Therapy Collective
offers online therapy to California residents for anxiety, transitions, and trauma.