You’ve decided it’s time to pursue therapy or counseling. Maybe you’re looking to gain insights into yourself, or work on improving your mental health. Maybe you want to learn how to make healthier choices, or to heal from past traumas. 

Whatever your reason for seeking therapy, you probably feel a little intimidated about choosing a stranger with whom you open up to regarding your entire personal life.

If you’ve been in therapy or counseling before, you might already have a certain mental list of what you’re looking for in your next professional relationship. However, many people have never pursued mental health support, relationship counseling or any kind of therapy before. If you have no idea where to start, consider the main components listed below when seeking out a therapist. 

Work Out the Logistics 

Start by researching your options. Do a web search on the therapists you are interested in, or simply search for therapists in your area. Consider whether you prefer to see the therapist in person or if you would prefer online sessions. Whichever your preference, and what’s available from the therapist’s clinic, must be factored into your decision. Remember to consider things like: clinic or office location, cost per session (or are they an approved provider under your insurance plan), and the availability of the therapist. If the answers aren’t all on the website, you can call or e-mail the business directly to get further details. 

Research the Therapist/Counselor 

Whoever you pick for counsel, that person is going to be supporting you in your unique set of issues. It’s important to find someone with experience and training in the therapeutic area that you’re seeking help. Checking out the clinic or therapist’s personal website is a good place to start. You might also ask someone you trust for a referral.  When you are selecting a therapist, be sure to ask the questions that are most important to you.  For example:   

  • What kind of therapist are they? (e.g., Psychotherapist, Marriage & Family Therapist, Mental Health Counselor, Clinical Psychologist or Counseling Psychologist). What does this mean for your therapy? For an article on explaining these terms – click here
  • What areas does the therapist primarily focus on? 
  • Do they have experience and expertise in the area you are seeking counseling for? For example, some mental health organizations maintain a searchable database of therapists who specialize in their area.
  • How long have they been practicing?
  • Are they licensed in your state? 
  • What do their listed credentials mean? What supervising boards are they accountable to? 
  • Are they in good standing with the state licensing board? Have any clients submitted complaints?
  • Are there any client reviews or comments posted on the website or social media site? 

Reading other people’s reviews online or asking someone you trust can help you decide which therapist you might like to meet. Just remember everyone is different and will have different opinions. Ultimately you are the expert on yourself and should follow the path that you think is best. 

Consider Compatibility 

Now that you’ve chosen a therapist, it’s time to schedule an appointment and have an actual session with them. It’s important to be open-minded when seeing a new therapist. It can take some time to become comfortable. But if you’ve given it a few sessions and still feel awkward or uncomfortable, that might be a sign you’re just not compatible with this therapist. It’s important to find someone who makes you comfortable and makes you feel safe. 

Do you sync with their personality? Some people might feel better with an emotional and compassionate therapist, while some might prefer the objective and non-emotional type. Ask yourself these questions beforehand.  This is like starting any new relationship. You want it to feel healthy, trusting and comfortable. It might take a few tries before you find someone with whom you are a good match.  

If you are struggling to find a therapist and notice that you are “reacting negatively to every counselor you see, then the issue could be yours,” writes Noah Rubinstein, GoodTherapy Founder, LMFT, LMHC.  He suggests trying to stick it out with a counselor in order to work through any fears that you may about beginning therapy or opening up about painful experiences.     

Engage in Your Therapeutic Planning

No matter what has brought you into therapy, your therapist should have a structured plan to start coaching you through your concerns. Your therapist or counselor should be able to describe their typical methods, what they’ve found has worked for clients in the past, and what they imagine might work for you. They should be emotionally supportive while still encouraging your independence, so you will be able to work on yourself at all times, not just while in the session with your therapist. Your therapist/counselor should also be open to hearing your feedback about what you feel is or isn’t working. Your active participation is integral to your therapeutic planning. Go into your sessions with an idea (or notes) on what you hope to achieve in therapy. This will help your counselor be better able to coach you to meet your goals. 

An article in states, “Research suggests that the relationship between therapist and client is among the most important factors influencing the outcomes of therapy, more important than factors such as the therapist’s years of experience or theoretical orientation.”

In the end, you want a relationship with a therapist that will support and encourage you, while you work to engage the practices taught by that therapist. It should be a reciprocal relationship that you both put effort into. Remember it’s completely acceptable to voice concerns if you think your therapist isn’t fully meeting your needs. They might be open to adapting their strategies, or helping you find someone better suited to what you’re looking for. 

If you are considering starting therapy and have questions about the process, please reach out to us at Family and Child Development. We are here to support you virtually or in-person, depending on your specific needs.