Choosing the Right Therapist: Five Simple Steps

A red pen sits on a paper with five checked boxes.Choosing the right therapist really depends on your needs and the counseling style that will work best for you. There are several steps that you should take if you want to find a counselor that will truly make an impact on your life. These steps include:

Step 1: Go with your gut. Many people pick a therapist who makes them feel at ease, so pay attention to the way you feel when you’re talking to a potential therapist. Keep in mind, though, that this is only the first step in choosing the right counselor for you. Because, while you do need to have a good amount of comfort and trust with your counselor, you also need to be certain that you’ll get results. Since therapy is personal, you do need to feel your therapist is the right fit in terms of comfort, but this shouldn’t be the only criteria.

Step 2: Look for credibility and knowledge. Not all therapy is the same, and many types of therapy have little to no evidence showing that they significantly help people. With that in mind, finding out the type of therapy the counselor uses is very important. Do a little research so you are an informed consumer.

Step 3: Evaluate their therapy style. Some therapists say they practice evidenced-based therapy, which is a great start, but you may want to ask a little more about their training or visit their website to see if this gives you a better indication of their counseling style. Do they have a website? If so, is it informational or just an advertisement for their services? These details also give you a sense of what you can expect from them in terms of how serious they take their work. Therapists who give a good amount of helpful information on their websites will typically have your best interests in mind and will be dedicated to helping you get the best results.

Step 4: Are they easy to understand? Another factor that is important when it comes to choosing a counselor or therapist is taking a look at how he or she speaks to you. Some counselors have brilliant ideas, but they can’t get their message across in simple, layperson language that is easily understood. After all, you won’t get far if you don’t understand what your counselor is talking about. You’ll be able to tell how easy potential counselors are to understand by the way they write for their websites or by the way they talk if you speak to them over the phone. They should also be patient with your questions and not act in a condescending way.

Step 5: Consider a specialist. Choosing a counselor who specializes in many areas may be a sign that this person knows a little bit about many topics, but may not be well versed in working with your particular concern. A better choice would be to find someone who focuses on your particular struggle or to choose a group practice that can help you find the person who is best suited to help with your needs.

Try to find someone who has a good combination of the above characteristics. If you can find a therapist who helps you feel comfortable, provides evidence-based therapy, is serious about helping you work through your struggles, is easy to understand, and has experience with your particular needs, you will have a much better chance at getting significant results from your therapy.

© Copyright 2009 by Ernest Schmidt, MSW, therapist in Palo Alto, California. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Scotland

    November 14th, 2009 at 4:05 AM

    I needed to see a therapist about a couple of years ago and because I was not too comfortable with two different therapists that I saw, I had almost given it up… until I found one that was really welcoming and seemed like he truly cared to help solve my problem… I stuck with him and was really comfortable sharing all that I had in my mind and had a lot of very successful therapy sessions.

  • Eliza

    November 14th, 2009 at 5:53 PM

    You don’t realize when you first begin how much you need to be able to make a connection with your therapist but you really do so that the two of you together can work and get to the heart of the manner. I think that you will likely know right away if this is someone that you are going to feel comfortable with and who you are going to be able to trust enough to allow into your life and to help you along this incredibly difficult but eye opening journey that you are sure to experience. That is hard for some people who naturally do not trust others but this is someone who is going to learn all of your deepest and darkest secrets so you better make sure that you have a good rapport with him or her and that you feel like you could trust them with anything that you say and share. Remember this is a person who is there to help you and you want it to be someone who can see you through until the end.

  • Lisa

    November 15th, 2009 at 5:14 AM

    I went with my gut when I was getting a messy divorce. I had the worst therapist as a result of that. A friend of mine told me that it was not the best time to go with my gut as I was in shambles mentally.

  • Ernest

    Ernest

    November 15th, 2009 at 10:56 AM

    I think you make a good point. Going with your gut only takes you so far. I like the idea of using the same criteria you use to choose other professionals to work with. Get friend’s opinions as well, even have them look at the therapist’s website and give you their impression. Good discussion…
    Ernie

  • Leslie

    November 16th, 2009 at 11:34 AM

    Referrals from other people is a great way to get information about a therapist.

  • Jane J.

    January 10th, 2016 at 6:12 PM

    Great information as if you choose the wrong therapist it will impact your entire treatment

  • Olivia

    March 23rd, 2017 at 3:47 PM

    I agree that a good marriage therapist is easy to understand. It would seem important to find a counselor that will not use overly confusing terms and words. My husband and I are looking for a marriage counselor so we’ll have to find someone who speaks in clear and understandable words.

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