3 Steps for Choosing the Right Therapist

Choosing the Right Therapist is Important.

By Dr. Denise Renye MED, MA, PSYD

With so many therapists in the world, how do you know which one is right for you?

After all, you’ll be sharing the deepest, most vulnerable parts of yourself with this person so it’s important they’re a good match. Not everyone has the privilege to be in a position to be able to choose whom they work with, but if you are able to pick your therapist, here are some tips.  

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 1. Be Selective

When you’re in psychological or emotional pain, it’s tempting to book a session with whatever therapist has the soonest availability, but that’s a mistake. As I’ve written about on my own blog, the therapeutic relationship is a special one. It’s unique and not to be found anywhere in the typical social world. For some, a therapist is the first or perhaps only secure attachment figure in their life.  

A secure attachment figure is someone who provides a safe physical and emotional environment for interaction. They are people clients can count on, someone they can express their innermost thoughts to, a person that holds space for feelings and processing feelings without shame, blame, or judgment. The healing happens in the space between the hearts and minds and spirits of the patient and the therapist. The relationship is the healing container.    

Therapy is built upon a relationship and the relationship is where and how healing happens. What that means is you can’t work with just anybody. Are you close friends with just anyone? Do you date just anyone? Probably not. Just as you recognize you mesh well with certain people and not others, the same applies to therapists. Pick someone you feel comfortable with, someone who sees and understands you. Otherwise, the relationship will stall your healing at best and could cause harm at worst.  

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2. Have an Intention in Mind

Just as with many things in life, having an intention and focus helps you refine what you’re looking for. Your intention in therapy doesn’t have to be specific, such as, “I want to get over the trauma that happened to me at 15.” It could be that, but it also could be general, such as, “I want to feel less anxious.” If you enter the therapeutic process knowing what you’d like to focus on, that will make it easier for you to find someone who specializes in what you’re looking for. 

A note here, therapy often takes a circuitous route and while you may enter therapy for one thing, you might find there are other issues you were unaware of cropping up in your time together with the therapist. In other words, it may seem tangential to talk about your childhood if you feel anxious about making new friends, but the therapist has their reasons for helping you look within in a certain manner. And if you want to know those reasons, ask! You don’t have to stay in the dark about what’s happening in sessions.  

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3. Ask Questions

The initial intake is the time for you to learn more about the therapist as much as it’s the time for the therapist to learn about you. During the initial meeting, ask what their approach is, if and how they’ve helped other people like you, and how much experience they have. Also ask more detailed and specific questions about how they work as a therapist. If you don’t know the term describing their approach, say so and ask them for more clarity.  

Maybe you already know that you want someone who works in a trauma-informed way, or it’s important that they’re accepting of your sexual orientation. Whatever it is, ask questions and learn more about the therapeutic approach and what sessions are like with that therapist.  

As you hear them share about their approach, how do you feel in your body? The body is a built-in barometer of your internal state. Typically, when a person is relaxed, they breathe deeply and slowly in their stomach. Typically, when a person is anxious or stressed, they breathe shallowly and rapidly in their chest. What’s your body doing as you’re chatting with this therapist? Pay attention to those signals because they provide crucial information. This information may be the most crucial you receive when you are seeking out a therapeutic relationship.  

Some other signs to watch out for: 

  • Does the therapist interrupt you while you’re talking?  
  • Do they respect your time? 
  • Do they have a solid knowledge of what you are asking for help with? 
  • Does their training level and years of experience meet your expectations? 
  • Does the therapist brush off, minimize, or invalidate your concerns? 

If spot any red flags during the phone consult or during the first session, this is not the person you want to work with. You are worthy and deserving of someone who respects you, listens to you, and wants to support you on your healing journey. Remember, this is all about finding the right match. The therapist your best friend raves about may not be the therapist for you. Take your time with this process because this is a person you’ll intimately talk with weekly for months, if not years. You’ll save yourself time and energy in the long run if you do the footwork now.  

The GoodTherapy Registry might be helpful to you. We have thousands of Therapists listed with us who would love to help you on your journey. Find the support you need today.

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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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