Posted on April 21, 2020
Choosing a therapist can be overwhelming. Learn more about what to look for in your search for a great therapist.
Deciding to start therapy is a big deal. Firstly, you should be very proud and excited for taking the leap to do the work to better understand yourself. A big part of feeling better is simply making the decision to sort through your emotions with a professional. While you might be trying to figure out logistics like therapy insurance and office locations, it’s also a good idea to think about and research different types of therapy available and the type of therapist you’ll need.
Deciding to seek treatment for emotional or behavioral difficulties is the first step, but the type of mental health professional you choose for treatment can also be a difficult decision. Therapy isn’t one-size-fits-all, and neither are practitioners. This decision will likely involve your beliefs about the costs and benefits of therapy versus medication.
If you’re wondering what kind of therapist do I need, we’re here to help. Our therapy matching service will match you with a mental health professional that’s suited to your needs. But if you want a little more guidance on finding the perfect therapist, read on for our tips on how to determine the right therapist for you.
Before deciding which type of therapy you want or which therapist might be the right fit, it’s important to understand why you want to go to one in the first place. What are you looking to change, or what do you want to come to a deeper understanding or acceptance about in your life? Are you struggling with an anxiety disorder or do you want to discuss a different mental health condition? Even if it’s just to gain greater insight and reflection for self-growth, it’s important to know what you want to get out of your therapy session.
Once you’ve identified the underlying reason you're seeking treatment, do some research on different therapy treatments, philosophies and approaches to assess which aligns with your lifestyle and therapy goals. For example, many treatments are based on diagnostic disorders, so if you have a pre-diagnosed psychiatric disorder like obsessive-compulsive disorder or anxiety, then you might want to find a therapist who’s been trained in certain types of therapy that clinical studies have indicated are effective for those types of issues.
If you are more interested in more of an exploratory kind of therapy that will allow you to examine your past and present thoughts and feelings in greater depth, find someone who practices psychotherapy with a concentration in the life aspect in which you're interested to gain more insight.
To identify the best treatment approach, it is often necessary to complete a thorough evaluation before starting treatment. Many mental health professionals will start with such a diagnostic evaluation, to get a better idea of what the presenting problem is if you have not already done so. A thorough evaluation will allow you to determine if you need therapy for a mental health problem or if there’s another condition present like a mood disorder or eating disorder.
Once you’ve identified why you’re seeking therapy, it’s good to familiarize yourself with the main treatment approaches you could pursue. Therapy treatment is very diverse. Multiple types of therapy exist and they fall into various “schools” of thought, each with their own theories and techniques. Just as there are different types of medication for various kinds of mood disorders, there are a lot of different types of psychotherapies that people will use to treat a problem.
Still, there are two primary philosophical models of psychotherapy you’ll find in your search: psychodynamic and cognitive/behavioral.
Psychodynamic therapies focus on a patient’s unconscious process through talk therapy, with the goal of delving into past memories that might lead to an understanding of present problems.
Psychoanalysis is a long-term treatment that patients can engage in multiple times a week while psychodynamic therapy is short-term and typically has a 20-session protocol.
Cognitive/behavioral therapies, on the other hand, are based on understanding one’s thought process or behaviors in the present and identifying how dysfunctional patterns in these areas may contribute to a larger life problem. The philosophy is that by gaining awareness of these thought patterns, patients can work with therapists to actually change them.
Cognitive/behavioral therapies are more structured than psychodynamic therapies and tend to be shorter in duration, depending on the person’s needs.
The most common form of treatment in this category is cognitive behavioral therapy, which blends cognitive and behavioral components. The cognitive side centers on how a person’s thoughts influence mood or actions, while the behavioral part focuses on his or her actions and learning strategies to modify problematic behaviors.
It’s been said that cognitive behavioral therapy is the most widely researched psychotherapy, and has been proven to be very effective for people with anxiety, depression, eating disorders, mood disorders, bipolar disorder, phobias, and insomnia. Sessions with a cognitive behavioral therapist are highly structured; patients and therapists work together as a team to identify and change faulty thoughts and actions, and patients are expected to complete “homework” assignments when they’re not in session – say, keeping a “thought record” of negative thoughts, their context and what triggered them.
Once you’ve pinpointed your motivations, goals, and approaches you’re interested in seeking, it’s time to start searching for a therapist. One way to go about this is by relying on word of mouth: asking friends, family or a trusted internist or family practitioner if they know of a therapist they’d recommend. You can also contact local universities with clinical psychology or psychiatry departments, or visit an online therapist matching service like Advekit.
If seeking psychotherapy or counseling, there are a number of possibilities, including clinical or counseling psychologists, social workers, counselors, or marriage and family therapists. It’s important to note that for any medication-based treatments, a psychiatrist or other professional mental health provider will nearly always be involved in your treatment. Find a handful and then narrow it down from there with the following tips.
After you’ve narrowed your choices to a handful of mental health professionals, interview at least three before making a final decision. You can easily do this by phone consultation, which is also a great opportunity to see if their personality and skills mesh with your needs. Whether you initially see a clinical psychologist or therapist, your chosen professional should have some knowledge of the full range of treatment options, as well as expertise in treating disorders that fall into areas covered by their practice. It’s totally normal to interview your potential therapist and ask how much experience they have in treating individuals who are experiencing problems similar to what you are having.
Don’t be intimidated to ask your potential therapist enough questions about his or her approach. Consider asking questions like:
Doing this will allow you to understand what to expect from therapy with that specific therapist. If you’ve done your homework, asked all the questions, and already looked into the particular common types of therapies practiced by a therapist you’re considering, you can look to see if there’s been any outcome-based research published in a peer-reviewed journal that shows the therapy’s benefits. That could help you whether or not you want a therapist who specializes in a certain kind of therapeutic treatment.
Be sure that your therapist of choice checks all the boxes from qualifications to financial and personal needs. Whether you see a behavioral therapist or talking therapy counselor, it’s also important to ensure that the therapist is licensed to practice in your state, receives regular professional training, and has malpractice insurance. Be honest with yourself if age, gender and availability might be factors, as well as special sensitivity toward issues such as sexuality and lifestyle orientation.
Bottom line? If the professional isn't quite the right fit for you, don’t settle. Give yourself the best chance at sticking with your treatment by finding the right therapist who you really trust, and is convenient to see on a regular basis. To ease your therapist search, use Advekit and get matched with a handful of mental health professionals suited for your needs. Get started today!
Alison LaSov, LMFT
Alison LaSov is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with experience treating clients struggling with anxiety and depression. She predominantly focuses on mental health intervention for children and adolescents, particularly those who are in crisis. She has worked within the Los Angeles education system treating students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), as well as supervised a non-profit Teen Crisis Hotline out of Cedars-Sinai Hospital. Alison earned her B.A. from UCLA and M.A. from Pepperdine University. She is a native to Los Angeles and co-founder at Advekit.