How to Find a Therapist

Reviewed by therapist.com Team

Finding a good therapist is the first step toward better mental health.

It’s important to find someone you can trust. You also want to choose a therapist who has the necessary skills and experience to address your specific mental health needs.

Convenience is also important in your decision-making. Therapy is a commitment. Anything you can do to make that commitment easier to keep is worth doing.

How to Get Started with Therapy

A great first step is to see your primary care doctor (PCP) and ask for a referral for a therapist. Your doctor can also conduct some tests to ensure that your symptoms aren’t indicative of a different medical problem, such as hypothyroidism.

If you don’t feel comfortable seeing a doctor, you can ask your friends or family for referrals. However, keep in mind that everyone has different mental health needs. Your friend’s therapist may be the right fit for them, but not necessarily the right fit for you.

You can also search online directories to find a therapist who specializes in your mental health concerns. Click here to browse our directory of qualified therapists near you.

What to Look for in a Therapist

1. Credentials

It’s important to choose a therapist who has the appropriate educational background and credentials to provide professional treatment. Common titles and credentials include:

  • Psychologist: Doctoral degree in psychology
  • Psychiatrist: Medical degree in psychiatry (can prescribe medication)
  • LMFT: Licensed marriage and family therapist
  • LCSW: Licensed clinical social worker
  • LPC: Licensed professional counselor

Your therapist may have a different degree or title than those listed above. Still, most qualified therapists have at least a master’s degree in counseling, psychology, or a related field.

Keep in mind that certain titles—like “therapist,” “counselor,” or “coach”—are generic terms and not legally regulated. You’ll want to look beyond these terms to determine the education and training a therapist has received.

2. Methods of Treatment

Different therapists rely on different methods of treatment for their clients. Many therapists are trained in multiple treatment methods. Common methods of therapy include:

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
Acceptance & commitment therapy
Art therapy
Dialectical behavior therapy
Emotional freedom technique
Hypnotherapy
Internal family systems therapy
● Interpersonal therapy
● Psychodynamic therapy
Somatic therapy

3. Specialties

Often, therapists list the practice areas they specialize in on their websites or in online directories. It can be helpful to choose a therapist who has proven experience with clients who are similar to you in age or experiences.

Common specialties include:

It’s also useful to check a therapist’s client focus to see whether they specialize in working with individuals, couples, groups, adults, children, or teenagers.

4. Payment Options

Money can be a huge barrier in seeking professional mental health treatment. Here are some tips for finding affordable therapy:

  • Check with your insurance provider: Your insurance provider may offer a directory of in-network therapists on their website. Check with your provider to determine whether or not your policy covers mental health services and to what extent.
  • Determine a budget: Find out how much you can afford to spend on weekly sessions. If you find a therapist you like who is out of budget, you may be able to afford less frequent sessions, such as every other week.
  • Ask about reduced rates: Many therapists offer reduced rates for clients who may struggle to afford their treatment. Ask about any discounts, sliding scales, or payment plans you can take advantage of.

5. Online vs. In-Person Treatment

Today, many therapists offer both in-person and online therapy sessions. Each has their own advantages and disadvantages. You’ll want to consider the pros and cons of each before deciding which medium you prefer.

Pros: Online Therapy

  • Convenient
  • Safe
  • Eliminates time and energy spent on driving to the therapist’s office
  • Can receive therapy from a professional who doesn’t live near you

Cons: Online Therapy

  • Potential internet connection problems
  • Requires a computer, tablet, or mobile device
  • Requires a basic level of technological savvy
  • Difficulty finding privacy in your home
  • May struggle to trust a person you’ve only met virtually

Pros: In-Person Therapy

  • Strong way to build a relationship with a therapist
  • Allows therapist to evaluate your body language
  • Creates a safe environment
  • Eliminates any technological barriers to treatment

Cons: In-Person Therapy

  • Requires reliable transportation every week at the same time
  • Larger time commitment
  • Limited to therapists within driving distance
  • May be cancelled due to inclement weather

6. Trust

The most important question you can ask when looking for a therapist is “Do I trust this person to help me?”

Trust is built over time. It can be difficult to determine if a person is trustworthy based on a first impression.

Similarly, you may not trust your therapist with all of your deepest, darkest secrets during your first session. However, it’s important to choose a therapist you feel safe with—a therapist you may trust with more sensitive topics as you get to know them better.

Be Honest About Your Preferences

Our own internal biases and preferences play a role in whether or not we choose to trust someone. It’s okay to be honest about some of these preferences.

For example, if you were sexually assaulted by a male authority figure, you may not feel comfortable being treated by a male therapist. Similarly, if you’re struggling with the everyday trauma of living as a racial or ethnic minority, you may be more comfortable seeing a therapist who can directly relate to your experiences.

Find Help in Unexpected Places

Keep in mind that you don’t have to find a therapist who perfectly matches your background, experiences, or identity.

You may find that a therapist with completely different life experiences can offer a refreshing perspective. You may feel more freedom to be honest about your struggles with someone who doesn’t have the same context as you.

Remember, what is most important is that you find a therapist you trust. It’s okay to be honest about any preferences you may have, but it’s also important to acknowledge that they are just preferences.

The truth is that any licensed therapist with the necessary credentials is qualified to help you—as long as you trust them to help you.

Find the Right Therapist for You

Ready to start on your journey to better mental health? Click here to find local therapists near you.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Do I Need Therapy?

There is no litmus test to prove that you “need” therapy. Anyone can access professional mental health treatment at any time for any reason. If you have questions or concerns about your mental health, a therapist can help.

What Kind of Therapist Do I Need?

It can be difficult to know what kind of therapist you work best with when you’re just starting out. Here are some general tips to help you narrow down your choices:

  • Know why you’re going: It can help to have at least a general idea of what sort of mental health issues you’re dealing with. You don’t need to have a professional diagnosis yet. Instead, make a list of what you’re struggling with and what you hope to get out of therapy. This can help your therapist determine what sort of treatment you need and whether they offer such treatment.
  • Reflect on your current learning style: Understanding your preferred style of learning can help you choose a method of therapy that you may be more receptive to. For example, if you never did your homework when you were a student, you’ll want to choose a therapist who doesn’t assign homework outside of sessions.
  • Prioritize trust: There is no surefire way to choose the “right” kind of therapist. What’s most important is that you trust them to help you. Instead of trying to find the perfect match for your background and needs, prioritize finding a therapist you feel safe with.

Is Therapy Confidential?

In general, yes. Nearly everything you say in therapy is never disclosed by your therapist to anyone else. There are only a few very specific exceptions to this rule. Your therapist can only disclose information you have shared with them if:

  • You present a clear, specific, present danger to yourself (not just suicidal thoughts, but an actionable, specific plan to commit suicide) or others
  • Your therapist is presented with evidence of abuse of a child, elder, person with a disability, or dependent
  • A court order or subpoena legally requires your therapist to share information about your case

How Long Will I Be in Therapy?

A typical therapy session lasts one hour and occurs on a weekly basis. However, the number of sessions a person will need is unique to each client. Your length of treatment depends on the:

  • Mental health problems you’re facing
  • Type of therapy you’re receiving
  • Progress you’re making
  • Expert opinion of your therapist

Generally speaking, many clients see improvement in just a few months. However, certain disorders may require more or less treatment.