What to Look for When Finding a Therapist

“Each patient carries his own doctor inside him. We are at our best when we give the doctor who resides within each patient a chance to go to work.”  Albert Schweitzer

When it comes to therapy, there are two types of people; those who recognize how much they have benefited from therapy and those who would benefit from therapy but do not know it. Not everyone struggles with mental health issues, like serious depression or anxiety, but it would be extremely hard to find someone who doesn’t deal with stress, conflict, and personal relationship issues on a daily basis. These all take their toll and taking advantage of working through them with an experienced counselor can make a major difference in quality of life.  

Therapy can be extremely powerful and rewarding, but finding a therapist who is not only well-qualified and experienced, but also one that is the right fit for the individual can be challenging and take a fair amount of time. Making your way through the process of determining the right credentials, area of expertise, experience, training and other specifics that differentiates one from another can be daunting. For someone already stressed about what it is driving the need for therapy, it can be overwhelming.  

What Should You Look for in a Therapist?

So, what should you look for in a therapist? Ask a dozen professionals and you are likely to get a dozen different lists. Fortunately, the items on those lists are likely to fall into some general themes that can be condensed into some basic recommendations, such as:

Recommendations from people you trust – this can be an excellent place to start. Nothing is more valuable than recommendations from people you actually know about something or someone that they have personal experience with. If there is hesitancy about seeing the same therapist as a friend or family member, most experienced therapists are happy to refer to other therapists that they know and respect.

Expertise in your particular issue – finding someone who specializes in treating your issue is a definite head start. The mental health field is simply too broad for anyone therapist to be an expert in everything. One mark of good therapists is that they will proactively address this and, when appropriate, refer you to someone who is better suited to provide the highest level of assistance.

Research online but be discerning – the internet offers a lot of potential for research on everything, and therapy is no different. That said, not all information is equal. Take advantage of the opportunity to check education, credentials, areas of expertise, fee schedules and other similar types of data. If the therapist posts about belief systems or treatment philosophy, take note of how you react. But, as we have all learned, everything online should be suspect. You might use it to narrow down the list but not to actually make your final choice.

Interview those you feel are possible good fits for you and your issues – this will probably take place on the phone but might be during an initial exploratory meeting. Try to determine what kind of style they have and whether you think you would be comfortable working with them. Are they easy to talk to? Do they seem interested in you? Are they empathetic? What kind of experience do they have with your particular issue?

Relationship over resume – multiple advanced degrees and long lists of awards look good on paper but do not necessarily translate into strong therapeutic relationships and that is your goal. Look more for warmth, acceptance, empathy and the skills to accurately identify your core issues.

Bottom line: do your research and make sure you are choosing between highly qualified and experienced practitioners, but trust your gut, your intuition, when making your decision. Take Albert Schweitzer’s advice to heart and “give the doctor who resides within each patient a chance to go to work.”