Why is finding a good therapist so hard? With so many therapists out there, why is it so difficult to find one that actually helps?
Well, first of all, a good therapist is not necessarily the right therapist…for you. You may be wondering: how do I make a change and find the right therapist for me?
First, let’s clarify that there are some common traits that all qualified, good therapists do have. As therapists, we are trained to create safe, empathetic, and engaging relationships with our clients. Some things you can look for: Do you feel safe, listened to, and understood when you speak to a therapist? If your therapist has a graduate degree and is licensed, you can take comfort in knowing there are thousands of dollars and thousands of clinical hours behind those credentials. Further, your therapist may specialize in working with a particular group of people, certain mental health conditions, or a particular type of therapy.
As a therapist myself, here is my list of crucial questions that you can ask yourself when searching for the right therapist. Reflecting on these questions can help you navigate the process to find the right match and guide you to find a clinician that will bring positive change to your life.
1. What type of therapist are you looking for?
While it is important to research therapists, understand their licenses, and look at their previous experience, at the end of the day, you want someone who you can confide in and trust. Don’t choose someone solely because of their credentials. Even if they went to an Ivy League school or have 20 different certifications, choose the therapist you feel most comfortable with.
Therapy is a human experience. It is about finding someone who you have a genuine connection with. This person must be willing to hear you, connect with you, and provide you room to grow. Look for the therapist’s ability to create a trusting, safe, and non-judgmental space that allows for you to be your most authentic self. Finally, the right therapist should have personal competences, such as communication skills, empathy, emotional intelligence, and emotional regulation. With these essential traits, your therapist should be a source of support, who can also offer you important tools that can help you to modify negative thoughts, behaviors, and feelings.
2. How does this therapist practice?
One of the most beautiful components of the mental health field is that there are so many different styles, perspectives, and modalities when it comes to treatment. During your initial research, you may have noticed terms such as “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy” or “Psychodynamic Therapy.” These are a few popular therapeutic lenses that therapists work from to best help bring self-awareness within their clients. Although it might be overwhelming to see so many different therapeutic perspectives advertised, there is a reason for such a vast amount of treatment styles. It’s because everyone is different. Not just clients, but therapists as well.
Therapy is a unique experience and does not fall under the “one size fits all” model. Whether you want to focus on attachment styles, a trauma, or just want to speak with a professional, as so many people do during this pandemic, remember there is a therapist out there for you. You can read about different types of therapy here and here to see what is the best fit for you. Don’t be afraid to look around and talk to different therapists who have different approaches. Therapists, more often than not, offer free consultations before starting any type of therapeutic work. This is your time to ask questions, be curious, and see what they believe the best treatment plan is for you.
Take the time you need to find the right practitioner for you. You are a priority and deserve a clinician who treats you like one. Even if it takes a few sessions to get a solid understanding for the therapist, take your time — it is okay to shop around! Do not feel obligated to stick with someone. They are there for you, not the other way around.
3. How do you feel with the therapist in the room?
Are you being heard? Do you feel like you are being judged? Do you get along with your therapist and feel like you can tell them anything that is on your mind? In addition to considering different styles of therapy, you will want to take into account how these differing styles play out in the actual therapeutic space.
You will want to make sure you have what clinicians refer to as a “treatment plan,” which outlines your goals for therapy and how you will eventually reach those goals. Too many times I have heard clients say that they have been in therapy for years, but could not actually state what changes they made or what goals they achieved during their work together.
Having specific therapeutic goals, creating a timeline, and implementing a plan will help both you and your therapist stay on track with something to work towards. It is also important that you both check in on this plan throughout your time together during sessions, as goals and landmarks can change over the course of time.
Therapy won’t always feel comfortable, but you should feel safe with your therapist and trust that they know what they are doing is effective.
4. Are you benefitting from the work and noticing positive change in your life after starting your therapeutic journey with this clinician?
You can expect to see some positive outcome from your investment in therapy, through changes in your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. While there are many therapists who might be available, cheap, and easily accessible, that doesn’t mean they are the right option for you. Finding the right therapist is like choosing any other medical professional. You want to take the time to find someone who you can have an ongoing professional relationship with moving forward.
Sometimes, a clinician you initially thought could help you doesn’t seem to have the skill set for your symptoms or issue. This does not mean they are a bad therapist! However, this might mean that there is a therapist out there that can help you, and it is time to talk about it during your session. A good therapist will recognize this roadblock and refer you to a professional who is capable and qualified to be the right fit for you.
With many long-lasting relationships, things change, and you might not need to focus on the same issues that you once did. People and relationships are never constant, and it is okay to make changes to your clinical team depending on what you need in your life at that moment. This is why consistently checking in with yourself, as well as tracking your therapeutic goals, is so crucial to the process of ultimate well-being. If you feel that you are not benefitting from the same practitioner as you once were, then it is okay to appreciate the work you two have done and make the changes necessary to best serve you moving forward.
Your relationship with your therapist may be one of the most deep and vulnerable relationships you will have in your life. Effective therapy is the result of hard personal work that starts with finding the right practitioner to guide you to your ultimate therapeutic goals, and help you create the personal change you are seeking.
Rief, W. (2021). Moving from tradition-based to competence-based psychotherapy. Evidence Based Mental Health. https://doi.org/10.1136/ebmental-2020-300219.
Jacqueline Barish is a clinical psychotherapist at Create Outcomes, a private practice mental health therapy group based in New York and Colorado.