Therapy is awesome. Finding a therapist that you click with can suck.
Finding a therapist seems pretty straightforward — but finding the therapist can be a whole lot more complicated.
To help you deal with everything from judging whether a therapist is the right fit to dealing with the anxiety of the search, we asked members of the BuzzFeed Community and a few mental health experts their best tips for finding the right therapist for you — and I threw in a few tips that have helped me over the years, too.
By the way: This post covers finding a therapist who is a good match for you, but for basic information on starting therapy in general, you might want to check out this beginner's guide to starting therapy.
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First of all, get ready to treat it like dating.
Meaning it could take multiple tries before finding ~the one~, and your perfect therapist is going to be unique to you. Oh, and at times, the search will be frustrating, but ultimately, it will be worth it.
"You have to get in the mindset that this could take some time to find the right person," Ryan Howes, clinical psychologist and professor at Fuller Graduate School of Psychology, tells BuzzFeed Health. "Some people are lucky enough to find a good fit right off the bat. That’s pure luck. For a lot of people, it takes a few tries."
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Yes, you can totally judge potential therapists by their profile.
A lot of therapists put time into making sure their bios or websites reflect who they are as people and therapists. It might not be foolproof, but you can probably get a basic sense of whether they'll be a good match for you just based on how they choose to present themselves.
"It’s important for people to get a good feeling from the person they want to work with," Loren Soeiro, licensed clinical psychologist, tells BuzzFeed Health. "If you read something on someone’s profile or website, and it resonates with you and makes you feel like you get that person, it’s worth a try."
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Don't feel bad for being picky — in fact, you should be.
"The most important piece of advice I can give is to BE PICKY. Remember that this is the person you are going to be your most vulnerable with. This person will get to know you better than family, friends, or partners so don't ever stick it out with a therapist you don't gel with."
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Make a list of several potential therapists before you start meeting them IRL so you don't feel pressured to go with the first one who seems okay.
There's a chance you don't have the time, money, or patience to "date around" a ton for a therapist, so do some vetting and decide on a few options you feel good about ahead of time. It gives you a chance to compare and contrast what's out there. Also, if a therapist doesn't work out for whatever reason, you know who to call next — instead of having to start the whole process over again.
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Once you have a few potential therapists, do phone consultations to get a feel for how conversation flows.
"That first conversation should feel more natural than awkward," says Soeiro. You’re looking for someone who is listening to you, whose communication style works well with yours, and in general, who just makes you feel comfortable.
And if you can tell you're not going to have great chemistry with this person from the phone call? You just saved yourself an appointment (and probably some co-pay money).
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If you're not sure what to say on the initial phone consultation (or during your first session, if you skip that), try summing up what you're dealing with in one sentence.
"Be clear on what your issues are that you’re bringing in," says Howes. "You don’t have to give them your life story on the phone. Just summarize it in a couple of categories. I'm having relationship issues. I struggle with food. I’ve been feeling directionless."
For example, when I was ~dating around~ for a therapist, I wrote out a script for myself (PHONES MAKE ME NERVOUS) and said the same thing every time: "I deal with depression and anxiety, and would also like a space to work through issues related to self-esteem, intimacy, and creativity." Does that cover the entire mental health shitstorm my therapist is helping me sludge through? ABSOLUTELY NOT. But it's a good start.
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Or if all of this sounds like a nightmare, you can ask a trusted loved one to help the first line of vetting.
No one else will be able to make an appointment for you (it's a confidentiality thing), but they can help you get to the point where you feel comfortable doing it yourself.
"Someone else can call me to feel me out to see if I might be suitable for their son, daughter, partner, friend," says Soeiro. "They can get a sense of what I’m like and relay that to their loved one in much more personal terms, so it’s not just, This person looks okay on the internet, I guess I’ll call them. It’s a little more tailored."
If you're feeling anxious, remember that the first interaction is more pressure on the therapist. You're judging them.
"People don’t realize that the clients are our bosses," says Howes. "I’m actually interviewing for a job to work for you, as opposed to the other way around. A lot of clients feel like they have to do all the talking when they’re interviewing a therapist, that they have to ask all the right questions, but really, you just have to say, Here's what I'm dealing with. How would you go about treating this issue? Then turn it around on them."
Then get a sense of how you like that answer. How does it feel talking to them? Did they give a clear answer?
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The Psychology Today Therapist Finder and ZocDoc are great places to start looking.
"[They] allow you to find who is in your city, someone who specializes what you are dealing with, AND who takes your insurance."
Ask for recommendations from support groups for the people with the same issues as you.
"If you have already been diagnosed by a professional or suspect you may have a specific problem, you should look around for local groups of people with the same diagnoses. It can be online or in person — I definitely prefer online. They will have suggestions for who to go to and who to avoid, and may also have experience with related insurance problems, warning signs to watch out for with a new therapist, etc."
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Speaking of, you don't need to be dealing with mental illness to see a therapist, but if you are, getting a proper diagnosis will help point you in the right direction.
"I finally, after 12 years of going through multiple therapists, found the one I’ve been seeing for nearly three years. It took having a proper diagnosis from regularly seeing a psychiatrist to know the direction to take."
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Think about what kind of dynamic you want with your therapist.
What you need will be unique to you, so think about what kind of person you'd be most comfortable with, suggests Soeiro. Maybe you want a therapist who will challenge you and light a fire under your butt, or maybe you're more looking for a space just to talk and process things with an unbiased third party. Maybe you want a therapist who reminds you of your dad or a mentor figure, or maybe you need a therapist who feels more like a peer and a friend.
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If you're not sure, ask yourself what kind of therapist you definitely couldn't work with and go from there.
"For example, due to my trauma history, I could not work with a male therapist."
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Another option is to find a clinic that will ~matchmake~ you with a therapist, based on an assessment.
"I looked for clinics that offered intake assessments which evaluated my personality, and both short- and long-term needs to set me up with the right psychologist."
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If you feel comfortable doing so, err on side of oversharing in the beginning, because hey, you want someone who can handle all your shit.
"I was overly and brutally honest on my intake form. I wrote four-letter words, I marked too many boxes, and I was very clear on the fact that I did not want to talk to someone who did not take open relationships or my spiritual life seriously. Got it on the first try. Brutal honesty is power, yo."
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But if you know you'll take longer to open up, make sure to check that a potential therapist is receptive to that, too.
During your first session, you'll go through what's known as intake, where a therapist asks you big picture questions about you and your history. If something comes up that you're not ready to talk about, you can definitely ask to get to those questions later — and pay attention to whether you're comfortable with the therapist's response.
"A good therapist will be willing to correct and change course if you need it," says Soeiro. "If it’s uncomfortable after you ask those questions or you continue to feel put on the spot, then something’s amiss."
Ask about availability right away, because there's nothing worse than getting hyped about a therapist and finding out that their available sessions don't work with your schedule.
LEARN FROM MY MISTAKES. I fell in (therapeutic, nonromantic) love with a potential therapist and found out after our first appointment, her only availability was right during a weekly meeting I have at work, so I had to move on. It was heartbreaking.
So ask during the first point of contact, either with the therapist or their office, "If I decide this is a good match for me, what times will be available for my sessions?"
Think about issues you want your therapist to have fluency in, even if they're not areas you necessarily need help with.
On top of finding a therapist who is qualified to handle whatever mental health stuff you're bringing to the table, it's really helpful to find someone who is familiar with (or even specializes in) identities of yours or issues that are important to you.
For example, I'm bisexual and have a trans sibling, and in the past, I found myself spending time in therapy educating therapists (like about what "biphobia" and "agender" mean), just so they could know WTF I was talking about. So, I found a therapist who was comfortable disclosing that they were bi and gender-nonconforming, and it got a lot easier.
Some therapists will list that kind of stuff in their bios, but always feel free to ask prospective therapists whether they feel equipped to talk about issues that pertain to your ethnicity, race, religion, gender, sexuality, politics, family situation, career, etc.
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Take reviews with a grain of salt.
"If someone has bad reviews across the board, that's one thing, but therapists are also highly personal and a bad review here or there shouldn't be a deal-breaker."
—Tracey R., Facebook
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Give it more than one session before making any decisions.
"The first couple of appointments with a new therapist can be uncomfortable and awkward, so don't let the first few appointments discourage you."
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Don't take it personally if a therapist says they're not a good fit for you.
"Not everyone is going to be a great fit for you," says Howes. "If, for whatever reason, a therapist says they don’t have the skill set to work with you, then really, that means there is someone else out there who is certainly going to be better for you. It's better to learn that early on and to open yourself to finding someone else."
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If it's not working out with one therapist, ask them for a referral.
"I honestly got the recommendation for my current therapist from my last therapist. I know this just applies to people already in therapy, but if you feel like your current therapist just isn't a right match, just be upfront and honest with them. In my experience, therapists are more concerned with getting people the help they need and understand that they're just not a good fit for everyone."
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Remember you can terminate the relationship whenever you want.
"Don't be afraid to leave if it's not working out. As someone with a severe anxiety and panic disorder, I felt obligated to go to a therapist that I was clearly uncomfortable with. Once I found the courage in myself, I left for a new one. Best decision I have ever made."
Try not to let past negative experiences discourage you.
"I think you need to be open to the idea of therapy to find a good therapist. I've been going to therapy since I was ~8 (now 19) and I was basically forced into it so never liked it. I got to an age and point in my life where I realized I needed help without my parents forcing me to, and that's when I found my best therapist."
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If you haven't found the right therapist yet and are getting discouraged, remind yourself that every step you take is helpful for your mental health in the long run.
"It was so worth it to keep looking; even the conversations that don't work out are helpful because you are actively working toward your own mental health."
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At the end of the day, trust your gut and keep trying until you find someone you really click with.
"If you feel that you can tell your therapist what REALLY is bothering you or what you're REALLY thinking, it's good. There's no real science to finding a therapist you like, but when you do it's an amazing feeling. It took me 10 years of on and off therapy to find a good one, so never lose hope. Someone is out there who can help."
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