If finding a great therapist were easy, a lot more people would be in therapy right now. That’s not to say there aren’t highly qualified, helpful therapists out there. It’s just that beyond finding someone in your area who is licensed and available and takes your insurance, you also need to find someone you mesh with. It can be daunting, especially if you aren’t emotionally feeling 100 percent. So we turned to psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb, MFT, author of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed, for her best advice on hunting down the right one for you.
1. Ask Friends and Family for a Referral
You probably have a friend or family member who talks openly about going to therapy. Gottlieb suggests using that to your advantage and asking them for a referral. If you’re not comfortable going to the same therapist as your best friend or brother, you can ask them for a list of colleagues they’d recommend. It’s way more effective than Google, Gottlieb says.
2. Browse Therapists’ Websites for Clues
If you do want to take the Google route, be strategic. Therapists will often give you a sense of their therapeutic approach on their website, Gottlieb explains. “Some will also tell you about the kinds of patients they see, so find out if they treat other people with the kinds of issues you’re dealing with. For example, if you’re struggling with anxiety, you might want to choose a therapist who mentions treating anxiety disorders on their website.” (Psychology Today is great for this too.)
3. Make Sure the Therapist Can Speak to Your Identity
If you’re dealing with female-focused stuff, like issues about fertility or prior trauma with an old boyfriend, think about whether you’d feel more comfortable seeking out a woman, Gottlieb suggests. Similarly, if you want to talk about experiences related to your sexuality or race, you might want to seek out someone who identifies similarly.
4. But Remember, You Aren’t Looking for a Friend
“I think the most important thing for people to know about choosing a therapist is that you’re not looking for a friend,” Gottlieb emphasizes. She notes that while some people might think they want a counselor who’s close in age or feels similar to them, that’s not always the best idea. “This experience is about going to somebody who can help you see yourself in a way that’s very different from how your friends and family talk to you,” Gottlieb continues. Look for a fresh perspective, not someone you can see a movie with.
5. Know That It’s All About Personality
Ultimately, it all comes down to whether or not you work well together, Gottlieb tells us. “You want to have a personality that’s a good fit with yours, and it doesn’t really matter whether they are similar to you in terms of what their lives are like. What matters much more is how you guys get along in the room.” So pick a therapist, meet with them in person and see how the first session or two go.
6. Treat Your First Session Like a Consultation
The first session is your opportunity to see whether or not this whole thing feels like the right fit for you. “Ask yourself, ‘Do I feel comfortable talking to this person?’ and ‘Did I feel understood?’ If so, go back for a second session,” Gottlieb says. But if it doesn’t feel quite right, you don’t have to feel obligated to stick with the first therapist you see. Just like dating, you might have to keep searching until you find someone you really connect with.