How to Choose a Therapist (Part I)
Updated: Apr 23
Finding a qualified, experienced therapist who is a good fit for you is not as easy or as straightforward as it should be. Psychotherapy isn’t an impersonal medical procedure: it’s a deeply personal experience. Hence, therapists - even good ones - aren’t interchangeable.
Here are some preliminary suggestions on how to go about finding a therapist who will be effective for you.
Ask someone you trust
Word-of-mouth is a great way to find out about professionals in all sorts of fields. If you're comfortable doing so, say "Can anybody recommend a good therapist?" Ask trusted friends, colleagues, doctors, school counselors, Human Resources staff, religious leaders, neighbors, your insurance company...
Just Googling "therapy" is easy; sorting through the various (sometimes outright dishonest) results is maddening. You can narrow your search by
Targeting professional associations like International Mental Health Professionals Japan
Avoiding online therapy businesses like betterhelp.com or goodtherapy.com (Google some recent headlines about them, if you're curious)
Write down the questions you’d like to ask
If I were looking for a therapist, for example, I would probably want to ask:
Are you licensed? What kind of license?
How long have you been practicing?
How much experience do you have working with people who have issues similar to mine?
What do you consider to be your areas of expertise?
Have you been in therapy yourself? (My advice: don’t see a therapist who hasn’t been in therapy themselves)
How soon can I expect to feel better?
What’ll we do if I don’t feel like I’m getting better or if I think the treatment isn’t working?
Call them up and talk to them on the phone for a few minutes
Notice how you feel when you talk to them. Comfortable? Awkward? Irritated? Does the therapist seem easy to talk to? Do they listen?
Good therapists listen. Do you feel like you are being listened to?
Good therapists are trained, licensed professionals who care about their work and who follow their own professional codes of ethics. They will give you advice and information on alternatives (and not just try to talk you into booking an appointment with them).
Good therapists are clear and upfront about their fees and their confidentiality/cancellation policies.
Good therapists build a connection with you. They try to understand you - and to give you the feeling of being understood. Early on, they want to establish some kind of mutual agreement with you about your goals and the approach they’re going to take with you.
Therapists who won’t talk to you on the phone before booking an appointment
Therapists who refuse to answer your questions when they do speak with you
Therapists who seem to think they can handle any problem you might have (in other words, who consider themselves knowledgeable or expert in just about everything)
Therapists who get defensive or dismissive when you ask about their qualifications, training - or when you ask specific questions about what’s happening in session with them (You need to feel comfortable about asking honest, difficult questions. That’s part of what makes therapy effective.)
Therapists who take a one-size-fits-all approach (In other words, therapists who have been trained in one kind of treatment and then use that treatment on everyone, regardless of who they are or why they’re seeking help. I would steer clear of anyone who seems to have decided how they’re going to help me before they’ve even met me.)
Therapists who've never been in therapy themselves
Therapists who are not in regular supervision