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A Therapist Explains What to Look for in a Therapist

Read this therapist's 4 tips for what to look for in a therapist.

So you’ve decided you want to start therapy. But now you need to find a therapist. Where do you even begin to look? How do you find someone you know can be helpful?

It takes a lot of courage to start the process of healing through therapy. Though it can be incredibly rewarding and life-changing, therapy can also be hard work. And that’s why it’s important to find a therapist who can help you be successful in your goals.

When people find out I offer therapy, I often get asked for tips for finding a helpful therapist. And I can understand why the prospect of finding a therapist can feel overwhelming and intimidating. But if you keep the following tips in mind, finding a therapist will be a much easier task than you’d originally thought.

Tip #1: Know your goals

Before you start your search, it’s important that you spend some time identifying your goals. What do you want to accomplish in therapy? Perhaps you’d like to learn some communication skills to improve your relationship. You might be going through a stressful season in life and are looking for general support and to learn stress management techniques. You might be experiencing anxiety or depression and are looking for specific treatment for your mental health. Whatever your goals are for therapy, it’s important to have at least an idea of them ahead of time because it will help you narrow down your options. And this leads us to Tip #2.

Tip #2: Search by specialty

Now that you’ve identified your goals, you can use these to help refine your search for a therapist. Working with a therapist who specializes in the area you’d like to work on will increase your chances at being successful in your goal.

For example, if you are interested in learning communication skills to improve your relationship, you might want to look for a therapist who specializes in couple’s therapy, or who is certified in a specific form of relationship therapy, such as the Gottman Method. If you are struggling with anxiety, finding a therapist who specializes in that area means that he or she will be able to help you learn research-supported strategies for managing and treating that condition. If you are struggling with an addiction, a therapist who specializes in addiction will be the most helpful for you.

It is also helpful to know some basic information about the most popular forms of treatment that therapists use. One common form of therapy that many therapists use is called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This form of therapy focuses on changing your thoughts and behaviors to help you reach your goals. CBT is a research-supported treatment for anxiety and depression. Another common form of treatment used is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) which is often used to treat eating disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and substance abuse. There are a variety of other forms of therapy but these are two commonly used treatment methods.

Tip #3: Know who you feel comfortable with

It’s important to have a strong working relationship with your therapist in order to help you accomplish your goals. So while you are looking for a therapist, keep in mind what kind of person you would feel most comfortable working with.

Some women feel most comfortable working with female therapists while others don’t have a strong preference. Some people feel most comfortable working with someone who understands their cultural or religious background. For example, if you are Hispanic, you might want to work with a therapist who is Hispanic or who is familiar with your heritage. If your spirituality is important to you, you may want to find a therapist who is familiar with integrating spirituality into treatment.

Tip #4: Ask for recommendations

While you can also do a quick search on the internet for a therapist according to their location and specialty, there are other ways to find a therapist who may be a good fit for you — asking someone who is in therapy now is not a bad place to start. At the very least, they might be able to talk about what they value about their own therapist.

You can also use search engines such as Psychology Today, which allows you to narrow your search by location, specialty, and insurance type; or CatholicTherapists.com, which helps you find a Catholic therapist in your area. The information on these sites, as well as the therapist’s own website, will give you information about their specialties and the treatment approaches they have been trained in.

You can also ask your primary care provider for their own recommendations. Often healthcare professionals have a list of therapists and psychiatrists they like to refer to, so your doctor can help you start your search. You might also want to ask family and friends for their recommendations. Although therapy isn’t often talked about among friends and family, they may have a trusted therapist they can recommend.

Finding a therapist doesn’t have to be an overwhelming process. Knowing what you’d like to get out of therapy and knowing where to look can help streamline the process. It’s important to keep in mind that therapy isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. It’s worth taking the time and effort to find a therapist who is the best fit for you. Therapy can be an incredibly rewarding experience and a little preparation ahead of time will help ensure you get all of the benefits therapy has to offer you.

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