Finding the “right” therapist can be an intimidating process, especially when you may not have a clear idea of what you’re looking for or have any idea of what is available to you. To begin with, there is no such thing as “the” right therapist. Instead, think of this as a search for the therapist who is the “best fit” for you at this time. This fit may change over time as both you and your needs change. This article will help you to generate a list of prospective therapists.

The first question to ask is “Why am I considering therapy?” There are many different reasons why someone decides to pursue therapy and just as many types of therapies and therapists. The best match for you will depend on the issues you would like to address in therapy so you can identify a therapist who specializes in that area. Don’t worry about trying to diagnose yourself. Instead, identify the words that you would use to describe the challenges you’re facing. Some reasons for seeking therapy include:

– sadness

– worries

– difficulties in school

– stressful relationships

– feeling flat

– feeling overwhelmed

– difficulty sleeping

– negative self image

– hair-pulling

– obsessing

– loss of appetite

– feeling out of control

– a cluttered home

– intrusive thoughts

Based on the reason for pursuing therapy, the next step is to see who identifies themselves as working in this area. There are a number of options to consider in this regard.

1. Check with your insurance company. If you plan to go through your insurance company, there may be a website directory that will list the in-network providers who identify themselves as working in areas that of concern to you. Sometimes it can be difficult to sort through the search options. Begin with a broader net, only including essential filters, and fine-tune it with each subsequent search.

2. Check with national and local organizations. If you are faced with a specific issue that may benefit from specialized treatment, there often are organizations just for these issues. Consider checking with them as they often have lists of therapists who self-identify as specializing in these clinical issues. Some of these websites include:

– Anxiety and Depression Association of America – adaa.org

– International Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Foundation – ocfoundation.org

– Trichotillomania Learning Center – trich.org

– Association of Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies – abct.org

If you are going through insurance, it can be useful to cross-reference these therapists with those providers who are in-network. Keep in mind, however, that not all specialists are members of these organizations. Additionally, not all members have the same level of expertise.

3. Check with friends and family. Word-of-mouth can be an invaluable way of learning about potential therapists in your area. If you feel comfortable with having the conversation, consider asking friends or family members about therapists they have worked with or may have heard of. While your specific reason for seeking services may vary, someone who knows you (and the prospective therapist) can offer insights into who may be a good match.

4. Check with other professionals. Medical care providers often know of therapists in the area and can make referrals. As your primary care provider or psychiatrist could have insight into your reason for seeking services – particularly if they are prescribing medication for these reasons – they should be able to direct you toward a knowledgeable therapist.

As a general rule of thumb, it is good to be cautious with online reviews of therapists, as there is no way to assess the credibility of the feedback. It is not uncommon for the reports to be skewed or distorted, as not every client will provide commentary about his or her therapist. Based on a general review of posts, it seems as though those who are most likely to comment on a therapist are those who seem to be particularly disgruntled about a service they received. This is not to say that these criticisms of a therapist are inaccurate, as recurrent themes amongst the comments may be indicative of a common issue with a particular therapist, such as running late or not returning calls promptly. However, it is possible that this feedback is not representative of a therapist’s general standard of practice.

At this point, you probably have an extensive list of therapists in your area. From here, you will want to better understand who these people are, beyond a collection of names. The hope is that somewhere on this list is a therapist who is well suited to work with you.

– Elspeth Bell, Ph.D.