7 Tips to Find the Right Therapist for You

Doctor talking give an advice to the patient,Meantal health care concept

The pursuit to find a therapist can be both exciting and overwhelming, often leading to giving up the quest or choosing a therapist just to choose. The endless searches, therapy jargon that is sure to confuse you even more, and built-in anxiety around even starting therapy often contribute to the defeat clients feel.

As a therapist myself, I often hear clients’ portrayals of the process that has finally led them to sit in my office. In best cases, this is a good fit and we can begin therapy.

In worse cases, I am informing the client that I am not a good fit for their needs and they are yet again back at the drawing board. Except, I would never leave a client alone on their search if I can provide any insights into who specifically I would recommend or what to consider when finding a new therapist. Research validates that finding the right therapist for you and your needs has a robust influence on the outcome of treatment (Flückiger, Del Re, Wampold, & Symonds, 2011). My hope is to shed a little light on a few items to consider while looking for the right therapist for you.

1. Be considerate of what it is that YOU want from therapy

One of the first questions I ask clients is, “what brings you to therapy.” This question is quite simple in form, yet complex in its own regard. Frequent responses are desire for happiness, because family/friends/partner told them to come, or because there is something in their life that is not working the way they hope. I like to prompt further-Why do you want to feel happy? If someone else wanted you to get therapy, what lead you to the decision to actually come? What’s not working and why do you want to change it? It’s important to know what you’re hoping to get from therapy so you can be sure any therapist you work with is going to support your goals and is willing to do the work with you.

2. Ask family and friends

There are hundreds of therapists, especially in the Chicagoland area, and sifting through all their profiles is unrealistic and time-consuming. Asking family and friends if they are in therapy and if they would recommend their therapist or practice can help eliminate a lot of busy work. Family and friends can also be helpful in sharing how they found their therapist and what they find important in their treatment.

3. Consider demographics that may be important for you to have in a therapist

The therapeutic space can be quite vulnerable and a carrier of many thoughts and emotions. Connecting with your therapist will foster the growth of this experience, which makes it important that you are working with someone who you feel can support you in the best way. Be mindful of any race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, age, religion, etc you may definitely want in a therapist. While these factors may not guarantee goodness of fit or outcomes, therapists understand that matching with a therapist in a particular demographic can greatly influence the therapeutic alliance and experience.

4. Theoretical Orientation and Specialties

Remember the statement above regarding therapy jargon- this is the section where I’m really going to bring them out! CBT, DBT, ACT, ERP- psychology LOVES a good acronym (almost more than a good therapy metaphor). What does all of this mean and why is it important to consider? Most jargon and acronyms you see will be in regard to the therapist’s approach to treatment. If you’ve never been in therapy before, it is expected you will have no idea which approach will be right for you and I would recommend adding this to a list of questions to ask providers. If you have been in treatment before and have a sense of what worked and what didn’t work, I would take this into consideration while looking for a therapist. Some approaches are more focused on the processing while others are more experiential in nature and skill-based. If you have an idea of what may feel most supportive for you, ask what the goal of their approach is. Most importantly, if there are any specific reasons you are going to therapy, please make sure the therapist specializes in that area. Examples may be eating disorders, substance use, self-harm, chronic pain, and so forth. Not working with a therapist who specializes in your needs may lead to the behaviors worsening or limited progress in treatment.

5. Profiles

Most therapists, if not all, will have a profile you can view with an attached picture. The reason therapists and practices do this is to be sure the client gets a sense of who the therapist is and how they approach therapy. Some may use humor, and holistic approaches, or are more conservative in their approach. By reading their profile and getting a glimpse into who they are, clients may be more willing to attend an initial appointment rather than play roulette with a stranger. Their profiles may also speak to their theoretical orientation and specialties so be sure to check them out!

6. Call and ask them questions

Therapists typically will allow for a brief phone conversation for new clients (about 15 minutes) to be sure, upon initial discussion, it is worth the client coming in for a full initial session. I strongly recommend using this time to share what it is that is bringing you to therapy and ask all the questions recommended above. If you also know you have certain availability, be sure to verify the therapist can accommodate that for you as well.

7. Trust your gut

I’ll resist my urge to discuss the neuroscience of gut instinct (save that for another article!) and just encourage you to listen to your gut! How did you feel during your first session? How did the interaction feel between you and the provider? How are you leaving the session- anxious, excited, hopeful, confused? Did this therapist validate, normalize, and respect you during the session? If you have any doubts this therapist may be a good fit or if you want to return to therapy, you have a few options: 1. Schedule a follow-up appointment and see how you feel now that you are a bit more familiar. Sometimes nerves can impact how we experience other people or situations. 2. Mention this to the therapist and see how they respond- perhaps they were having an off day or were communicating in a way that felt dismissive yet their intention was to be supportive. 3. Therapist shop- sometimes the most helpful way to know what therapist is best for you is to meet with several and see what you respond to. Whenever I meet a new client who I can tell is unsure, I will always recommend this and emphasize this is their treatment and it is important they are working with someone they aren’t unsure about.

My hope is that these tips provide a sense of relief and ease as you begin or continue your journey to therapy. It is not a perfect science, however a pivotal part of your journey to well-being. Congratulations on making the courageous decision to participate in therapy and I wish you all lots of growth as you embrace this opportunity.

By Lindsay Buval, LCPC

Clarity Clinic

At Clarity Clinic, we have highly trained staff who specialize in therapy and psychiatry services. To learn more about how we can support your mental health, call Clarity Clinic at (312) 815-9660 or schedule an appointment today.


Flückiger, C., Del Re, A. C., Wampold, B. E., & Symonds, D. (2011, October 10). How Central Is the Alliance in Psychotherapy? A Multilevel Longitudinal Meta-Analysis.

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5 thoughts on “7 Tips to Find the Right Therapist for You

  1. Erika Brady says:

    It’s great that this article mentions how it’s important to think about considering why you want the therapy, such as if it’s to help you become happier or to get help with your goals. When choosing one, it might be a good idea to research local therapists online so you can learn about their skills and experience. This could help you narrow down the options in order to then set up appointments with the ones you’re considering so you can ask questions and discuss your situation to determine if they’re the right therapist for you.

  2. Vivian Black says:

    You made a great point about asking family and friends for referrals since they have used them before. My daughter has been diagnosed with depression and she needs to get a counselor that can help with her mental health. We will keep these tips in mind as we search for a professional that can help us best.

  3. Ron Booker says:

    Thanks for mentioning that some therapists will have a portfolio that will demonstrate their work and specialty. My cousin and his wife have been going through some tuff times that they believe diverse will solve their problems, and I recommended them seeking couples therapy. This article will give them a headstart and look for a therapist in the area so they can begin counseling.

  4. Greta James says:

    Thank you so much for informing me that some of the acronyms on the title of a provider could indicate the kind of treatment they prefer. My sister is that she could use some help dealing with the loss of our mother. It is incredibly difficult, but she is ready to try moving on and deal with her depression. I will have to tell her your tips so that she can start looking for the proper psychiatrist.

  5. Eli Richardson says:

    I’m glad you talked about interviewing a therapist before choosing one. In my opinion, we’re not used to seeking mental health help. I believe all of us could benefit from visiting a therapist, and we shouldn’t be afraid or ashamed when looking for one. I think you did an excellent job explaining how to find the right therapist for your needs.

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