How to Choose a Therapist

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How to Choose a Therapist

By Milissa Aronson | Health and Wellness

Posted: March 15, 2024

We live in a highly stressful world, and it only seems to get more stressful. Fortunately, many of us are also becoming increasingly self-aware, recognizing the importance of self-care and self-compassion and addressing our mental health in the same way we address our physical health. More and more people are seeking therapy to improve their emotional wellness. This is incredible, but did you know that choosing the right therapist who is a good fit for your needs is a crucial step to help ensure you meet your goal of improved mental and emotional wellness? Regardless of your reasons for seeking therapy, finding a therapist who is a good fit for you can significantly impact the effectiveness and outcome of treatment.

At a time when more and more people are going to therapy, it has become harder to find a therapist, which can make navigating this process even more overwhelming. If you are confused about where to start, here is a general roadmap to help point you in the right direction.

Types of Therapists and Credentials

Therapists come from various backgrounds and possess different credentials, which can influence their approach to therapy and areas of expertise. Understanding the distinctions between different types of therapists can help you make an informed decision:

  • Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSWs): LCSWs are therapists who hold master's degrees in social work, advanced licensure, and experience in the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of mental health disorders. They can treat individuals, couples, and families.
  • Professional Counselors (LPC): LPCs hold master's degrees in counseling and are trained to provide therapy for various mental health concerns.
  • Marriage and Family Therapists (MFT):MFTs work with couples and families, addressing relationship issues, communication challenges, and family dynamics.
  • Psychologists: Psychologists hold doctoral degrees (Ph.D. or Psy.D.) in psychology and are trained in psychological assessment, diagnosis, and therapy. They may specialize in specific areas of psychology, such as clinical psychology, counseling psychology, or neuropsychology.
  • Psychiatrists: Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in diagnosing and treating mental health disorders. They are licensed to prescribe medication. Some psychiatrists also provide therapy, but many only prescribe medication. If you are looking for talk therapy, you do not need to see a psychiatrist. Similarly, if you need medication, you may see a psychiatrist, but you may also need to see a separate therapist.
  • Advanced Practice Nurses (APNs): APNs are registered nurses with advanced training in diagnosing and treating psychiatric disorders. They are licensed to prescribe medication. Similar to psychiatrists, some APNs may also provide therapy, but some may only prescribe medication and may refer their patients for therapy.   

Determining What You Need from Therapy

Before searching for a therapist, figuring out what you need is essential. What do you hope to achieve from therapy? What are your preferences? Consider the following questions:  

  1. Why are you seeking therapy? Identify the specific challenges, symptoms, or issues you want to address in treatment.
  2. What are your therapy goals? Determine what you hope to achieve through therapy, such as symptom relief, insight into behavior patterns, improved relationships, or overall well-being.
  3. What type of therapy approach resonates with you? Research different modalities, such as psychodynamic therapy, relational therapy, mindfulness-based therapy, EMDR, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and others to understand which aligns with your needs and preferences.
  4. What are your logistical needs and preferences? What days and times make the most sense for your schedule? Do you prefer in-person or virtual? How far are you willing to travel? Are you planning on using insurance? If so, what are your benefits? Do you have out-of-network benefits? If you plan on using insurance, must you meet a deductible or require prior authorization?  
  5. Besides credentials, are specific characteristics relevant for you in a therapist?  Would you be more comfortable speaking with a therapist of a particular gender? Is a faith-based therapist important for you? Do you want a specific level of experience? What language should your therapist speak? Some online therapist directories, such as and, allow you to narrow your search by specific filters.  

Other Factors to Consider

Once you've clarified your needs and preferences, consider the following factors to guide your selection process:

  1. Therapist's Specialization and Experience: Look for a therapist with experience working with issues similar to yours and with relevant expertise. For example, if you're struggling with anxiety, seek out a therapist who specializes in anxiety disorders or has a track record of success in treating anxiety.
  2. The Therapist’s Licensure Status and Unresolved Ethical Concerns: Your therapist should be licensed in the state where you are seeking therapy, and their license should be in good standing with the licensing authority. To learn more about a potential therapist, google your state’s professional licensing verification website (e.g., New Jersey professional licensing verification). This should give you a link to enter the person’s name and will return results on whether or not the individual is licensed, whether the license is current, and if there is a history of disciplinary actions against their license.
  3. Therapeutic Approach and Style: Consider whether you prefer a therapist who employs a directive or non-directive approach, utilizes specific therapeutic techniques, or incorporates elements such as mindfulness or art therapy into their practice. Finding a therapist whose style resonates with you and fosters a comfortable therapeutic relationship is essential.
  4. Compatibility and Rapport: The quality of the therapeutic relationship is one of the most significant predictors of therapy outcomes.  You can get an initial impression of this from the therapist’s website and their profile on an online therapist directory.  You can further evaluate this during the initial phone call with a therapist. During your first call, pay attention to how you feel during your initial interactions with a therapist. Trust your instincts and choose a therapist with whom you feel a sense of rapport and connection.

Interviewing A Potential Therapist: The Initial Phone Call

Once you've narrowed your options, reach out to a therapist and request an initial call to assess compatibility further.  Some people (therapists included) may refer to this as an initial consultation. Still, it is essential to note that this call typically does not involve a diagnosis or therapeutic services as you are not yet the therapist’s client. The purpose of the call is to ensure that the therapist can treat your needs so you and the therapist can mutually decide if it makes sense to move forward with scheduling an initial appointment. This call is an opportunity for you and the therapist to:

  1. Clarify Expectations: You can briefly discuss your therapy goals, expectations, and any specific preferences or concerns you have about the therapeutic process, and the therapist can explain how they work with clients. This is one place for you to evaluate whether your expectations align.
  2. Ask Questions: Take the opportunity to ask the therapist about their approach to therapy, treatment philosophy, experience with similar issues, and any other relevant topics. The therapist may also ask you some brief questions about your history, logistical questions regarding scheduling and intentions for payment, and briefly assess that you are currently safe and not an immediate risk to yourself or others.
  3. Evaluate Communication: Pay attention to how the therapist communicates and responds to your questions and concerns. Does it feel as if the therapist actively listens and demonstrates empathy?
  4. Assess Comfort Level: Notice how you feel during the consultation. Do you feel comfortable in the conversation? Can you envision sitting with the therapist and sharing your history or building a trusting therapeutic relationship with this therapist?
  5. Discuss Practical Matters: Use this opportunity to inquire about logistical details such as session frequency, duration, fees, cancellation policies, and administrative procedures.

Once you have wrapped up your initial call, you should know if you are comfortable setting up an initial appointment.  Do not move forward with scheduling an appointment if you are not comfortable. While it may have felt difficult to get that initial phone call scheduled (I know there may not be many therapists with availability that match the times you are available!), the only thing worse than waiting to find a therapist is to get started with someone who is a bad match and realize that you have now wasted time and money only to have to start all over again looking for someone new.  The right match is out there for you, and it is worth investing the time and energy to the best fit for you!

Good luck in your journey!