HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Finding a therapist can feel daunting when you’re new to therapy. It’s beneficial to determine what you want from therapy before you begin, but knowing where to look can sometimes be a challenge. "First and foremost, I like to encourage, and I guess let everybody know that confidentiality is key," Monretta Vega of Huntsville Psychotherapy and Counseling Services shares. "Everything you say in their office is confidential by law. You know, we've taken an oath and is required for us to keep that and so that's something that everyone needs to know."
Learning how to find a therapist is an important first step in meeting your mental health goals, and you just might discover that the process is easier than you think.
The first step in choosing a therapist is knowing where to look, and this list of sources can get you started. A helpful tip: Begin anywhere on the list and use more than one resource. If you notice that a name appears in multiple places, that could indicate someone reputable and worth looking into. However, appearing in only one source doesn’t mean a therapist should be dismissed from your consideration.
What Qualities Are Most Important in a Therapist?
The qualities that are important to look for in a therapist include someone who is creating a safe space, who is trusting and upholds confidentiality, and who exhibits that they are not passing judgment, making comparisons, or have a sense of superiority. Therapy is vulnerable, so feeling like you are being heard and understood is important, as well as feeling that your therapist is invested in your growth.
5 Important Tips for Finding the Right Therapist
A note from Vega: "If you don't feel comfortable with your therapist, you can go to another therapy or another provider," Vega shares. "If that's the case, some people like to go a little bit further in, not going outside of their city. If you want to find a Christian counselor or a counselor that has a lot of similarities to you, that is something that you can find as well. It's being very specific about who you decide to contact as your provider."
While finding a therapist can feel intimidating, it can really help to know what you want out of therapy and determine who you would feel most comfortable working with. You may also want to do a bit of research into what type of therapy would be most beneficial for you.
Here are five tips for finding the best fit when you’re looking for a therapist:
1. Know Yourself
A note from Vega: "We have to start off by identifying what we're working on," Vega shares. "A lot of times people feel like therapy is just a dumping ground. I'm just going to vent and that's not the case. Sometimes you'll leave therapy, and you'll feel so empowered and enlightened, and then other times you may feel relieved."
The relationship you have with your therapist is the biggest factor for success in therapy. You know the types of people who make you feel comfortable and those that keep you on edge. Listen to yourself when you first meet a therapist. While of course you’ll become more at ease as sessions progress, feeling instant like or dislike is an important signal to listen to when finding a therapist.
You may also want to find a therapist who is familiar with your identity. This can be especially important for those who identify as LGBTQIA+, BIPOC, or Latinx.
2. Know What You Want from Therapy
Understanding your reasons for wanting to work with a therapist will help you narrow down your search. Therapists frequently specialize in certain problems like anxiety or depression, and often they have a unique approach to therapy. Knowing what you want—even if you have no idea how to get there (that’s what therapy is for)—can help you choose the right therapist.
You don’t have to have any answers, but asking yourself some questions can help you determine which therapists to consider.
Here are some questions to consider before you start therapy:
- What issues are you currently experiencing, and how are they affecting you? Are you overwhelmed? Do you feel helpless? Sad? Worried? Fearful? Angry? Regretful? Stuck?
- What aspects of your daily life are the most difficult?
- Do you have behaviors that are getting in your way or interfering in your relationships?
- What do you want your life to be like when these problems are resolved or are lessened?
3. Know What Type of Therapy You’re Looking For
It can be helpful to find a therapist who specializes in challenges similar to yours. Often, this means locating a therapist who offers a specific type of therapy.
Here are a few popular types of therapy and what they’re best suited to help with:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps people identify and change negative thought patterns that contribute to problems like depression or anxiety.
- Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is another approach useful for anxiety, depression, and a variety of other mental health challenges that involves learning to separate yourself from challenges, accept situations rather than struggling against them, understanding yourself, living mindfully, and taking committed action toward goals.
- Psychodynamic therapy explores people’s backgrounds and inner workings, such as subconscious beliefs that may be interfering in life, your sense of who you are, and relationships.
- Solution-focused therapy helps people overcome specific obstacles by setting goals and defining action steps to accomplish those goals.
4. Do a Phone Consultation First
When you call, you can ask any questions you have, such as whether they have helped people with similar concerns and the nuts and bolts of how their therapy works (such as number, length, and frequency of sessions). It is often possible and encouraged to make an appointment for an initial consultation, which can happen via phone, video chat, or in person. This allows you to interact with a potential therapist and determine if their personality and demeanor fit your style.
5. Prepare for Your First Session
There are lots of ways that you can prepare for your first appointment, so you feel ready to get the most out of your therapy sessions. Making a list of topics you want to explore and questions you want to ask can help you feel less anxious about this appointment. Your therapist will likely talk to you about what specific challenges you’re facing, any life circumstances that may have contributed to them, how long you’ve been dealing with them, and what you’ve been doing to deal with them up until now.
What If I Can’t Find Anyone Locally?
If you are unable to find someone locally who fits your needs, online therapy can be a good option. There are many therapists who can provide telehealth and may be a better fit for you and can work around your schedule. There are several online therapy options that you can explore to find the best fit for your needs.