How to Find a Good Psychotherapist

I’m often asked by friends or acquaintances who are seeking psychotherapy for themselves or a family member if I can suggest a good therapist in our local community. I’m always happy to assist, because I know how important it is to have a good therapist and how it’s often difficult to know how to find one.

Since this question comes up so often, I thought it might be helpful to review the 5 steps I share when asked about how to find a good psychotherapist. Here they are:

1.  Consider Your Needs

The first step is to consider what type of services you are looking for. Some may be seeking psychotherapy or “talk therapy,” others may desire medication, and many just want an initial assessment to determine a diagnosis or to get recommendations for further treatment. Others really don’t know exactly what they want; they just know they are distressed and are searching for some relief.

If medications are indicated, psychiatrists or psychiatric nurse practitioners are typically the two types of mental health professionals who prescribe medication. If psychotherapy is the primary type of treatment being sought, counseling or clinical psychologists, clinical social workers, professional counselors, marriage & family therapists and certified alcohol & drug counselors will usually be the most readily available options.

2.  Think About the Finances

Therapy can be a tremendously positive, life-changing experience, but it’s also a considerable investment of time, energy, and money. It’s usually most affordable to go to a psychotherapist in your insurance plan’s network. Some therapists don’t accept insurance or may not be in your plan’s provider network. If that’s the case, you will have to pay the therapist’s full fee, which will be much more costly.

If you don’t have insurance, lower cost options for therapy may include a community mental health center or a clinic affiliated with a local university whose therapists are graduate students in training. These settings may offer an adjustable fee scale based on income, family size or financial hardship. Just because they charge less does not mean the quality of services is poorer than those provided by therapists with higher fees. Also, some workplaces offer employee assistance programs which provide free short-term counseling services.

3.  Do Some Research

If you have insurance, search your insurance company’s website for the mental health professionals in your network, and you will find a list of the therapists’ names, credentials, and location. If you live in a rural area, there may be few mental health professionals nearby, so you may have to travel farther to see a therapist. If you live in a metropolitan area, the online search will return dozens or even hundreds of names. However, it can at least be a starting point from which to do further exploration.

Also, many areas now have an online “therapy directory,” which will list local therapists, along with their photo, a brief biography, and office details. This can be particularly helpful, because most therapists will also list the types of groups they work with (e.g., children, adolescents, adults, couples, or families), and the primary issues they prefer to address in therapy.

4.  Get Personal Recommendations

It’s a great idea to ask others for recommendations about good psychotherapists, particularly those who may have first-hand knowledge about specific therapists. Who should you ask? Your family doctor will likely be familiar with therapists they have collaborated with previously. Faith community leaders can be another good source of information. Finally, if you know someone who has been in therapy, ask them who they saw and what their experience was.

In addition, mental health professional associations will sometimes offer a phone or online “find a therapist” service where you can briefly describe your needs and location. This will then be forwarded to multiple therapists in your area who can respond if they are available and interested in working with you.

If you know someone who is a mental health professional, by all means ask them for therapist recommendations. The community of therapists is usually pretty tight-knit, and professionals are happy to recommend colleagues they know and hold in high regard. Ask them to recommend someone they would send their own family members to for therapy.

5.  Meet the Therapist

After you have identified your top psychotherapist candidate, call and schedule an appointment with them. When you arrive, you will complete paperwork and then the therapist will meet with you and discuss your current concerns, life history, and your overall health status. This first visit is a chance for both you and the therapist to begin to see whether you can work well together.

When you go to the first visit, bring a list of questions to ask the therapist. At a minimum, ask about:

  • The therapist’s education, training, licensure and experience
  • Particular experience with the issues you are now facing
  • Style or type of therapy to be provided and the evidence for its effectiveness
  • Fees, office hours, and availability of after-hours emergency services

Once you have a psychotherapist, it’s important to re-evaluate therapy at regular intervals to see if you and your therapist both agree you are still benefiting from it. You may decide at some point that you have achieved your goals and therapy is no longer needed or you may decide to take a break from therapy for a period of time. Another option can be to seek a referral to a different therapist if the current therapy doesn’t seem to be beneficial or if a different approach might be helpful. Also, additional interventions can be added in combination with therapy, such as medications, support groups, and self-help materials.

So here’s a question: If you or someone you care about has been in psychotherapy, what steps helped to find a good therapist? Please leave a comment. Also please consider subscribing to my blog and feel free to follow me on Twitter, “like” my Facebook page, or connect on LinkedIn. Thanks!

  • Yes, most therapists are happy to meet for an initial consultation to see if the fit between therapist and client is a good one. Thanks for your comment, Jen!

  • Johnny McCarron

    I like that you talked about consider your personal needs. Everyone has to face different challenges in life. The last thing you want to do is go with a psychotherapist that doesn’t work well with your personal needs. Do you have any other tips about choosing someone good to help you?

  • Sometimes the logistics like location, cost, scheduling, etc. can be challenging to work through. Once those are settled, then I think finding that person you feel that you connect well with is a really important step.

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