How to Choose a Therapist

Three Parts:Determining what the therapist can help you to achieveFinding a therapistAssessing the therapists

It can be difficult to choose a therapist. The times we feel our best, smartest, and most discerning will usually not be the times we find ourselves wanting to get some counseling. And when we're not feeling our best, it can be frustrating to sift through the names and counseling styles to find someone who is understanding, experienced, and in possession of a good range of skills. The following is a procedure which should make the process easier and the results more reliable.

Part 1
Determining what the therapist can help you to achieve

  1. 1
    Know what a therapist can do. A therapist can:
    • Be an understanding and supportive listener.
    • Help you develop your ability to cope with life's difficulties.
    • Help you develop some of your life-skills: more effective communication, better problem-solving, better impulse-control, etc.
    • Help you look at your problems in different ways and with a different perspective.
    • Help you gain more insight into your behaviors, thoughts and emotions.
    • Work with you to help you make changes in how you function and feel.
    • Offer advice on how to find services which s/he isn't able to provide.
  2. 2
    Know what a therapist cannot do. A therapist cannot:
    • Un-do hurt feelings and painful events.
    • Change other people in your life, and cannot tell you how to change them, either.
    • Create instantaneous change in you. Personal change requires hard and dedicated work.
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    Determine what part of your problem can be helped by a therapist. Write a brief (two or three sentences) summary of this using the above steps on what a therapist can and cannot do.
    • Spend some time thinking about what exactly you want help with and what you envision the end result to be.

Part 2
Finding a therapist

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    Obtain the names of therapists from sources that you trust. These can be family members or friends, favorite teachers, school counselors, your family doctor, your pastor or rabbi, and any other person whose opinion you value. Use online referral listings too, as there is a wealth of resources available online, often with an informative blurb about how each therapist works, their fees, etc.
  2. 2
    If on a budget, search online or in the phone book for universities and graduate schools and find those that have graduate programs in Counseling Psychology. Many of them will have counseling facilities in order to train their students. The students will be supervised by qualified professionals and teachers.
    • Call up charitable and religious institutions that you are involved with or that you respect. Many of them maintain lists of therapists that may give you a price break.
    • Some therapists that are not necessarily low-fee may have reduced fee slots available. Ask about the fees. Tell them what you can afford. Some therapists will be able to accommodate you. If they do not, they may know someone who does and can give you a referral.

Part 3
Assessing the therapists

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    Call each of the recommended therapists. Ask lots of questions and take notes. You could ask the therapist about his/her training, or about whatever else feels important to you to know (for example, does s/he have experience working with people of your ethnicity/sexual orientation, etc.). You're essentially acting as an employer who is giving a job interview, and you're going to determine whether you want to hire this therapist as a consultant. Keep this idea in mind during each call.
    • Ask the therapist about how s/he handles conflict: therapists who are able to repair the rupture in the relationship when there is conflict tend to have a better outcome than their conflict-avoidance colleagues.
    • Pay attention to how you feel when you talk with the therapist. If it doesn't feel like a good fit for you, don't make an appointment with that person even if you can't give a logical explanation about why you don't feel good about that person. Trust your feelings.
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    Check the therapist's website for testimonials. Try to see if the therapist that you like has any patient or client testimonials that relate to the condition that you have. If your therapist does not have a results or testimonials page check to see if other clients or patients wrote testimonials on another website like
  3. 3
    Aim to call several therapists before you make a decision. Compare your findings to the tips and warnings below. Does s/he return your phone call in a timely manner? Do you like the way that s/he talks to you? Do you feel relatively comfortable talking to him/her about what is going on with you? When a therapist seems warm, personable, intelligent, and knowledgeable, and doesn't display any of the warning signs below, consider hiring that person.
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    Check for license requirements in your area. Different countries and states require therapists to hold different licenses and certificates to practice, so you will have to check whether your therapist holds the appropriate license for your area.
    • Holding a valid license for therapy helps ensure that the therapist has met in-depth educational requirements, is up-to-date in his or her training, and is held to a code of ethics and practice in dealing with patients.
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    Think about payment. If you're paying out of pocket for therapy, make sure you can afford the hourly rates. If you're relying on health insurance to pay for your therapy, make sure that the therapist choices you're considering accept payments from your insurance company. While financial matters shouldn't restrict your ability or drive to get good therapy, you still need to consider how you're going to pay the therapist (if you don't have sessions provided by your insurance or a national/local medical care system).
    • Do your research before matching with the given therapist, so that you don't find yourself back at square one if you determine that the financial relationship won't work.
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    Make a choice. Once you have interviewed all the prospective therapists, take some time to think about the best choice. If you plan on using insurance, call your insurance company to be sure that the therapist you like is covered, or if that therapist will provide 'out of network provider' statements to you.
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    Remember that your therapist is someone you have hired. It's important to bear in mind that some problems will take longer to resolve than others, so treatment duration can vary considerably. But if you notice absolutely no change in your problem after the first couple of months, hire a different therapist.


  • Know what you need help with. The more you understand what you are seeking the more help you can get from the therapists you interview. Even if they are out of your price range they may be able to give you better referrals if they have a clear picture of what you are looking for.
  • Schedule a trial session with potential therapists. Notice if you feel comfortable and trust the therapist. Let them know you are looking around and don't be afraid to schedule initial sessions with a variety of individuals until you find one that you feel you can talk with.


  • Here are some warning signs to watch out for. A therapist who exhibits any of these behaviors should be viewed with caution or even avoided altogether.
    • The therapist does not explain to you what your rights are as a patient.
    • The therapist doesn't seem interested in allowing you to explain your problem; s/he seems to be more interested in fulfilling an agenda.
    • The therapist takes a 'one size fits all' approach. That is, s/he seems to have a 'rigid program' that everybody needs to follow.
    • The therapist advertises or claims 'sure cures' or 'spiritual transformations'.
    • The therapist seems bossy or confrontational in a way that makes you feel intimidated or uncomfortable.
    • The therapist tries to get you to commit to a set number of sessions, or tries to get you to sign a contract for a 'program'.
    • The therapist claims to have some radical new way of living or looking at life, which s/he is going to teach you about.
    • The therapist tends to cultivate a 'cult of personality' or mystique around who s/he is or what s/he does.
    • The therapist responds to some of your questions with "You won't be able to understand what this is all about until you've made enough progress."
    • The therapist offers 'insights' about your past which don't seem to add up -- which don't seem to be true.
    • The therapist makes any kind of sexual advance towards you.

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