Finding the Right Therapist for You

By Toni Brannagan


Making the decision to seek out therapy can be difficult in the first place, but the ensuing search for the right therapist can feel downright impossible — or at the very least, extremely overwhelming. What kind of therapist should you see? How do you know if they’re qualified? Where are you supposed to get the money to pay for it?

While mental health has generally become less stigmatized, we still have a long way to go when it comes to having these conversations openly and honestly. I’m fully aware that where I live, New York City, is not the cultural norm, and that in other places people don’t reference their therapists more often than their mothers.

But thanks to the open-minded culture that I’ve experienced, I know that finding a therapist—especially one that you like and works for your needs—can be like searching for the perfect shade of red lipstick. No two are the same, what works for your BFF might not work for you, and everyone can benefit from finding the right one.

It’ll definitely take some work on your part, but taking care of *you* is always worth it. Here are some tips to get you started.

Narrow down your search

The only person who can decide what your mental health needs are is you. You can and should discuss your mental health with your primary care provider, and if they recommend an alternate course of action besides therapy you should give that thoughtful consideration. This is more of a guide for people who have been passively thinking about trying therapy for a long time (🙋), and I would never want to imply that there aren’t other mental health providers who are better suited for different situations.

With that being said, sit down and, as honestly as possible, think about (and write down!) what you would like to work on. Social anxiety? Handling a tough situation? Anger issues? Ask your doctor, or use resources like the American Psychiatric Association (APA) to help you research.

Find therapists with those specialties in your area — a couple places to start are Zocdoc and Psychology Today, or you can ask your friends. Even if you don’t see the same exact therapist (this could feel weird, especially if you’re close), maybe someone else in their office will work for you.

Make a shortlist of your options based on who you think would be the best fit (try asking your doctor for their input when you’re done!), and then start considering factors like your schedule, access to the location, and, of course, price. Sometimes, you find a therapist that feels like the perfect match but one of these issues becomes a deal-breaker. If that happens, try asking for a referral in their network.

Figure out your finances

Worrying about money is probably the last thing you want to do when it comes to supporting your mental and emotional health — so get it out of the way as soon as possible. First, figure out how much you can actually budget for therapy. Being honest with yourself about what’s doable money-wise will help you in the long run. No one wants to stop kick-ass therapy because of financial difficulties.

A lot of people don’t know that their healthcare providers cover some mental health services. Like any procedure that requires your insurance, double-check with your provider about any conditions for obtaining coverage. You should also check with your employer’s HR department to find out if they provide mental health benefits. After you’ve made your list of prospective therapists, call each office to see who will accept your insurance — this might make your choice a bit easier.

Another factor is thinking about how long you intend to be in therapy. Ideally, this won’t be dictated by finances, but, unfortunately, that’s not always the case. If you find that you can budget for a certain number of sessions with a therapist who is too expensive for long-term support, you can communicate your needs and what you would like to achieve in that limited time.

A more affordable option worth exploring is an online therapy provider like Talkspace, which offers multiple pricing plans. It’s extremely important to do your research when exploring online therapy, however. Consider your needs, the pros and cons, and make sure that you’re giving your money to licensed professionals (def important IRL, too!)

Start the conversation

There should be no need to jump right into a bunch of sessions — and an office pressuring you to commit to appointments could be a red flag. Put together some questions (here are a few starters) with your personal needs in mind, then request an informal phone call or first meeting with your prospective therapist. I know, you’d probably rather just send an email, but try your best to do a call or face-to-face meeting — it’ll be way easier to tell if you’re vibin’ together.

Don’t forget to be honest with them about your needs and goals, and make it clear if this is tied to a time limit based on finances or other factors.

Be honest with yourself

A lot of people, especially women, feel pressure to stay in situations that make them uncomfortable — dates, conversations, mean gynecologists, and, yup, unhelpful therapists. If you find that you are feeling unproductively judged or unhappy, after you feel that you’ve made an honest effort to be introspective… move on (whether it’s the first or the fifth or the fifteenth time you’ve met with that therapist).

You’re not obligated to continue seeing someone if you genuinely feel that they are not helping you. Your relationship with your therapist is a personal relationship like any other. Sometimes people just don’t click, and that’s okay!

The important thing is that now that you’ve done the preliminary work your search will be less intimidating. Review the steps you took to get here, and repeat them until you’ve found a therapist who is truly gonna help you be the best *you*.

  • If you already have a good list of prospective therapists, call the next office!
  • Contact your doctor, your insurance provider, ask for help elsewhere in your network, or look up some new names on your own.
  • Money can definitely be a barrier to getting the help you need — see if exploring other options is what’s necessary.
  • When it’s time to meet with the next therapist, don’t be discouraged by poor previous experiences. Ask the same questions, and stick to your guns.

You shouldn’t be settling when it comes to your healthcare (it’s your time and money, after all), whether it’s physical or mental. Practice patience, don’t be discouraged, and be proud of yourself for taking your wellbeing into your own hands.

Have *you* found the perfect therapist? How did you find them? Did you find the process difficult? Share your experiences about searching for therapy in the comments.