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Finding the Right Therapist

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October 25, 2018
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Finding the Therapist Who is a Best Match for You

The three most important things to consider when choosing a therapist are trust, comfort level and professional qualifications.

Every person will seek counseling for specific reasons, and each person has a unique and complex past and personal story. So your goal is to do some background checking, get referrals and schedule a first meeting before you decide whether a therapist is the right match for you. And even if you begin treatment with one therapist, you are always free to make a different choice later, if you find that the therapist-client relationship isn’t adequately meeting your needs.

Matching Your Issue to a Therapist

First, figure out what type of mental health professional matches the issue you’re dealing with.

If you are suffering from panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder, the therapist most likely to work well with those issues is a clinical psychologist or social worker, rather than a psychiatrist, according to Dr. David Burns, clinical professor emeritus in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine.

If you’re struggling with bipolar disorder, major depression or schizophrenia, it’s important to choose a psychiatrist or a psychologist with experience in that specialty, according to an article in The New York Times, “Finding the Right Therapist.”

A psychologist primarily clarifies a diagnosis and helps you establish the most beneficial strategies for treatment, mainly talk-based therapies. However, some severe or even life-threatening issues, like major depression that can impact self-care or cause suicidal thoughts, could require medication from a psychiatrist for the short-term or possibly a longer-term, in conjunction with other therapies, said Burns.

Costs and Insurance

A recent survey by the nonprofit Mental Health America found that 56 percent of the 40 million Americans suffering from mental health issues do not seek treatment primarily because of insufficient insurance and high costs. Don’t let cost or insurance challenges keep you from getting needed mental health treatment. Call a local social service agency to see what options might  be available. If you are near a university with psychology or social work students, they often provide counseling for little or no cost, and they are required to be under professional supervision, so that could be a good place to start.

10 Places to Get Recommendations for Therapists

  • If you have a primary care doctor, your first step might be to ask that physician to refer you to a mental health professional.
  • If you contact a counseling group practice that has several therapists with wide-ranging training and experience, you can be referred to the professional in the group that most suits your needs.
  • Do all the obvious checks for comments on a particular professional, like Facebook or mental health association websites. Of course, online comments are to be viewed critically, but it can be a starting place to find possible therapists who get good comments or avoid others where red flags show up.
  • Ask trusted friends and family members for recommendations, but remember their issues may be different than yours.
  • Contact professional organizations for information about how to contact licensed mental health providers in your area:
    1. American Psychology Association, APA psychologist locator
      (800) 374-2721 or (202) 336-5500
    2. National Association of Social Workers
  • Another resource for recommendations is that National Alliance for Mental Illness, or NAMI, which has local groups across the country and active area residents who have experienced mental health challenges themselves or with family members. They are excellent on-the-ground resources.
  • A good online startling place is The site is user-friendly and can link you mental health support groups and professional organizations in your area.
  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, if you or a loved one is at-risk for suicide, is 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK)
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMSHA, has a 24/7 National Helpline that can refer you to local organizations and treatment providers at 1-800-622- 4357 (1-800-622-HELP)
  • If you are having a mental health crisis and don’t know where to start, dial 911.


Miller, Marissa, “How to Find the Right Therapist,” The New York Times, July 21, 2017

How to Get Mental Health Help,” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,  Aug., 31, 2017

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