Mental Health

What Do I Need to Know About Choosing a Therapist?

By Lisa Smusz, MS, LPCC

If you are thinking about going to therapy for the first time you might be nervous and not know what to expect or how to choose who to work with. You might have done research and found that some people talk about how helpful it is while others think it is a waste of time. Here are a few guidelines to help you understand what to expect and tips to increase the chances that you will have a positive experience.

The therapist cannot read minds. 

Some people get nervous about going to therapy because they are afraid that the therapist will see things they aren’t ready to share. Rest assured, your therapist doesn’t have any special ability that allows them to see what’s in your mind.

The focus of the therapist will generally first be on building a respectful, trusting relationship with you and understanding your experience so that you feel safe to share more private matters. You should never feel pressured to disclose things you aren’t ready to share. On the other hand, your therapist can only work with the information you provide.

In order for therapy to be effective both you and the therapist must work as a team: your part of that work is to be open and honest about the issues you are struggling with.

Read more about how to effectively communicate with your therapist here.

Therapists are specialists.

Not all therapists are the same. Some specialize in working with young people, on relationship issues, substance use problems, parenting, etc. Therapists have different “theoretical orientations” -- simply speaking, that means they have different ways of thinking about what’s causing your issue and will differ in how they treat them. To give yourself the best chance of success, do a little research and find a therapist that specializes in what you’re going through.

To learn more about different types of therapy check out this article.

It’s OK to shop around.

Some studies have called the quality of the relationship you have with your therapist the most important factor in determining a good outcome. And just like any relationship, the first person you meet may not be the right one for you.

There are ways to increase your chances of finding a good match: finding someone who shares your background can be helpful, as can finding a therapist who speaks the language you are most fluent in, or looking for someone with specialized training in working with people struggling with your particular issue. AllyNetwork is designed to help you find a therapist that matches with you on important factors like ethnic/cultural background, languages spoken, and areas of specialty.

Even if the person looks like a perfect match on paper, schedule a meeting just to talk and see how you feel. If it doesn’t feel like a match it’s okay to say “thank you, but this doesn’t feel like a fit for me” and meet with someone else.

Learn how to interview prospective therapists here

It’s a good idea to talk about money.

It can take time to reach your goals in therapy and you want to ensure that you can afford to continue as long as you need. There are a number of ways to cut the costs of therapy like using an app-based therapy program , trying group therapy, or getting support at a clinic associated with a university training program where new therapists are being trained. AllyNetwork specializes in listing therapists who are interested in working with immigrants and newcomers, often at a reduced fee.

Regardless of how you find the therapist, an open discussion about the costs of therapy should be one of the first conversations you have. In fact, a therapist’s fees along with any types of insurance payment they accept should be clearly stated from the beginning. A discussion about costs will likely be a part of your first contact, or at the very latest a part of your first session. Here are a few follow-up questions you should ask:

  • How will your insurance be billed? Will the therapist bill the insurance company and then let you know about any co-pays or what portion you are responsible for, or will you need to pay all costs up front and submit documents to be reimbursed from the insurance company?
  • Is a sliding scale available? Many therapists will make adjustments to their rate at their discretion for clients who might not otherwise be able to afford the full fee (this is called a “sliding scale”). Some therapists will also offer treatment “pro-bono” (sessions offered at no cost to the client). It’s perfectly okay to ask if the therapist offers one of these options.
  • What happens if my ability to pay changes while I’m in treatment? You may be able to cover the costs of therapy now, but what happens if you lose your insurance or become unable to pay the fees for some other reason? Having a clear understanding of the therapist’s policies up front will help you decide whether you feel confident in beginning the work and what to do if the unexpected happens.

Choosing a therapist that’s right for you is a huge step towards achieving your goals for healing. The guidelines provided above can help ease the hardest step: the beginning.