How do I choose a therapist?

People often wonder how to choose the right therapist. Making a good decision can feel daunting, especially when the person is virtually a stranger to you at the beginning. There are lots of therapists to pick from, but choosing a therapist is different from selecting another professional, like an accountant or an attorney.  Just because your friend recommends his or her therapist doesn’t mean that person will be the right match for you. In spite of this, you already have the tools to pick the right therapist, even though you may not realize it.

Although there are many different and often conflicting opinions about the type of therapy that is most beneficial, most researchers agree that the relationship between you and your therapist is the most important factor in its success. The quality of the relationship has been shown to play a much larger role in the outcome of the therapy than the therapist’s credentials and techniques, or the patient’s diagnosis.

So, you need to pay close attention to your reactions when you meet a therapist for the first time, and this will help to guide you in selecting the right person. Here’s some questions that may be helpful.  Did you feel safer and more at ease as you spoke with your therapist?   Did you feel like your therapist was genuinely interested in what you shared? Did you feel understood?  Did he or she respond to your feelings in a respectful, accepting, and non-shaming way? Did this therapist seem like a caring, authentic human being, or did he or she feel cold and distant? Can you imagine telling your therapist when you feel misunderstood or hurt? ( A good therapist will be concerned about how he or she impacts you, and won’t insist that he or she knows “the truth” about you).  Did his or her comments seem like reasonable ideas that are worth considering, even if you didn’t completely agree?  Did this therapist feel like someone who you could come to trust over time? The bottom line is, did you leave the session feeling hopeful, even if that hope is fleeting and tentative?

It’s also important to hold in mind that you may not always like everything that your therapist says. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you should switch therapists.  It’s often worth talking  about your reactions with the therapist to see if you might learn something more about yourself, even if you ultimately decide to see someone else.

One last thought about picking a therapist, it’s often useful to meet with more than one person before making a final decision.  A good therapist will support you in doing this.  And it can be helpful to have a sense of how different therapists work, and to see what sorts of issues you find yourself talking about with different people.