Updated: Nov 15, 2022
So, I'm on a quest to find my own therapist right now, as my former person moved away (the audacity!) Choosing a therapist seems straight forward… do a little googling, click on a few websites, maybe send an email or two – it can’t be that hard, right? The truth is, finding a therapist that feels like the right fit can be time consuming, expensive, labour intensive and frankly, overwhelming. Especially once you realize that there are several ‘types’ of therapists, and numerous independent therapists available, some of whom are licensed to practice in multiple provinces, offering telehealth appointments in addition to in-person services. So how on earth do you narrow it down? Here are a few things I look for when taking a chance on a new therapist. This may be controversial, but I think the first thing to notice when looking for a new therapist is:
The vibe check. Of those few websites you clicked on through your google search, which ones feel good or inviting to you? Did you notice any curiosity as you read through their info? Did it ignite a small part of you to feel hopeful it could be the right one? Therapists’ websites should be able to tell you right away if you are culturally matched, what their values are as a professional, and give you a sense of who they are as a human in general. One of those most important predictors of ‘success’ in counselling is therapeutic alliance – comfort, confidence and trust between therapist and client can take time to develop, but it’s worth listening to your gut if you don’t get a good vibe. Word of mouth can be a great way to find a therapist too – ask your networks who they would recommend!
The practical stuff. Does this person practice in my province? Is their professional designation (psychologist, clinical social worker (MSW), licensed counselling therapist (LCT) covered by my insurance? Are they able to direct bill? Do you they do telehealth or in-person appointments? Do they work with couples, youth, or individuals? Can I afford their services, I wonder if they have sliding scale? And maybe this is just on my list, but, what is the parking situation??
Training and experience. This one can be a little bit trickier, as it assumes a level of knowledge about therapeutic modalities and the differences in approach and outcomes associated with each. Is their training in the behavioral therapies (there’s Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), among others), is it based in mindfulness approaches (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)), are they trained in brain-based trauma therapies like EMDR, ART or neurofeedback; are they coming from a relational approach, like attachment theory, Internal Family Systems (IFS) or person-centred therapy? Aaaand I can tell I’m losing you already – I work in this field, and I find it overwhelming! How the heck am I supposed to know what all those things mean?
If you have prior experience with therapy, it will be helpful to think about what worked well, what didn’t land at all, and what you felt was missing. It may help to do a bit of research (for example, google your problem plus your question like ‘which therapist is best for anxiety’ or ‘what therapy helps with grief’), but ultimately, a therapist should be able to explain how they treat folks, and what issues they feel confident to work with.
Ok, that’s all great, but it still feels like it’s SO MUCH to figure out. Here’s my suggestion. Ask yourself what would help you feel safer with a therapist (maybe you’re looking for a queer or trans therapist, a Black or Indigenous therapist, someone with lived experience of your problem, or want the comfort of going to a clinic that offers a variety of services), pick a couple websites to dig into, and ask these questions. You may be able to get a sense from the info they present, and/or you may be willing to take the next step and get in touch with them directly.
Here is a sample script to get you started.
The practical stuff – what are your fees? Does my insurance cover your services? Can I come in person or online? What kind of accommodations or accessibility do you offer? Do you offer free consultation?
Training and experience – I am seeking counselling for _______. Can you tell me what your experience is in working with this issue? What kind of approach do you take, or type of therapy do you practice? Can you explain what that looks like? What happens if I don’t like that way of working? Do you have supervision or do peer consultation?
Vibe check – What sort of populations do you tend to work with? On what issues? What are your core values as a therapist? What is your opinion on (insert stuff that’s crucially important to you such as reproductive rights, decolonization, polyamory, providing low-cost therapy, etc. They may decline to answer (and that’s ok!) but their info should give you a sense of the ‘fit’ with your values, abilities and needs).
What to look for in a therapist comes down to a few important questions: What can a therapist do for me? Do I feel open to giving this therapist a try? Do I feel comfortable, or even hopeful, about working with them?
And please remember, ‘fit’ is entirely subjective – it’s your time, money, energy and vulnerability and so it makes sense that you are in the drivers seat. It doesn’t always line up, and that’s ok - therapists don't expect an explanation if you decide to look elsewhere. In fact, we can usually offer a couple of recommendations if asked!
Curious about my answers? Head over here to read more.