By Dr. Ruth Swartwood, Fraser Licensed Psychologist and Site Manager • therapy, therapist, finding a therapist, counselor, how to find a therapist, counseling, vetting a therapist • May 13, 2021
Deciding it’s time to start therapy is a big decision, and finding the right therapist can feel overwhelming. But there are some things you can do to make the process easier. Fraser Licensed Psychologist and Site Manager Dr. Ruth Swartwood offers some advice to help you find the right therapist.
Ask for a recommendation
You can ask someone you trust for a therapist recommendation. However, remember that your coworker or next-door neighbor might have different therapy goals than you. Reach out for recommendations from people who have had similar experiences as you. So if you’re getting divorced, talk to a friend who also saw a therapist while getting divorced.
Figure out your therapy goals
Before you start therapy, you should figure out what you want to accomplish. Maybe you’re struggling after the death of a loved one and want someone to help you work through your grief. Perhaps you’re unhappy in your marriage, and you need to talk to someone to talk about that. Or maybe you’re suffering from depression, and you need help managing your depression. Once you’ve figured out your goals, it will be much easier to find a therapist.
You should consider meeting with a primary care doctor or psychiatrist, if you think medication might provide some relief. These professionals can prescribe medications, while psychotherapists and psychologists can’t. You don’t have to leave with a prescription; the goal of your appointment can simply be to discuss the benefits and addressing your concerns.
Check out their expertise
Therapists have different specialties. They might focus on family therapy, couples counseling, processing grief or substance abuse issues. Dr. Swartwood recommends that you avoid a therapist that lists every specialty as their focus.
“People can’t do everything well, and neither can your therapist. You want a counselor with a limited focus that aligns with what you want to explore during therapy,” Dr. Swartwood says.
Make a list of questions
After you’ve identified a possible therapist, make a list of questions to ask at your initial consultation. A list helps you prepare and ensures you don’t forget to ask something. You can also take notes while you’re talking to the therapist. This allows you to compare and contrast answers if you decide to reach out to more than one counselor.
Some questions you might want to ask:
“A good therapist can tell you what your treatment will look like, how long treatment might last and give you some basic information about the techniques they will be using,” Dr. Swartwood says.
It’s okay to be picky
Swartwood says she often reminds people they might not find the right therapist the first time.
“If you don’t find the right therapist immediately, don’t give up. Most people have had both good and bad experiences with therapists. It’s normal to have to try a few,” says Dr. Swartwood. “It’s also totally okay to switch to a different therapist.”
If you decide your therapist isn’t the right fit, you shouldn’t worry about hurting their feelings, says Dr. Swartwood. It happens all the time, and a good therapist will understand. Let them know it isn’t working for you, and ask them to recommend someone else.
Pay attention to your comfort level
During therapy, you’ll talk about difficult topics. That is to be expected, as you may need to work through trauma or discuss tough issues to understand and process these issues. You should feel comfortable being vulnerable with your therapist.
“You want a therapist you want to go back and talk to. You should feel cared for and respected and not rushed,” says Dr. Swartwood. “A good therapist will lead with curiosity and care.”
Watch out for this bad behavior
If the therapist talks more than you, that is a bad sign, says Dr. Swartwood. If your counselor doesn’t address your concerns or work on what you want to, that’s an issue, too. If your therapist can’t tell you what your treatment plan will be or what therapy will look like, that is also a cause for concern.
Know there are payment options
Therapy is expensive, and therapists know that. A good therapist should be able to tell you how many sessions will be covered by your insurance. If you find therapy costs more than what you can afford, you can ask your therapist for recommendations for free or low-cost therapy providers. They might even be able to help you appeal to your insurance company.
If none of those options work out, Dr. Swartwood suggests reaching out to a case manager. Fraser has care coordinators who work hard at connecting people to needed resources. They may be able to help you find a way to pay for therapy.