Mental Health & Wellness

The Beginner’s Guide to Finding the Right Therapist

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The very first time I went to therapy was such a bust that I often forget about it entirely. It was during one of my holiday breaks from college that I spent at home, and my mom arranged for me to see the colleague of her at-the-time therapist whom she really enjoyed seeing. It was awkward. I hated it. We were extremely different, culturally, and that led me to feel a huge disconnect. I felt like the therapist did not take enough time to build the relationship between the two of us, and expected me to plop down on her couch and spill all the beans right off the bat. I only went for one session and never returned, because I didn’t feel like it was a good fit.

Fit is important.

Finding a therapist that is the right fit for you can be an overwhelming, daunting task… But it doesn’t have to be. My intention for this guide is to equip you with all the tools necessary to find the best therapist for you. I have broken down the guide into 4 major sections:

  • Before the consultation
  • During the consultation
  • During the first session
  • After a few sessions

Before the Consultation

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I think the most important aspect of finding a therapist is figuring out how you’re going to pay for the services. Imagine going through pages and pages of therapists, finding who you think may be the perfect fit, only to find out that they don’t take your form of payment/insurance! Ah, shucks.

If you have health insurance, call your customer service line or check the fine print of your benefits plan to figure out if you have mental/behavioral health benefits, and if so — how much therapy the insurance will cover (i.e., number of sessions allowed per year and the copay).

If you’re a college student, take advantage of the counseling services provided by your institution! It’s mostly likely free (i.e., you’re already paying for it in your tuition and fees) and easily accessible to you. 

The next step would be to search for therapists who accept your specific form of insurance. Many health insurance websites have online directories where you can pull up this information, or a quick search of the Google will do! “Therapists in [city] who accept [insurance]” should do the trick.

If you don’t have health insurance or do not have any mental/behavioral health benefits, don’t fret! Plenty of therapists take clients who are paying out of pocket (often called “private pay”).

Now that you’ve figured out the financial side of things, it’s time to explore your options.

There are plenty of different search engines and directories for finding therapists near you, based on your needs. Here are a few:

You can even find directories for very specific communities such as BDSM/Kink! Definitely search for therapists who meet your specific concerns, whether that be your demographics, presenting problem (i.e., the reason you are seeking therapy), communities or social groups you belong to, or your specific modality (i.e., whether you’re seeking individual, couples, or family therapy).

There are so many different letters and acronyms associated with therapists, so I will do a follow-up post about therapist credentials, so as to not make this post miles long!

During the Consultation

So you’ve narrowed it down and compiled a list of a some potentially good therapists. The next step is to make some phone calls! Most therapists offer a free phone consultation, usually about 15 minutes, to give you the opportunity to ask questions and figure out if it’s going to be a good fit for you.

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The therapists will most likely ask you a bit about your background, your reason for seeking therapy, and what you hope to get out of it. It is important to be honest, so that you can get an idea of whether or not that therapist would truly be a good option for you.

Good questions to ask:

  • How much experience do you have working with people who struggle with ____?
  • What is your style of counseling?
  • What does a typical treatment plan look like for a person attending therapy for _____?

While their answers to these questions are certainly important, I would also encourage you to notice how it feels to talk to them. Are they making the knots in your stomach feel a little better? Are they annoying you already? Pay attention to how you feel. 

Also, if you don’t like what you get from your consultations, feel free to continue shopping around!

During the First Session

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So you’ve scheduled your first counseling session! How exciting (or nerve-wracking)! Know that the first session is almost-always a little awkward. This is because of the paperwork that may be involved. All counselors will require you to sign an “informed consent”, which is basically a document of you agreeing, or consenting to, mental health treatment. It also contains information about confidentiality and the rights and responsibilities of both parties. Many counseling agencies will have additional paperwork such as a a release of information, missed session policy, or a structured assessment that will allow the therapist to get to know you and your background a little better. So, it can seem a little paperwork-heavy and interrogative, but most of the paperwork is only completed one time at the very beginning, so keep that in mind.

Similar to my suggestions regarding the phone consultation, pay attention to how you feel during this first session. 

After a few Sessions

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So you’ve stuck with this therapy thing, and you’ve made it through a few sessions! Woo! It is important to assess all those feelings you’ve been paying attention to…

Do you feel like the therapist is helping you to move in the right direction? If not, do you at least feel hopeful that they will?

Keep in mind that:

  1. Nothing is going to change overnight, or in 3 sessions, so don’t be afraid to give it some time! Moreover, don’t be afraid to voice these things with your therapist.
  2. Things sometimes get worse before they get better. So you have this problem that you’ve kind of ignored, and then you suddenly choose to go to therapy to address it. Well, guess what? Therapy is really going to address it. It may feel icky, but with the help of a good therapist whom you feel is a good fit, you can certainly work through it.
  3. Even if the therapist you’ve tried isn’t a good fit for you, there are still plenty of therapists in the sea! Try someone else, and talk about your past experience in the upcoming phone consultations as you search again.

After all, the therapeutic relationship is very unique in that it’s not like shopping for your  electrician. In therapy there are 2 humans with 2 personalities and 2 different sets of life experiences coming together to create a space of healing for the client and their problems. The personalities, the styles, and the little things all matter. Research has shown time and time again that the relationship between the therapist and client is the greatest predictor of client outcomes! Not how much the therapist charges, their style of counseling, or how much education or experience they have, but the relationship between the therapist and the client.


If you’re taking these steps to find a therapist, CONGRATULATIONS on taking the step to a healthier, happier you! I wish you all the best in finding the best therapist fit for you.

Be well.♥

–Ashlei

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8 thoughts on “The Beginner’s Guide to Finding the Right Therapist

  1. This comment isn’t necessarily about the article (although it was very informative and well written, from the attention to italics and the choices in imagery, so cute!), but moreso some questions that came up in my head while reading it. I don’t know if you take questions but I have a few and I feel like with the experience that you have so far, you could answer them.

    1- Do you feel like the discussion of payment or payment methods can serve to negatively affect the client-therapist relationship? Have you ever felt as a client yourself that discussing payment and recognizing that there is money involved in the relationship, that it affects the relationship? I know it’s off topic but I was just wondering.

    2- How do you think we can all become better at validating the feelings of, and supporting those in our lives? I know this certainly doesn’t eliminate the need for therapy, but it can make the burden of a tough situation become less if the people around one are contributing positively.

    3- How do you avoid emotional overload/compassion fatigue? Has this ever been addressed in a class you took?

    4- What advice do you have for people who want to enter this field? What should they consider before joining or attempting to join? What made you know this was the career path for you?

    Also, I love this font! It makes it so fun to type. Glad I found this page. It’s a gem. Take care xo

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Marion! 🙂 I appreciate your feedback.
      1- I’ve found payment to be a little awkward to discuss, but never detrimental to the counseling relationship. Just as any other professional service, clients expect to have to pay and talking about it doesn’t change much. Pay is often discussed upfront, and secured in the first session (i.e., credit card information), so the therapist just charges the card following each session without having to make an announcement or collect the physical payment each week.
      2- I agree that a validating person in your corner can make a difference in your mental health. I think this can be achieved by learning the difference between sympathy and empathy, and really unleashing the power of empathy when our loved ones lean on us for that validation and support. A nonjudgmental attitude also goes a long way.
      3- Compassion fatigue and burnout is likely addressed throughout a counselor’s entire training (at least it was for me!) There’s so much research associated with clinician burnout. I personally engage in tons of mindfulness, rest, and self-care activities to stay fresh and avoid burnout, but everyone is different with what works for them.
      4- My advice to people who want to enter the field would be to take an introductory counseling class to determine if the career path is for them. Also, reading books about therapy (e.g., The Gift of Therapy, On Being a Therapist, and the like) can help to conceptualize the therapeutic process from the clinician standpoint as well as get an idea of what the experience is like. I knew counseling was for me after I served as a volunteer phone counselor for the National Suicide Hotline. It was such an amazing, rewarding, eye-opening, and fulfilling experience! It’s safe to say the counseling field had me at my first “hello”. 🙂

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