We use Google for everything these days—from finding out who won American Idol in 2007 (it was Jordin Sparks) to researching the best gifts for your significant other’s birthday. And believe it or not, Google is also a great way to find therapists. Simply googling "mental health therapist and [your zip code]” should bring up several options for you. If you’re more old school, you can use word-of-mouth by asking others if they have a recommendation or posting it on your social media pages.
Once you find a few top-of-the-list choices, it’s time to prepare your most important questions to help you narrow down the selection. Keep in mind that healthcare providers usually don't have much time for you to interview them. You may have to do some sleuthing around on their websites and professional social media pages to find answers to some of these questions.
Below is a list to get you started, but feel free to add to it, delete questions that don't matter to you, or reorder them according to what's most important to you. This experience is 100% up to you, so your search should be tailored to your specific wants and needs.
1. Does this therapist take my insurance plan?
If you must be able to use your insurance plan to help pay for therapy, then this question should be high on your list. It may weed out a large number of therapists from your search who do not accept your plan or do not accept insurance at all.
2. Would I feel more comfortable with a specific gender in therapy?
Gender identity can play a role in making sure you feel comfortable sharing details of your life. For example, women who have experienced sexual violence inflicted by men often do not feel comfortable with male therapists. With that being said, men can have sexual trauma histories too, so it’s not always the case that a male therapist won't understand you. Also, non-binary people may want to connect with a non-binary therapist. Therapists who identify as non-binary may take more time to find, but they are definitely out there.
3. Would I feel more comfortable with a therapist who looks like me?
Sometimes it’s easier to open up to someone who looks like you and can relate to how race or ethnicity affects your life experience. When patients have concerns around racial trauma, they often would prefer to be with a therapist who shares their racial group, even if it's not the exact ethnicity. The same can often apply for cultural concerns. Some people can find it frustrating to explain every little detail about their culture to a therapist before they get to the root of the problem.
4. Would I feel more comfortable with a therapist who is similar in age?
When picking a therapist, some people don't look for someone who is close to their age, while others are concerned that a therapist who isn’t their age may not truly understand their point of view.
Certainly, a therapist who has 10 years of experience in the field is going to bring something different to treatment than a therapist who has three years of experience, but it's important to note that a well-trained therapist is a well-trained therapist. Sometimes it boils down to not knowing who’s a better fit for you until you’ve talked to them both.
5. Is there a specific style of therapy that I know works best for me?
Patients who have attended therapy before many know this answer. Others may have to try on many styles before they know what works best for them. For example, Kelly may enjoy having deep conversations with her therapist about significant events that have impacted her life each time she has an appointment, while Kai might prefer journaling about their mental health journey and then coming to therapy ready to share their latest entry with their therapist.
6. How far do I want to travel for therapy?
Do you prefer a therapist who is just around the corner from your job, or do you not mind traveling across town for your perfect match? It’s important to think about these things because if you have a mental health urgency and need a quick appointment, you need to know how far you’re willing to drive in distress. Getting to your therapy appointment, or trying to fit therapy into your schedule, should not be another source of stress.
7. Am I really ready to commit to treatment right now?
Therapy is not a quick fix or a one-time solution. It requires an investment of time, energy, and money—just like almost every other aspect of life. Is therapy something that you can see through right now?
8. Will telehealth appointments help me prioritize treatment in my life?
Telehealth is convenient for some people because it alleviates time and travel barriers. Others would say that they don’t have the same type of connection with their therapist via telehealth as they do in person. Do I have a private place to attend my telehealth sessions if I use this specific service? Will I be able to access my emotional depths if I'm sitting in my own office as opposed to my therapist's office?
9. Do in-office appointments work better for me?
Just like telehealth, in-office appointments have pros and cons depending on the person. If your home environment is not a safe place to access therapy, then an in-person appointment might be a better option for you. Your therapy appointment is 100% for you—if you can’t do good therapy work from a remote location then you need to look for a therapist that offers in-person visits.
Final Advice for Your Therapist Search
Remember, the therapeutic relationship grows over time, so you have to attend treatment more than once in order to determine if the therapist is a good fit for you. Looking for a therapist is like looking for jeans. You may have to try on a few before you find the pair that are the right cut, size, and style for you.