Therapy is essential when living with mental illnesses. Various studies often yield results favorable to therapy, suggesting that therapy and an effective therapist is more helpful than placebos or no treatment. (Comer, 2018.) Furthermore, according to a meta-analysis of several therapy studies, the average person receiving therapy was “better off” than 75% of people receiving no treatment (Smith & Glass, 1977).
Looking for a therapist, whether it is your first time or not, can be a daunting task; there are numerous factors to consider based on personal preferences and needs. For instance, you may feel more comfortable with a counselor of the same gender as you. Or, you may prefer a therapist who self-disclose, meaning they reveal information about themselves during therapy sessions, or you might prefer a more professional relationship. In fact, in the United States, because traditional mental health care is “often inappropriate and antagonistic to the cultural values and life experiences” towards people of color, and they often feel “abused” or even “oppressed” by their therapists (Council of National Psychological Associations or the Advancement of Ethnic Minority, 2003).
So, how do you go about looking for your therapist? Here are four basic tips to help you get started.
1. Know your needs
The first step of the therapist search is to be sure of your needs. According to Mark O’Connell, a psychotherapist in New York’s Gramercy district, before even beginning to research, it is crucial to be sure what kind of traits and qualities you need in your therapist to trust them with your most vulnerable points. Knowing what you are looking for will streamline your search and help you narrow down from a possible long list of potential candidates you might find.
Perhaps you know someone who is already seeing a therapist. Talking to them and asking for their experience with their therapist, according to O’Connell, will grant you a look into what kind of emotional environment the therapist creates for their clients. He further claims that personal narrative is invaluable and that paying attention to their body language while they talk about their therapist will provide insight into what they have to say (O’Connell, 2018).
Furthermore, according to Dr. Seth J. Gillihan’s, a licensed psychologist and a clinical assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania, interview with psychiatrist Dr. Richard Summers, receiving recommendations or referrals from someone you trust is one of the best ways to find a therapist. However, if you don’t happen to know anyone attending therapy, asking your primary care doctor for referrals may be the next best thing. For instance, Dr. Gillihan’s primary doctor knows that Dr. Gillihan prefers a more “conservative approach” to medication prescription, and referred him to therapists who feels similarly (Gillihan, 2018).
There are several therapist search engines online, with some being websites such as PsychologyToday and GoodTherapy. Do not be too hasty when looking up therapists, however, Gillihan recommends that you “look into [their] background” (Gillihan, 2018). He further claims that therapists’ wide range of degrees and professions makes this step crucial. Furthermore, looking into their specialization as well as their experience could provide insight into their methods and areas of strength.
In short: Make sure to look into their background. Research. What are their credentials? What have they done in the past?
According to O’Connell, many therapists offer free phone consultations. This would be your time to experience what it’s like to speak and work with your potential therapist and see if you like the emotional environment they set up. More importantly, this would be your time to ask any questions about their past experiences, to gather information beyond the list of credentials listed on their websites. Gillihan also agrees that it is important to “get a feel for the therapist,” because it is hard to imagine what it would be like to work with them in person (Gillihan, 2018).
The task of looking for your own therapist can be intimidating. However, preparation and research can make the search more efficient. Other possible sources include:
Think, Act, Be Podcast, featuring Dr. Richard Summers :
This episode therapy-seeking advice from a licensed psychiatrist.
About the Author
HeeJoo Roh is a Korean-American studying Art and Psychology at Pepperdine University. She aspires to combine her passions and pursue art therapy in the future. In the past, she has worked with various volunteer organizations, leading a group of Korean-American students to various community service events to represent her community. Her drive to represent and bringing down stigmas, as well as her passion for psychology, led to Speaking Grey. She now hopes to represent the mental health community in a more positive, informative light, and work to educate the masses about the truth of mental illnesses.
COMER, R. J. (2018). ABNORMAL PSYCHOLOGY (10th ed.). S.l., NY: WORTH PUB.
Council of National Psychological Associations for the Advancement of Ethnic Minority
Interests. (2003). Psychological Treatment of Ethnic Minority Populations [Brochure].
Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved November, 2003, from https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/brochures/treatment-minority.pdf
Gillihan, S. (2018, November 07). How Do You Find a Good Therapist? Retrieved July 20, \
2020, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/think-act-be/201811/how-do-you-find-good-therapist
O’Connell, M. (2018, July 24). How to Choose the Best Therapist for You. Retrieved July 20,
Smith, M. L., & Glass, G. V. (1977). Meta-analysis of psychotherapy outcome studies. American
Psychologist, 32(9), 752–760. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.32.9.752