If you found your way to this article, then it is likely you are in search of a therapist for either you, your child, or your family. Finding a therapist can be challenging when you are not quite sure what to look for or what to expect from the interactions. Your search may be further complicated by the fact that you are unsure of what you can ask a potential therapist and what kind of answers you can expect. This post is designed to help make the process a little more streamlined and helpful for you as you navigate finding a therapist that is a good fit for you.
Most private practice therapists will offer an initial consultation where you get to meet or talk to the potential therapist of your choice. This session tends to be under 30 minutes, is free, and is scheduled at a time that works best for you and the therapist. The free consultation appointment serves two purposes: 1) the therapist wants to gage if they will be able to work with you, and 2) you need to determine if the therapist is someone with whom you connect. This second is the most important of the appointment. Think of this as a double-sided interview! You are interviewing your therapist.
What to Look for on the Therapist’s Profile or Website
Remember that you only have about 15 to 20 minutes to meet with each potential therapist. During that time, the mental health person will also have a few basic questions that they will want answered. That means you should come prepared. There are some general bits of information that all therapists will have on their websites. You should think of therapist websites as a way to get to know the therapist that you are looking to meet. Set aside time to click on as many of their tabs that it takes for you to decide whether you want to reach out to the person. Let this be the first wave of filtering through the sea of therapists in your area. This is a very important step because research shows that the relationship between you and your therapist is the critical piece that will help determine if therapy will be beneficial for you. So, here are some foundational things that you want to look for on a therapist website.
- What are their fees? – This helps you figure out if you can afford them.
- How long are sessions? – Typical sessions are between 45 and 60 minutes for individual sessions.
- What are their hours and days of operation? – If you have scheduling needs, the therapist will not be able to change their operating hours to accommodate your schedule. Therefore, you would need to find someone who has hours that meet your needs.
- What licenses do they hold? – Check to see if they are licensed for therapy or if they are a life coach. Counseling and coaching are different. Therapists can coach, but legally, coaches can’t counsel.
- What types of clients do they see in their practice? – While some therapists see people with a wide variety of healing points, most therapists specialize in a couple areas. You’ll be looking to see if the therapist lists the areas that you most want to discuss.
- What modality of therapy do they provide (e.g., in-person, teletherapy, phone sessions, or a combination of them)?
Do Therapist Identities Matter?
So far, we have discussed the basics, except not really. Something that is often missing from therapist profiles is how they identify. In my opinion, therapists tend to spend too much time telling visitors who they serve, and not enough about who they are. This is not our fault, most of us were trained from a colorblind approach, which is rooted in racism, and many of us were trained to work as experts, (yep, that’s paternalism). However, it is our responsibility to do the work to decolonize our learning and its effect on you. The truth is that yes, therapists are highly skilled and well-educated on topics of mental health. We know how to join journeys and work with people to help meet their emotional health healing needs. However, the notion of expertise sometimes takes away your autonomy and stifles your capacity for insight development. Equally powerful, therapists who have not yet started doing their own internal work to face their internalized harmful beliefs (e.g., racism, audism, gender bias, xenophobia, transphobia, etc.), may be providing you with approaches that were never designed for you. Therefore, when you are on a therapist website or profile, it may be a good idea for you to see how the therapist describes themself.
- Do they identify their race?
- Do they share any of their identities?
- Can you tell where they stand on topics related to social justice?
- Is there any mention of them doing ongoing work to decolonize their practice? – The keyword is “ongoing” and is important regardless of the therapist’s race and intersecting identities because this work is never ending.
If all of these questions are answered on the mental health therapist’s website and their responses are aligned with what is appropriate for you, then it’s time for you to prepare for your consultation. If some of these questions have been left unanswered, then you can decide if you want to ask them at your appointment or if you want to continue looking for someone else.
How Can I Ask Taboo Questions?
You may be wondering if there are questions that you can’t ask at the initial consultation session. Keep in mind that you can ask any questions that you want. At the same time, the therapist has the right to decide whether or how to answer the question. Some therapists welcome semi-personal questions while others do not. Therapists who want to remain private, may be engaging in the healthy practice of setting and maintaining boundaries. Therapy is very intimate, and sometimes when you know too much about a therapist, you may feel that they are your friend instead of a professional who is there to support you. Friendship is reciprocal in the emotional care labor, therapy is not. This means that with your friends, you are there for them on their emotional rollercoasters and they are there for you on yours. However, you should never be on your therapist’s emotional rollercoaster.
Anyway, when formulating questions to ask during the initial consultation, determine why you want to know a specific answer. The why, will help you rethink how to get the information. For example, if you are a parent, you may wonder if the therapist has children. Why do you want to know that? It is likely because you want to know that you will feel understood, but whether a therapist has children does not necessarily mean that they will understand your parenting needs. There is another way to ask that question and get a more in-depth view into how the therapist works. Below you will find a chart with a few examples, that are not exhaustive, to explain this concept a little more.
|Instead of Asking This||Consider Why||Try This|
|Do you have children?||You really want to know whether your therapist will understand you.||How do I know you will be able to understand my parenting needs?|
|Are you into ethical non monogamy or polyamory?||You may be curious about being negatively judged.||Tell me how you approach working with people who are in poly relationships.|
|Are you married?||You are exploring the therapist relationship values according to religious or legal standards.||Marriage is ___ to me. What is your experience working with clients who share this belief?|
|Are you religious?||You may want to know if you will have to teach your therapist about your religion or you are trying to avoid having religion in the sessions.||What role does religion play in your therapeutic approach?|
|Have you ever been…||You might be trying to figure out if the therapist has a shared experience that is important to you.||I have felt invalidated or alone in some of my experiences, what might emotional validation look like in a session with you?|
Ready to Start The Search
Let’s review the major takeaways for this article.
- Carefully review therapist websites and profiles.
- Be critical when reviewing websites to see if they are transparent about some of the basics.
- Therapists identities matter.
- The consultation is for you both of you to determine if you can work together.
- Come prepared with 3 to 5 questions. You may only have time for a couple of them, but three is a good base number.
- Think about the why when preparing to ask questions of the mental health professional.
I know that finding a therapist who meets your needs can be challenging. Once you know what you are looking for, it can be just a little bit easier. I hope that this article helps you find your next therapist to join you on your journey.
Remember to take a moment to play a little today. You deserve it.
PlayfulLeigh (pronounced playfully),
Follow Dr. Dowtin on Instagram (@PlayfulLeigh_Psyched) and Twitter (@PlayfulLeigh) to continue this conversation!
2 thoughts on “How to Find A Therapist Who Helps You Feel Safe”
Really good article! Great questions to ask.
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Thank you! I think Dr. Dowtin did an amazing job helping folks find a great match for therapy. I share Dr. Dowtin’s article with people looking for therapy because we know that match or rapport is the number one most curative factor for therapy.