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How to Choose a Therapist


how to choose a therapist

As I have been working through setting up this practice I have been reminded of an article I wrote a couple of years ago.  The article was designed as an overview of the different mental health professions that exist, educational requirements, as well as how the profession would fit into a hospital setting. To read the article, see this link –  This article seems relevant to me because one of the most common questions I hear regarding my profession is the question of how to choose a therapist.

While I think the article has some valuable information in it, I want to take a different approach here when discussing how to choose a therapist.   I have had many people ask me what is the difference between various kinds of helping professionals, and how to choose the best one.  For an overview of the fields within mental health that provide different kinds of therapy, see the article.  Typically though, when someone is looking for a mental health professional, the therapist or professional is either a Psychiatrist, Psychologist, Social Worker, Counselor, Marriage & Family Therapist or in some cases a Life/Leadership/Executive Coach.  Even though to be a coach, no licensure is required, I add it into the mix because I think it’s relevant for this discussion.

I mention the idea of “goodness of fit” on my Psychology Today profile as well on my website.  The term “goodness of fit” when referring to choosing a helping professional, is just as it reads; how good is the fit between the two people?  I think this idea is one that may be overlooked sometimes, but is a very important component.  When searching for a helping professional, one of the strongest variables that may determine success is the fit.  The question then becomes – “How do I decide if this professional is a fit for me?”

Most of the time there are websites, some online presence, or at least a phone call that can be accessed for free, in order to get a better idea of who the person is that you may be working with.  In my professional experience, as well as my own personal experience with coaches, mentors and therapists, I see a number of factors that may be important in identifying fit.  Here are 4 questions that may help to identify some of the nature of the fit, when speaking with or meeting with a prospective helping professional:

How does this person communicate?

When speaking to this person or having the opportunity to meet with them, what kind of communicator do I think they are?  There is probably not a wrong answer here, necessarily.  However, how the answer is interpreted will determine what kind of communication is important for you.   Some people like more direct interaction, some people prefer more inquisitiveness or curious nature, while others prefer someone who will just listen and reflect.

What is their philosophy about where growth and change comes from, and does this philosophy align with mine?

While there are many theories about what elicits change and what leads to progress, working with someone that has a similar philosophy may be beneficial.  If a helping professional holds the belief that change comes from working through someone’s past issues to uncover the meaning behind behaviors so that they aren’t repeated, and you identify with this, then perhaps this is a great fit.  Alternatively, some people approach change from a forward facing lens, where strengths are identified and built upon and past stories and behaviors are looked at limitedly.  Neither approach is wrong, there may be some people that will have greater success with one or the other.

Are the service details in line?

The details of the prospective helping professional’s services can be an important factor.   Some of these details may be price, location, availability, practice modality and experience.  Practice modality and experience may be important if you are specifically looking for someone that has experience in working with trauma for instance.  Making sure that someone does have the experience in dealing with the issue that you would like to address can be an important piece to consider.  Reading about the person’s background or asking lots of questions to clarify the person’s background can be an effective approach when evaluating this part of the “goodness of fit.”

How do I feel when I am speaking with this person or in their presence?

Trusting our gut can be a challenge.  However, asking ourselves the question of – how am I feeling in this moment? – can be valuable.  If we feel at ease, comfortable, curious or eager to share with this person, then these may be good cues that this may be a good fit.  Of course, our first impression can sometimes be off, but adding up our general gut feeling combined with some of the other questions, can add a sense of security in our decision making.


I’d like to add that there are many wonderful helping professionals out there with a wide variety of experiences and approaches.  Remember, that if you have an experience that is not what you are looking for; this may be a reflection of the “goodness of fit” and not the profession itself.   Seeking out a professional that is a great fit may bring up just as many questions about ourselves as it does for the person we are looking for.

Enjoy the journey!


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