How to Tell if a Therapist is the Right Fit for You
By Claire Fuller
Clinical Individual, Couple, and Family Intern
So you’ve decided it’s time to find yourself a therapist. Exciting! Mental health is vital to your well-being and you deserve to take good care of yourself. Maybe it’s the first time you’re finding a therapist, maybe it’s your 3rd, 5th, 12th time. Here in Seattle we’ve been experiencing an unusually busy summer influx of new clients, and many clients report that they have had difficulty finding someone with availability. It’s important to get the mental health care you need, but it’s also important that you and your therapist can connect and work well together. Therapy’s hard work!
Below are some tips to help you find a therapist who’s a good fit for you:
Pre-Screening A Therapist:
Maybe you’ve been given a referral from someone you trust or maybe you’re starting completely from scratch and are hunting through Psychology Today and Google. What’s important to sift through?
What specific issues or identities are you bringing to session? Certain issues like eating disorders or personality disorders can require specialized training to treat, and you deserve quality care that supports all aspects of your life.
Are you more comfortable speaking with a man, a woman, or a nonbinary person? Someone who is Black, Indigenous, or another person of color (BIPOC)? Someone who is or is allied with the LGBTQIA+ community? Someone who has a faith-based practice? Someone who is sex-worker friendly? Someone fat-bodied or HAES-aligned?
Is there a specific treatment or modality you are looking for? For example, not all therapists are medication prescribers (psychiatrists are, but usually not psychologists or therapists), or maybe you’re interested in EMDR treatment or ketamine treatments or EFT Hold Me Tight workshops — there’s a lot to pick from! You can always ask the therapist what they specialize in and how that informs their treatment approach.
Location! Do you want your sessions to be in-person or through telehealth or to have the option to do both? If you use a wheelchair and want to see your therapist in-person, is their office wheelchair-accessible or do they offer at-home visits? What state will you be in while you are doing therapy? Your physical location matters, and your therapist must be licensed in the state in which you are located. Some states have strict stipulations around telehealth across state lines, so ask your therapist if you’re not sure.
Money! Therapy is an investment, but the most incredible therapist in the world isn’t going to be able to do you any good if you can’t afford to see them. Do they accept your insurance, or is their rate affordable for you? What payment methods do they accept? Do they have any sliding scale slots open? Are there intern therapists at the practice who can provide care at a discounted rate?
Once you’ve made your short list of therapists, it’s time to reach out to them and get a consultation booked! Your assessment of your potential therapist starts now!
You’ve got a consultation booked with a potential therapist — great!
What happens in a therapy consult?
You’ll meet with your potential therapist and they’ll ask you some questions about yourself, a brief explanation of why you’re coming to therapy now, and what kind of change you’re hoping to see from therapy. They’re screening you to see if they have the scope of practice or experience to provide you with the care you need, and allowing you to ask any questions you might have about them or their approach to therapy. You’re screening them to see if they are a care provider that fits with your schedule, your budget, and your ability to feel comfortable to talk about vulnerable parts of your life.
How long are therapy consults?
Consultations are usually 15-20 minutes, which isn’t a ton of time to get to know someone, but here’s how to make the most of it:
During the Consult
Come on time. This may seem basic, but it’s an important part of showing respect for your time and your potential therapist’s.
Come prepared with questions, this is not the time to be shy. If you weren’t able to get information about any of the pre-screening question examples above, now is the time to ask!
Ask about their approach to therapy — what does a usual session look like? Are they more directive or more collaborative? Do they assign homework? How do they ask for feedback? What modalities do they use and why do they like them?
Ask about their work schedule. It can be disheartening to get through the consultation phase only to realize your schedules don’t align. Lots of therapists work 9-5 during the week, but some have more flexible hours and days — it never hurts to ask how early or late or what days they are willing to see clients. Therapy is a commitment and you deserve to set yourself up for success! If a therapist’s availability is not a good fit for your schedule, it’s ok to move on to a different provider.
Ask about their rates — how much is a typical session? Do they offer shorter or longer sessions? Most individual sessions are 50 minutes long but some therapists offer longer sessions. Expect the cost to reflect this. Don’t forget to ask about what insurances they take!
Ask about frequency of sessions — are you looking for regular sessions every week? Every other week? Do you need a more flexible schedule?
Some therapists may offer to book you a first session at the end of the consult, although not all of them do. If you’re not sure if you want to book with them, it is perfectly acceptable to ask for some time to think about it before you schedule a first session.
After the Consult
Are they professional and responsive when you’ve reached out to them?
Do you feel comfortable asking them questions? Are they receptive and able to explain things to you in a way that you understand?
Do you feel you could be comfortable talking to them about uncomfortable topics? It can feel strange to tell a therapist about the intimate details of your life, especially at first, but you will do your best work with someone you feel you can trust — you should never feel judgment or contempt from your therapist.
What if They Decide We’re Not a Good Fit?
Sometimes a therapist may decline a client because they believe that they don’t have the appropriate scope of practice to treat the client, or the schedules don’t fit, or another mismatch that they believe may impact their ability to treat you successfully. That is not a poor reflection on you! We want you to get quality mental health care, even if it’s not with us! Ask if they can refer you to another practitioner. Therapists talk to each other a LOT, because we want to know who has training or availability in case we don’t! If we can’t take you on, we can help you find someone who can.
You are deserving of getting the best mental health care possible, and by doing a little research in advance, hopefully you have an easier time of finding the therapist that’s a great fit for you. Best of luck with your therapist search!
Claire is a Master’s degree candidate, with a focus on sex therapy.
Claire believes that our ability to live pleasurably as our most authentic selves, and the health of our relationships are vital components of our overall quality of life. She strives to create a warm, nonjudgmental environment for you that is kind and compassionate enough to allow for open, honest, and respectful communication to explore your inner life. In therapy, she will collaborate with you to attend to your bio-psycho-social-sexual self and hold space for all your identities as we navigate your therapy work.
Claire understands therapy is not a one-size-fits-all process, so she integrates modalities depending on client goals and needs.