7 Steps to Finding a Great Therapist
Updated: Sep 10, 2019
If you’ve never been to therapy, it can be a daunting process to try and find a great therapist. These days, it seems like everyone is seeing someone, but it’s hard to know how to find a therapist if you don’t already have or know one! But here, you’ll see that it just takes 7 manageable steps to get you a therapist who’s a perfect match for you.
1. Ask your friends if they have a great therapist.
Before you dig into your search for the “best therapist near me”, get in touch with a few of your friends to ask if they have a therapist they love! This isn’t the end of your search process, but it could save you some time looking through other therapists if you know someone who can get you connected. If you have friends who you know are in therapy, or have been in the past, you can ask a few questions about how they like their counselor and get a feel for what the therapist is like. Ask your coworkers, friends, and acquaintances. I don’t recommend asking your parents, siblings, or best friends who their therapist is… Things can get awkward if you’re seeing the same therapist as your mom!
2. Decide what you’re looking for.
This probably isn’t the most important step in finding a therapist to begin seeing, but it might save you some time, money, or heartache in the future. Therapy is a marathon, not a sprint, so you’re best off taking a minute to get clear about what you’re looking for for the next weeks, months, or years. Here are the questions you should be asking to determine what you’re looking for:
Do you prefer a male or female therapist? Do you have a strong preference about the cultural background your therapist comes from? Is there an age range you’d be uncomfortable working with? You don’t get to be too picky about the exact person you’ll see, but it’s important that you can feel safe, heard, and understood in your counseling process. If you prefer to work with someone who matches your demographic, or prefer not to be seen by someone from a demographic that has been unsafe for you, you can prioritize that in your search.
What issues are you looking to address in counseling? (e.g., couples issues, trauma counseling, to manage anxiety or depression, to talk about difficult family or relationship issues). Some therapists specialize in certain types of counseling services, and you want to make sure you’re looking for someone who knows what they're talking about.
How are you paying for counseling? Does your health insurance plan cover outpatient mental health? A call to your insurance provider will answer your questions about your mental health coverage. You’ll want to be clear about your insurance benefits to know if the therapist you find needs to be in-network with your insurance company or if your insurance provider covers out-of-network care (sometimes called OON).
If your health insurance doesn’t cover mental health services, you’ll have to determine how much you can spend on counseling. Most therapists see clients every week or every other week (although this varies), so plan on 2-4 sessions per month. Average rates per session in the Seattle area range from $100-175. If you need a reduced fee to be able to make counseling happen, some therapists offer a “sliding scale” rate which may be between $50-100 per session.
How will therapy fit into your schedule? Are there specific days or times you need appointments to fit? In general, evening and weekend sessions are hard to come by with therapists, but if that’s the only time that works for you, it needs to be on your list of deciding factors. The more flexibility you can find in your schedule, the more people you’ll get to choose from.
3. Search for therapists online.
Once you’re clear about what you’re looking for, you’re ready to get online. I recommend getting a clear idea of what you need before you open up the internet simply because it can be overwhelming to sift through all the therapists near you! If you live in a small town, it might be a short list and you might not get to be picky, but in Seattle, there are hundreds of therapists and mental health clinics to sort through, and Google doesn’t always know what you’re looking for.
Google is the first place most people start their online therapist hunt, and rightfully so. Google has the handy map which will let you hone in on the “best therapist near me”, but it’s important to recognize that even Google’s list is not exhaustive. The more specific you get in your search criteria, the better luck you’ll have finding websites of therapists who fit your needs. So instead of sifting through the list of hundreds, narrow your search down to something like “female anxiety therapist in lower Queen Anne” and see what comes up. Throw in search words about location, insurance, therapy approaches, and issues you’re looking to work on, and you might narrow it down to a few really good options!
An even easier place to search for a counselor is in a therapist directory like those by Psychology Today and Therapy Den. These directories are like mini search engines that let you filter your results by specialty, therapist gender, issues each counselor sees, insurance coverage and pricing, and zip code. This tool really lets you hone in on many (not all) of the therapists in your area, and you can see a photo and read a short bio about the therapists personality and approach before you contact them.
Open Path is another directory that specifically lists therapists who have a sliding scale or reduced fee if you need a break financially from typical therapy fees. These directories are the easiest tool to use when looking for a therapist because they let you filter your search results so much, but remember that it’s not an exhaustive list of therapists in your area, so you might still need to do some Googling. Also, the therapist bios you’ll find on these sites are limited by the directory to be short little snapshots of the therapist’s practice - always look for the button that takes you to their full website if you want to find some more information.
4. Contact the therapists you think might be a good fit.
Once you’ve found a few therapists that might be a good fit, it’s time to get in touch! Call or send an email to let the therapist know that you’re interested in being their client. It’s okay to contact a few therapists at a time if you’d like to. Not every therapist will meet all your needs. The more clear you are about what you need in your initial contact, the better response you’re likely to get from a potential therapist. Mention what you’re looking to work on in counseling, if you have specific needs for scheduling, and insurance/fee concerns in your initial contact. Hopefully you’ll have some responses within 1-2 business days (or sooner!). If you haven’t heard back after 3 business days, I’d move on to someone else.
5. Do a few free consults!
Most therapists like to set up a free phone consult so they can get to know a bit about you and answer any questions you have before scheduling your first session. Set up one or a few of these calls so you can get a feel for your options. A call typically takes 10-30 minutes and will give you a good sense of the counselor’s style in session. Ask any questions you have, and listen to your gut!
6. Have your first session.
The appointment is finally set up, and you get to go tell someone all about yourself and figure out a plan to get on your way to better mental health. Your first session will usually be a 50-60 minute appointment, although some therapists extend the first session to get a full history on you. Here's a list of questions to ask a therapist in a first session to help you determine if it's a good fit.
7. Come back.
This step might sound redundant because you’ve usually found your perfect match by the first session. But even after a first session, you might leave wondering if this therapist is the right fit. My best advice is to stick it out for 2-3 sessions to see if you change your mind. Therapy is a big process and it can be awkward to get started. Give it a few sessions to see if you can build some trust and connection with your therapist and get things moving. If your therapist is clearly not a good personality match for you, or if you feel unsafe in your first session, get out of there. But if you’re on the fence, give it some time. It's a process to find a therapist who’s a great match for you, but once you're a few sessions in, therapy can change your life.
This list has been compiled by Lily Ewing, MA, LMHCA, a therapist for adults and couples in Seattle. If you’re looking for a therapist in the Seattle area for issues of anxiety, depression, relational issues, or couples counseling, you can learn more about me at www.lilyewing.com.