10 Ways to Find a Good Therapist

By Elvira G. Aletta, Ph.D.

When we want to improve our bodies we pretty much know where to find help. This time of year the gyms are full and the meeting rooms at Weight Watchers are packed. But what do we do when we want to improve our inner selves, our relationships, or want to find help with depression or anxiety?

man sitting on blue sofa near window during daytime
Photo by AllGo - An App For Plus Size People on Unsplash

Making the decision to find help is hard enough. Why should you have to get even more stressed out hunting for the right therapist? It’s like searching for a needle in a haystack unless you have some guidance. So here are a few tips:

1. Forget the yellow pages. A yellow pages listing is expensive so a lot of good people aren’t there. I’m not. Plus there is no oversight or regulation of who can list.

2. Ask a professional you already work with and trust. Your accountant, lawyer, dentist, physician – any professional you have a relationship with who honors your confidentiality is a good resource. These people all run businesses as well as provide services, as do many psychotherapists in private practice. They are well connected in the community and refer to each other all the time.

By the way, when asking anyone for a referral to a mental health therapist you do not have to go into the details of why you’re looking for a someone unless you want to. It’s enough just to say, “I’m having some problems and I’d like to consult a therapist about it. Do you recommend anyone?”

3. Ask friends or family members if they can recommend someone. Usually the first source people reach out to. Just be sure they will be supportive and not intrusive.

4. Use a known therapist as a resource. If you have a friend or a friend’s friend who is a therapist, ask them for a referral. Therapists refer to one another all the time. They will understand that you don’t want to see them (for whatever reason, you don’t have to say) but you want a recommendation from them. In other words, even if it doesn’t feel right going to your sister’s therapist, if your sister really likes her therapist he or she could probably give you a couple of names of good, qualified therapists in the community.

5. Use resources at work. Many places of employment have what’s called an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). These services might be in-house or out-sourced but the purpose of EAPs is to provide emotional support and counseling for employees in complete privacy and as part of the employee’s benefit package. EAPs are often part of the Human Resource department so ask there if your company has an EAP and how to access it. Usually you would see a counselor at the EAP for a set number of sessions (no charge to you) and if you want to continue they will refer you to a therapist in the community who will take your insurance.

6. Schools and Universities are resources. Your child’s school is likely to have a school counselor or nurse and that person knows therapists in your district to refer you or your child to, if that is what’s needed. Universities and colleges are investing more and more in their campus mental health services. Counseling Centers (often part of Health Services under the Student Affairs department) on campus have qualified psychologists and social workers on stand-by to help with a wide range of situations for current students. Like EAPs, if you need longer term services beyond what they can provide they will see to it that you are linked properly for your continuity of care. As an alum or faculty you should be able to access the counseling center as a resource for a referral.

7. Use your insurance company. You may be lucky and have an insurance company with a truly helpful customer service department. If they do their job right, they should be able to suggest therapists who participate on their panel (which means they have been vetted from here to eternity for all the right professional credentials) and who specialize in what you need.

8. Use the Internet. The difference between the web and the yellow pages is that, for the therapist, listing on reliable websites is not nearly as expensive AND reliable sites require a minimum of professional qualifications to be listed. Psychology Today (PT) probably has one of the more comprehensive listings in the US. They contract with other trustworthy sites like WebMD and this website to provide their list to their readers. A therapist cannot be listed on PT unless they can prove they have a legitimate advanced degree in their discipline and an up to date professional license or certification.

A good listing on PT provides you with information regarding the professional’s qualifications, what areas of expertise they may have, how long they’ve been in practice. They should also have practical stuff posted like phone numbers, where their office is located, office hours and whether or not they accept your insurance.

Caveat: Do not look for a therapist on craigslist!

9. Do a Google search. Once you have a few names go ahead and google them. If they have a blog or a website, explore them. Often you can get a sense of who they are by what they write or what is written about them. Just keep in mind that many good, well-qualified therapists are not on the web. Not finding them there is not a reason to rule them out.

10. Don’t limit yourself. Don’t set limits on yourself unnecessarily by title or by logistics. I refer to as many social workers as I do psychologists. Marriage and Family Therapists (MFT’s) are new to New York but in California, and other parts of the US, they’ve been on the scene for some time. Even some psychiatrists provide psychotherapy along with medication management. Studies show that once core requirements are met in education and certification, the effectiveness of a therapist is not dictated by what letters they have after their name.

Skype and telephone. If you live in an area where it is difficult to find a mental health professional locally, you can always turn to tele-sessions using the telephone or Skype. While Skype counseling is a specialized service on the cutting edge, there are therapists world-wide providing on-line counseling. Skype sessions are available to anyone anywhere as long as the technology is available and a common language is spoken. This service has been a particular boon to Americans over-seas who crave counseling from a familiar voice stateside.

One last thought in your search for a therapist: Try to gather at least two or three names from any given source. That way you can cross-reference, and have choices if one doesn’t work out, moved out of town, retired or just doesn’t suit you. You have a right, even a responsibility to yourself, to be picky.