How to Choose a Good Therapist

Updated: Oct 2, 2020

First step: Identify a therapist

There are a couple of different routes to finding a therapist. If you are wanting to use your insurance you can call your insurance directly and ask for a list of covered providers in your area. Some insurance companies let you search on their website for this. When speaking with you insurance make sure to ask them

(1) what types of therapies are covered?

(2) is there a session limit?

(3) what will be the out of pocket cost to you?

(4) is there a referral required from a primary care physician?

(5) are there specific diagnosis that must be present in order for the session to be covered?

Another way to search for a therapist is by using a website such as this website allows you to search by zip code as well as gender, price, insurance, and topic. There is a feature to email a therapist to ask questions as well as short bios on each therapist. When emailing a therapist, you can simply say:

"Hello, I am inquiring to see if you are currently taking new clients for individual therapy. If you are please let me know your fee, whether you accept X insurance, and when it may be convenient to schedule a short phone call to see if we would be a good fit. Thank you"

If a therapist responds with a price that you cannot afford, it is always ok to respond asking whether they offer a sliding scale. A sliding scale means people with different income levels pay different prices. You can say something like, "Thank you for the information. $100 is out of my budget at this time. Do you offer any appointments on a sliding scale?" If they do not you can ask them for a referral to someone that does.

Note: A reputable therapy search site specifically for black women is

Second Step: Consultation

Any counselor worth their salt will be willing to give you a 15 minute phone consultation. The purpose of this consultation is to see if you would be a good fit to work together. They won't give you any advice on your specific issues but they will ask and answer questions about their counseling style and experience. Here are 5 questions to ask in a consult:

1) What days and times do you see clients?

If you have a pretty flexible schedule you may not need to ask this. However, not all therapists see clients on evenings or weekends so if you will need a session during those times its best to get this answer at the beginning.

2) What kind of experience do you have working with _____?

You want a therapist that has experience in the types of issues you experience. It is good to ask this question both about your identity or role and about your issues. For example, "What kind of experience do you have working with transgender individuals...interracial couple...depression...trauma?"

3) In terms of your approach, what does a typical session look like?

The reason we ask the question this way is it forces the therapist to describe what the practical application of their theory looks like. If you ask "what is your approach" they may answer is broad terms about counseling theory. But saying "I take a cognitive behavioral therapy approach" doesn't tell you much unless you already know what that therapy means. Asking them what a typical session looks like will get you a better answer as to whether they are active, passive, use a lot of homework, ask a lot of questions, etc.

4) I am looking to attend therapy for the (short/long) term. How long do you typically see clients?

Whether you are looking for a long term therapeutic relationship or a short-term (a few sessions or weeks) approach, you need to see what this therapist has experience with and whether they think they can meet your goals within your time frame.

5) Do you have any questions for me?

The therapist will probably ask you to describe what issues you are facing to see if they feel they can help you. You don't have to tell your life story at this time. I simple, "I have been experiencing a lot of mood swings" or "I am going through a divorce and want some support" will do. They will ask you follow up questions.

Third Step: Verifying credentials:

If you would like to double check your counselors credentials you can google: your state + license title + “license verification." For example: "Texas + licensed professional counselor + license verification" will bring up a website where you can look up this person's license.

Fourth Step: First Session

It's is important to recognize that this first session is not a marriage ceremony, it's a job interview. You are getting to know them and their approach while they get to know your background. They will probably begin by asking you to "tell me a little about yourself" or "So what brings you to therapy?" A good way to answer is, "I am hoping to get some support on some issues I am experiencing. I'd like to tell you a little about myself and then talk about my expectations for therapy." You can tell them about what problems you have been experiencing and then bring up these topics:

1. Things therapists (or friends) have done that have helped me in the past:

If you have been in therapy before, let the therapist know about your past experiences in counseling and what approaches worked well for you. Ask them if they can utilize these approaches. For example, "In the past, I have worked well with therapists that lead the conversation and ask lots of questions. Is that something you can do?" If you have never had a therapist you can talk about what anyone has done that is helpful. For example, "It really helps me when my friends just listen to my problems without trying to fix them. Is that something you can do?"

2. Things therapists (or friends) have done that have been very unhelpful:

It's also important to tell the therapist about approaches others have tried that did NOT work for you. This includes harmful or hurtful things past counselors have said. For example, "I had a therapist that just sat there and nodded and i hated it. I always wished he would participate more." or "I had a therapist say I needed to lose weight if I wanted to succeed and I really do not want my physical appearance discussed like that."

3. During therapy, I would like to first focus on: a. Exploring the roots of these issues and where they came from OR b. Developing coping skills for the present.

Good therapy can focus on exploring where issues originated from and understanding where your beliefs come from and how to change them. Good therapy can also focus on how to get through the day without having a panic attack. Both are valid, you just need to let your therapist know which is your priority right now.

4. My biggest concern about therapy is:

I recommend talking openly in the first session about what your concerns or hesitations about therapy are so you can see how your therapist reacts and plans to help.

5. Do you engage in professional supervision?

Professional supervision is when therapists meet with other therapists and discuss (without breaking your confidentiality) the cases they are working on. They do this to get input on best practices and to talk about what comes up for them so they can be self-aware, do their own work, and remain professional and helpful during sessions. I always recommend finding someone who engages in peer supervision.

6. Religion, Sexuality, Gender, and Medication. These are important areas you need to ask your therapist about to ensure they are going to approach your care with respect. It is not enough to ask "are you comfortable working with a lesbian?" or "do you work with atheists?" You need to ask questions that force the therapist to divulge any prejudices or barriers they may have to honoring you and your journey. Find all of the above info plus examples of how to ask these specific questions on my FINDING A THERAPIST pdf below.

7. Policy Questions: What is your cancellation policy? and Do you offer emergency sessions or phone calls? are both good things to know

Fifth Step: After the first session you will either say, "I would like to set up another session and begin working together" or "Thank you for your time. I don't think it's a good fit for right now." If you feel uncomfortable about the second phrase, you can always add "Thank you for your time. I can tell you're a great therapist but I don't think we are the right fit for now" This may be a more comfortable way to grease the exit :)

Download PDF • 170KB

Another resource for you: if you are looking to begin a conversation with a new or existing therapist about what approach you would like to explore, here is a downloadable scale you can fill out and take into session to discuss

Therapist Qualities worksheet
Download PDF • 105KB

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