For many people, finding a good therapist can be challenging. There may not be many options in your area, or you might feel like you’re not connecting with the therapists you do meet. However, a good therapist can help you develop the personal skills and confidence you need to understand your own mental health better for the rest of your life — so finding someone right for you is worth the effort.
Picking a good therapist can help you get treatment that could help you for the rest of your life. In other words, some tried-and-true methods for finding a therapist that will help you reach your therapeutic goals are:
1. Consult your provider directory
If you plan to apply for therapy through your insurance plan, your first step might be to look through your plan’s provider network.
It’s also a good idea to find out whether your plan limits the number of sessions you can attend each year and whether using an out-of-network therapist will affect your out-of-pocket costs.
2. Ask someone you trust
A referral from a friend, colleague, or doctor you trust is another way to find a therapist who might be a good fit for you.
While a referral is a good place to start, it’s important to recognize that you may have different needs and goals with your therapy than the person giving you the recommendation.
So, a good match for them might not be as beneficial to you, but referrals are still a great way to start the search.
3. Use a reliable online database
Several mental health organizations maintain up-to-date, searchable databases of licensed therapists.
Your search could start as simply as typing in your ZIP code to generate a list of counselors in your area. You may also be able to search for specialists, like marriage and family counselors or therapists who focus on drug and alcohol use.
Some of the most commonly used online search tools include:
- American Psychological Association
- American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists
- Association of LGBTQ+ Psychiatrists
4. Explore local resources
Your community may also have resources to help you. If you’re a student, check to see if your school provides access to a counseling center.
If you’re employed, your human resources team might offer a list of therapists available through workplace wellness or employee assistance programs.
If you need counseling related to domestic or sexual abuse, you might be able to find sessions for individual and/or group therapy through a local advocacy organization.
If you want your faith to inform your treatment, you might consider reaching out to your church, synagogue, mosque, or other worship centers for a list of licensed therapists affiliated with your faith.
5. Reach out to organizations that address your area of concern
If you’re looking for a therapist to help with a specific mental health issue, you might find local therapists through a national association, network, or helpline that specializes in the area you are concerned with.
Here are a few examples of organizations that offer search tools to help you find a specialized therapist near you:
- National Eating Disorders Association
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America
- National Center for PTSD
If your job is a source of stress and anxiety, you might find local therapists through a professional organization made for your particular industry and occupation.
Many of these organizations and trade unions have resources to help you identify professionals who can assist with mental health needs. For example, the International Association of Firefighters offers help with mental health, PTSD, and substance abuse for firefighters.
Resources for People of Color
Access to culture-conscious therapists is also important to consider for your well-being and comfort. Here are some resources to look at that might help you find the therapist you're looking for:
- The Yellow Couch Collective, an online support group for Black women
- Therapy for Black Girls
- Black Mental Health Alliance
- The National Asian American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association is a nonprofit dedicated to the mental health and well-being of the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.
- WeRNative, which provides Native American youth with tools for holistic health and growth, including mental health resources.
- Nina Pop Mental Health Recovery Fund and Tony McDade Mental Health Recovery Fund, a group that offers therapy sessions to help Black transgender people
- Therapy for Latinx
6. Think about your goals ahead of time
What do you want to accomplish in therapy? StudiesTrusted Source has found that when you and your therapist both work together toward the same goals, your outlook will be better. At the same time, you could start looking at the kinds of treatment available and consider who else might be able to help you effectively. Of course, communicating with a qualified therapist is the best way to figure out what treatment works for you.
If medication will help with your symptoms, you’ll most likely be referred to a psychiatrist or practitioner who can prescribe medications and offer you more information about this treatment.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy have been also effective for others with certain conditions and disorders. There are therapists that you may turn to instead who have certifications and specialized training in these treatment approaches.
If you want to be part of a supportive network of people who understand your experiences, you may want to consider looking for a therapist who is involved with support groups or group therapy sessions.
Your goals may change as you work with a therapist. It’s okay to talk to your therapist about changing the direction of your treatment plan as your needs evolve. Don't be afraid to address what you think is not working and what you need.
7. Try an online therapy app
There are multiple ways to find the help you need as well. Online therapy apps might make therapy more accessible for you. Talkspace and Betterhelp both offer tools to help you explore the kind of therapy you want. They can also match you with a licensed, accredited therapist you can work with online or via phone.
Some people find a digital therapy platform to be more convenient and more affordable than in-person therapy. Weekly sessions range from $35 to $80 for online therapy.
At least one study trusted Source found that people with depression felt their symptoms improve after online sessions. It’s worth noting, however, that two of the researchers involved with this study were consultants or employees of the digital therapy provider used.
8. Ask questions about the things that matter to you
When you meet your therapist, whether it’s online, on the phone, or in person, it’s not uncommon to completely forget every question you wanted to ask.
To make sure you have the information you need to make a good decision, keep paper and a pen, or a notes app, on hand for a few days before your meeting. Jot down questions as they come to you.
The American Psychological Association suggests a few questions for you to consider asking your therapist during your first session:
- Are you a licensed psychologist in this state?
- How many years have you been in practice?
- How much experience do you have working with people who are dealing with [the issue you’d like to resolve]?
- What do you consider to be your specialty or area of expertise?
- What kinds of treatments have you found effective in resolving [the issue you’d like to resolve]?
- What insurance do you accept?
- Will I need to pay you directly and then seek reimbursement from my insurance company, or do you bill the insurance company?
- Are you part of my insurance network?
- Do you accept Medicare or Medicaid?
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America adds questions like these:
- If I need medication, can you prescribe it or recommend someone who does?
- Do you provide access to telehealth services?
- How soon can I expect to start feeling better?
- What do we do if our treatment plan isn’t working?
Note: If you’ve ever been abused by someone in authority or affected by historic trauma or racism, you may want to ask questions that help you find out whether a potential therapist is culturally informed and sensitive to your experiences.
9. Pay close attention to your responses
No matter how many professional accreditations your therapist has, your own feelings of trust and comfort should be your top priority. Will the therapy be uncomfortable from time to time? Possibly. After all, you’ll likely be discussing difficult, personal topics.
But if you feel uncomfortable with your therapist for any other reason, it’s all right to look for someone else.
You don’t need a reason to switch therapists. It’s enough that you don’t feel comfortable.
Here are a few things to notice as you talk with your therapist:
- Does the therapist interrupt you, or do they listen carefully to what you’re saying?
- How does your body feel during a therapy session? Do you feel tense?
- Does the therapist respect your time by being prompt to appointments?
- Does the therapist brush off or invalidate your concerns?
- Do you feel seen, heard, and respected during your session?
The Bottom Line
Whether you’re coping with grief, trauma, or relationship issues, or want treatment for a mental illness, finding a helpful therapist can make a big difference in your journey.
To find a therapist who’s a good fit, start by considering practical matters like licensure, insurance coverage, location, and specialties.
You may find that friends, colleagues, and your healthcare providers are a good source of referrals. You may also find options by using search tools provided by organizations that address your specific concerns.
When you’ve narrowed down your choices, you may find it helpful to think about your goals and questions, so you can be sure you and your therapist are well matched and aligned on your treatment plan.
Last but not least, finding the right therapist is a personal matter. Human connection is at the heart of effective therapy, and you can build that sense of connection whether you meet your therapist in person, on the phone, or online.