A guide to finding the right therapist for you and when to switch to a different one

Therapist
Research your therapist and their specialities so you can find one who specializes in your area of concern. FatCamera/ Getty Images
  • Look for a therapist that specializes in your particular area of concern and who is well-reviewed.
  • Therapy can treat a number of conditions including anxiety, depression, and eating disorders.
  • Don’t be afraid of trying different therapists until you find one that fits you and your needs.
  • Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.

Whether you’re seeking therapy for a specific reason or simply for personal growth and development, finding the right therapist is the first step.

Part of finding the right therapist, is finding one who specializes in your area of concern. For example, certain issues like addiction, eating disorders, and psychotic disorders may require a specialist.

It’s also important to find a therapist you can build a strong relationship with. “Look for a therapist who you can develop a collaborative and professional relationship with – this is called a therapeutic alliance,” says Jeffrey Cohen, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist at Columbia University Irving Medical Center.

“Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, empowers people with coping skills to navigate life’s challenges, at work or school, or in relationships. It can also help with adjustments to life changes, such as coping with a pandemic, a divorce, or the loss of a loved one,” says Cohen.

According to Cohen, you and your therapist should agree upon the goals for treatment and understand how the therapy will help you reach those goals, to help you get to the life you want to be living.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), you may start to feel better after the first six to 12 sessions. “You should see concrete improvements in your life within the first several sessions and also have an understanding of how additional changes could happen,” says Cohen.

Here’s what you need to know about the different types of therapy and how to go about finding the right therapist.

How do you find a therapist that fits you?

When you’re looking for a therapist, you need to find someone who specializes in your area of concern. For example, if you are dealing with an addiction, you may need a therapist who specializes in substance use disorders.

When you look for a psychotherapist, Cohen recommends choosing a licensed professional. “There are many licensed mental health professionals including social workers and MDs, however clinical psychologists with a PhD or PsyD generally have the most training in providing evidence-based psychotherapy, which is therapy backed by science,” he says.

Types of therapy

When you’re looking for a therapist, it’s important to understand that there are different types of therapy so you need to narrow down which ones may be appropriate for you. Fortunately, many therapists are trained in more than one type of therapy:

  • Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT): This form of therapy helps you identify thoughts and behaviors that you want to change, and the therapist helps you create a plan to make those changes, says Cohen. CBT can help treat anxiety, depression, trauma, and eating disorders. For instance, it can help you identify and alter unhealthy thought patterns that contribute to an eating disorder.
  • Interpersonal therapy (IPT): This is a short-term type of therapy that can help improve communication and social functioning, and address interpersonal issues, like relationship problems, the loss of a loved one, or social/professional transitions.
  • Psychodynamic and psychoanalytic therapy: These types of therapy attempt to identify unconscious causes behind emotional and mental patterns and increase self-awareness, to help you make more rational decisions and take charge of your life. These forms of therapy can benefit people with personality disorders and complex psychiatric disorders, which is when a person may have more than one mental health condition.
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT): DBT can help people with suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, trauma, and borderline personality disorder. This type of therapy includes individual and group sessions, according to Cohen.”DBT incorporates a dialectical worldview which means two opposite ideas can be true at the same time. It balances the acceptance of ourselves where we are, while also changing what we want to change,” says Cohen.

How to tell if a therapist is “good”?

Online reviews can help you make sure the therapist hasn’t engaged in inappropriate behavior or left their clients unsatisfied. Finding a therapist who is well-reviewed and has experience working with people with your condition or background can help increase your chances of a strong therapeutic alliance.

Factors like gender, race, language, and sexuality can play a part in how comfortable you are with your therapist.

Cohen recommends setting goals with your therapist that you mutually agree on and seeking measurement-based care where your therapist periodically checks on your progress, possibly with questionnaires, to make sure you are progressing.

Some people may start to see improvements in their life after six to 12 sessions; however, it could take longer for others. According to the APA, around 50% of people say they feel better after 15 to 20 sessions.

However, if after several sessions you’re not feeling any better or haven’t formed a strong alliance with your therapist, it may be time to take a different approach or consider changing your therapist. “If you don’t see any changes in your life and you don’t understand how future change could occur, discuss this with your therapist,” says Cohen.

It’s important to remember that you also need to participate in your care. “Remember, if you are not attending your therapy appointments regularly or you are not doing the therapy homework, it is unlikely you will see major progress,” says Cohen.

In that case, he recommends talking to your therapist about what is getting in the way of you fully participating in treatment.

How much does therapy cost?

The average cost of a therapy session is between $100 and $200; however it could cost more, depending on the therapist’s experience and your location. Since therapy can be pretty expensive, especially if you have to do it one to three times a week, it’s important that you make sure they take your insurance.

These are some questions you should ask your insurance provider before you get started with a therapist:

  • Does this plan cover mental health providers?
  • Is there a limit to the number of sessions you can attend?
  • Can you choose your provider or do you have to go to the one your primary care physician refers you to?
  • Is the provider you have chosen covered by your insurance plan?
  • What are the copayment and deductible amounts?

Insider’s takeaway

Looking for a therapist can be an overwhelming process; however, you could start narrowing it down by finding someone who specializes in your area of concern. If you don’t have a diagnosed mental health issue, you may be seeking a diagnosis to explain your behavior or feelings. You can consult your primary care physician on how to proceed or undergo screening to help determine your condition.

According to Cohen, therapy should ideally serve the purpose of a batting cage in your life. “Just like a baseball player goes to the batting cage to practice the skill of batting for the baseball game, you go to therapy to learn skills to use in your life,” he says.

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