Q: How do I choose a therapist?
Updated: Apr 17, 2020
Simple and intuitive start to finding the right therapist.
I’d like to start off by saying welcome! I’m Dr. Meagan Stanley (as you may have guessed) and I’m a licensed clinical psychologist. I work in private practice in Newport Beach, CA, and from time to time, work as an adjunct undergraduate professor.
At first, I thought this would be a great way to connect with my clients and students while I’m not in the office or in the classroom. But as I presented the idea of starting a blog to my friends and family, I came to the realization that people have a lot of questions about psychology, therapy, and, most importantly, how to live a peaceful and happy life.
This is great news. I have found more and more that the conversation about mental health is a becoming an increasingly open and less stigmatized one. I have noticed that people are really searching for answers—on the Internet, with their friends, with their therapist, and sometimes, with whoever is willing to listen. We all want to feel less alone as we tackle this oftentimes frightening thing called life.
And that’s what I aim to do here. I want to provide as many answers, based on my own personal experience, clinical work, and current research. Some questions don’t have a straightforward answer, or honestly, shouldn’t have a straightforward answer. It’s important to me to leave room for your own thoughts and interpretations, as a gentle and friendly reminder to embrace the mystery of it all. And guess what? Therapists don’t know everything (maybe lesson one of this post should be to be wary if one is insisting that they do).
That brings us to our first question. How do I choose a therapist? I get this one a lot and I think it comes up for many reasons. One, our healthcare system is confusing. Therapy doesn’t necessary fit into the “medical model” that informs healthcare in the United States and finding and choosing a therapist isn’t the same as selecting a physician. Navigating this process is one I’m happy to discuss but will have to be left for a future post.
Assuming you have a referral list of therapists to choose from, whether that be populated through your insurance company, a google search, or given to you by your doctor, next you will have to choose someone to work with. First, let’s talk about “fit.” We throw this word around, especially within research—the “fit” between therapist and client. On a basic level, this means that therapy works best when there is an alignment between therapist and client, which will form the basis of therapeutic rapport. Most often when therapists refer to this, we are thinking about our style of therapy (as well as values and general vibe) and if the client will be receptive to that type of therapy.
So, what does this mean for you? I could sit here and explain the types of therapy and the “type of people” that those therapies would theoretically work best for (and I still may do that since I also get this question often as well). However, if I were to do this, I would be ignoring a massive amount of information about you, the client. What this means for you is that you decide what “fit” means.
To decide this, you must first speak to potential therapists directly. Yes, that means picking up the phone and calling different therapists. I know this feels archaic, but this really gives you your best chance of knowing if a therapist is right for you. Sure, you can narrow your list by looking at websites and bios. But to fully know, you must talk to them (you’ll be doing a lot scarier things with this person in the future, so might as well jump right in!). A good therapist will understand the risk you took to make the call. You’re looking for someone who is caring and understanding, even if you aren’t yet paying them.
Notice how you feel when talking this person. Do they seem motivated to get to know you? To help you? To listen to you? Do you feel like you trust them as you tell them information about yourself? I will likely say this countless times, across countless articles, but listen to what your intuition is telling you.
Other tips to consider: Try not to be swayed too much by credentials or educational clout. There are good and bad therapists with impressive degrees just as there are good and bad student therapists. Also, you can always change therapists. You may have connected with someone over the phone or in the first few sessions, but if you aren’t forming a lasting bond with this person, it may be necessary to find a new therapist (again, more on this in another post!). Remember, you are giving this person a lot of you (emotionally and maybe financially!) and it’s important you feel good about the work you are doing together.
That’s all for now. Remember to be kind and trust yourself.