How to Choose the Right Therapist for You
If you’ve made the decision to start therapy, you’re already on the right path to feeling better and reaching your mental health goals. The next step is to pick the therapist who’s right for you, which may be easier said than done.
Choosing the specific therapist you’d like to work with isn’t a decision that should be taken lightly. While all licensed mental health professionals have undergone extensive training and are qualified to provide therapy, certain types of therapists are better suited for certain people, depending on their individual needs. You want to make sure that the therapist you work with is the one best equipped to understand your concerns and help you on your mental health journey.
Here are some tips for choosing a therapist, as well as a breakdown of some different types of mental health professionals.
Why You Might Choose One Therapist Over Another
There’s a lot to consider when you’re choosing the therapist who’s the best fit for you. Here are five factors to think about.
Your mental health goals
What you’re hoping to achieve in therapy should be one of the main deciding factors when choosing a therapist. First, determine what your goal is going into therapy. For example, is it to learn techniques to manage your anxiety? Is it to cope with the changes that come along with being a new parent? Is it to process past trauma? Once you’ve identified your mental health goals, you can work towards finding a therapist who specializes in the areas that you need the most help with.
If you’ve already been diagnosed with a mental health condition, it may be helpful to work with a therapist who specializes in (or has plenty of experience with) your diagnosis.
Many therapists share the same credentials, but they may have additional training in certain specific types of therapy. Different therapy modalities can be helpful for different mental health conditions. For example:
- Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) may be ideal for people with suicidal ideation, a history of self-harm, or borderline personality disorder.
- Exposure and response prevention (ERP) is one of the most effective types of therapy for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is used to help people with PTSD process past trauma.
Some other common types of therapy modalities include:
- Acceptance and commitment therapy
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Internal family systems (IFS) therapy
- Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT)
Cost and insurance plans accepted
Cost often plays a big role in deciding on a therapist who is the best fit for you, since finances can be a barrier to therapy. If a therapist doesn’t accept insurance, you may look for one who has a sliding scale, meaning they provide lower costs for people with lower incomes. If you have health insurance with mental health benefits, you can look for a provider who accepts your specific plan so you can pay less. Depending on your deductible, copays, and out-of-pocket maximum, the price of therapy will vary. Once you confirm that a therapist accepts your plan, you can contact your insurance to determine the exact cost of each session.
While you don’t need to have a therapist who’s similar to you, in some situations it can be helpful to work with a mental health professional who really understands your struggles or is aligned with your beliefs. For example, if you’re LGBTQIA+ or a person of color, you may want a therapist who’s also a part of that respective community so they can better understand some of the unique struggles you face on a personal level.
There are many types of mental health professionals who can provide therapy, including licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs), licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFTs), psychologists, psychiatrists, and more. Different licenses are an indication of the type of education and training an individual has completed. Many therapists have very similar training, although psychologists and psychiatrists have gone through more schooling. In some cases, you may want a specific licensure, like a psychiatrist who’s a medical doctor if you also need medication prescribed to you, or an LMFT if most of your concerns revolve around familial relationships.
Different Types of Therapists
Many types of licenses and specialties exist within the mental health space. Nine examples of common different types of therapists include:
Licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs)
LCSWs typically earn a master’s degree in social work (MSW) before going on to complete real-world clinical training. These professionals may work with individuals and help them cope with their mental health struggles, or, they might work on a larger scale, such as helping run community programs.
Licensed mental health counselors (LMHCs)
LMHCs usually hold master’s degrees in psychology or counseling, and complete training specific to mental health. They’re considered to be similar to LCSWs, although their training and experience may lie more within treating individual mental health conditions as opposed to community-based social work.
Licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFTs)
While LMFTs can certainly address an individual’s various mental health concerns, their specialized training lies in working with people who are struggling with interpersonal relationships. They may help couples (married or not) and/or family members who need assistance with their relationships.
Addiction therapists are the best fit for anyone coping with addiction since they have completed additional training in understanding the complexity of addiction, different types of addictions, and the best ways to treat them. They may have experience working in rehabs, inpatient programs, or extensive outpatient programs.
Eating disorder therapists
Eating disorder therapists are trained to understand and treat eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, or binge-eating disorder. They may collaborate with nutritionists or dietitians to help someone with an eating disorder develop healthier eating habits.
Trauma therapists have specialized training and experience working with people who have experienced trauma. They know how trauma can manifest and affect somebody’s life, and consequently, they’re skilled in treatment modalities that help someone process and cope with past trauma.
Psychologists have doctorate-level education. They may be a doctor of psychology (PsyD) or a doctor of philosophy (PhD). Compared to LCSWs, LMHCs, and LMFTs, psychologists undergo a few more years of schooling. They vary in specializations and can diagnose and treat mental health conditions.
Psychiatrists are either medical doctors (MDs) or doctors of osteopathic medicine (DOs). They have undergone extensive schooling and completed a medical residency. On top of providing therapy, they are able to prescribe medications for mental health conditions, such as antidepressants.
Psychoanalysts are typically psychologists who have gone on to complete advanced training in psychoanalysis. These professionals focus on analyzing individuals’ personalities, behaviors, and both their unconscious and conscious selves.
Referrals from One Mental Health Provider to Another
While in therapy, it’s possible for your therapist to refer you to another mental health provider. This may be the case if you’re seeing a therapist like an LCSW or LMHC and they believe that you might benefit from psychiatric medication. In this situation, they’ll refer you to a psychiatrist who can meet with you, evaluate your symptoms, diagnose you, and prescribe medications if they think it’s the right path. You would likely still see your original therapist for therapy sessions, while also seeing the psychiatrist for medication management check-ins.
Alternatively, if a therapist feels like they aren’t the best fit to help you reach your goals, they might refer you to a colleague who they think would be better suited to work with you. Ultimately, a good therapist will look out for you and act in your best interest, even if that means they end up losing you as a client.
Ultimately, the right therapist for you is the one who makes you feel safe, understood, and supported. Considering your goals and thoroughly looking into a potential therapist’s experience and background is a great way to find someone who might be a good match.
Ready to take the jump and try therapy out for yourself? You can search here through our community of in-network, qualified therapists and psychiatrists, or work with our expert matching team to find someone. Call our team at 1(786)244-7690 to book a session today.