As a mental health counselor, I am often asked, “How do I find a good therapist?”
People want to know: What is the difference between a psychologist, a psychiatrist, a therapist, and a counselor? Should I get long term therapy or short term therapy? Do I need a therapist that does a specific kind of therapy? I need anger management, who should I see? Do I look for someone with the highest level of education? Someone with the “best” degree? What do all those letters after their names mean? Does it matter if they are licensed? What is the difference between licensed and certified? What is the most legitimate licensing or certification agency?
Honestly, very little of that matters.
From the perspective of someone who has a degree from a fancy school and an admitted bias toward highly educated and certified providers, I’ll tell you this. Make sure that the therapist you pick has:
- Some degree in the mental health field at the master’s or doctorate level
- A period of supervised clinical experience, and
- Some kind of active clinical license with the state and/or certification with a well-established, reputable agency or organization at the state or national level such as the NBCC, NASW, ABPP or NBCPC
The Most Important Factor
Other than those things, the most important factor in picking a therapist is the feeling you have about them when talking to them on the phone or meeting them face-to-face. Do they make you feel safe? Do you feel comfortable speaking with them and being in their office?
It is well-known through research that the RELATIONSHIP you have with the therapist, not the “type” of therapy they do, is what makes the therapy work.
The therapist’s primary job is to provide a safe, confidential place for you to work through whatever ails you. If anything in the process of searching for, contacting or meeting a therapist feels “off,” pay attention, you probably do not feel safe. Consequently, you may want to find another provider. This is because, if you don’t feel safe, you will not establish the kind of relationship that is going to ultimately help you.
One last factor that might help you find a good therapist is to get a referral from someone you trust rather than picking one from a list. This might help you feel more comfortable with the therapist, since the other person will have done some of the work of “feeling them out” for you.
That said, the most important consideration is your comfort.
Keep this in the forefront of your mind as you search.