How to Choose a Therapist

I chose the first therapist I met.

I had a churning mix of dark feelings that felt like they would never go away, shifting between feeling paralyzed, drowning, alone, lost, trapped, hopeless, and broken. At the time, every practical task felt overwhelming. I didn’t think too hard about the choice, the location, or even the cost. Comparing therapists sounded like just one more thing I couldn’t handle. I was desperately trying to manage the vicious thought loops that sounded like Mean Girls, confusing and breaking me down. I forced myself to make the phone calls and get to that first appointment.  

Then after months working with my therapist, and seeing some improvement, I moved to a new state. I had to find another therapist. Then I moved again.

Over the years, I’ve moved at least four times, one of the many moving around for college, jobs, or relationships. Moving is difficult on its own, a long adjustment to get settled, feel at home, and build up new relationships. But your past follows you where you go. Finding a new therapist is one more overwhelming piece of getting settled. I usually put it off until I was desperate.  

So I’ve had to find a new therapist four times now. This last time, I tried searching for a therapist with help from Sophia. I wanted to pick carefully this time, since although I’d had three helpful therapists already, I’d never taken the time to consider different therapy approaches and methods. Now I was healthy and in a good situation, with more energy to talk with a few different therapists. Sophia was a simple tool to help break through the vast number of choices, doing the difficult work of finding a few possible matches. It saved me from sorting endlessly through online directories, then getting overwhelmed and giving up. And they offered to refund if I didn’t like a therapist after booking my first session.

Once I had three top matches from Sophia, I ended up reaching out and talking with all three new therapists. Each seemed like they might work for me, so I decided to reach out. To give them a shot. To try.

Here’s what I’ve learned, after working or talking with 6 therapists:

1. Keep it simple. If you might need help, don’t overthink the choice to reach out. If you’re anything like me, you’ll overthink it. You’ll make excuses. You’ll wait until you’re desperate. Your negative thoughts will block you from asking for help.

I found that sometimes by the time I made it into therapy, I was actually worse than I’d thought. I’d made excuses about why I couldn’t go. I’d been pretending to myself that I was okay.

Even if you’re not sure about therapy,  it doesn’t hurt to reach out and ask. You aren’t committing to anything by sending an email or making a phone call. That doesn’t cost anything. At the least, try it.

If you’re trying Sophia, then just ask for your own therapist matches. Once you have them, don’t wait. Don't let yourself stall. Reach out to the first one that sticks out to you. Or the first on the list. Or all three. It can take just a few minutes to get started.

If you get overwhelmed with choices and logistics, like me, then keep it simple. I tell myself it’s just a phone call. It’s just an email. I don’t want to make excuses anymore. I don’t need to wait until things are terrible or totally falling apart.

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2. Don’t feel pressured to choose a therapist right away. Talk with them first. You can’t really tell what a person is like from an online profile, for something like dating or therapy. You can get an idea, but you might feel different on the phone or in person.

Many answers are clearer over the phone or in person, including logistical questions about scheduling and price. Do you have worries about therapy, medication, cost, or other circumstances? Did you have a bad therapy experience in the past? Bring those concerns up.

Make a list of questions if that makes you feel better, or wing it if you’re like me and try not to overthink it. Just be honest and say what you’re thinking. Be open. Be yourself.

While I talked with the three new therapists, I was curious to hear how they approached situations like mine. Through listening to their approaches, I realized that I’d changed my mind. I’d started looking for someone who focused on cognitive behavioral therapy. While asking about their approaches and listening, I realized the therapists who incorporated expressive art therapy were the better fit for me at the moment. I often feel like the logical and creative sides of me are at war - leaning into the arts was one more tool for reconciling and balancing those sides.

So listen to what the therapist says, and also what you’re saying. You might not know what you need initially. That’s okay. You might even catch yourself bringing up an issue for the first time, something you’ve avoided thinking about or saying. You can learn from these shorter phone conversations, about the therapist and also yourself.

Until you’ve talked with one or more therapists, try not to worry or feel pressured. Stay open. Then plan that first date.

3. Go with your gut. After talking with three new therapists, I found all my questions had become one big question. All those worries about cost, scheduling, therapy methods, and whether this was even what I needed right now boiled down to this: Would I want to talk with this therapist again?

When you start looking for a therapist, you wonder, how do I find the right therapist? How do I know if this therapist is a good fit? How can I make the cost and scheduling work out?

But you can’t really know until you try. Until you visit.

That first visit, there is always a little extra stress. Traveling to a new place, getting in the entrance, nerves in a waiting room, then meeting someone new, and talking about your biggest challenges. But it gets easier, by the second and third time, it’s familiar and you get more comfortable with all those little logistics. You know where it is, you can start to feel even a little at home there. You build trust and can open up more.

I liked all three therapists I spoke with. But with one of them, everything fell into place. The logistics fit, so it would be easier for me to go back on a regular basis. I felt like I was the most open with her, the most myself. Like I connected with her and felt understood.

At that point, the choice was simplified. I had enough information to trust my gut.

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4. Try it. Don't avoid asking for the help you need. After my most recent move, I avoided going back to therapy for a while. Finding a therapist was a hassle and cost that I could avoid for now, I reasoned. I was doing very well, after all! I convinced myself that my circumstantial stress was manageable, I’d learned to live with my regular anxieties, and I was not depressed.

By the time I started seeing my newest therapist, I realized just how much stress was really on my plate. How close my anxiety was to overwhelming me. How much effort it took to keep back my dark, negative thoughts. How one unexpected life event could quickly push me back into a depressive episode.

But if every day is full of negative voices, challenging circumstances, and dark thoughts, or you feel trapped, held back, overwhelmed, or like you can’t do this alone… then just reach out. Whether that is to the Sophia team here, or another source like a hotline, a university counseling center, your insurance network, even a trusted friend or family member. Ask for the support you need. We all need a little help sometimes (or a lot of help, which is okay too).

Some weeks, going to therapy can be a big relief and ease my mental burden. Other weeks, therapy feels like effort, and difficult work, and I wish I could go back to ignorance and avoiding my own demons. But the things I’ve learned in therapy have stuck with me over the years. Whatever I spend on one session, I keep those lessons with me forever. Those have had a long-term, lasting impact on my whole life.

So there’s no shame in choosing the first therapist you reach. I’ve done that three times. Each therapist helped me work through difficult life events or break out of episodes of crippling depression and anxiety.

There are many excellent therapists (I’ve met at least six of them). Try to meet one. Reach out and see if you can find someone who can help you wade through the darkness, loneliness, or uncertainty.

If you want to feel happier, recover, heal, or simply feel better… why wait? Can you give therapy a try?

For a more comprehensive guide on how to find a therapist, click here.