Finding a Good Therapist

Finding a Good Therapist

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The first time I ever encountered therapy was when I was 19 and my parents were concerned that I was “lacking motivation in my life”. Although I was not wild about the idea, I assumed that every therapist I sat in front of was just as good as the next one. I ended up, like many people, choosing a therapist that was recommended by my family’s insurance company. Over the twelve weeks that I went to therapy I engaged in long conversations generally led by my therapist that revolved around my struggle with motivation in my life. While I found it beneficial to be able to vent each week about my problems, I never really felt like the sessions addressed the source of my motivation issue. 

As a trained therapist today, I look back on that experience and realize there were a number of issues present that made my therapist a poor fit for my needs. My therapist never completed a treatment plan or set any goals with me. Additionally, there were multiple parts of my narrative that I found to be important that my therapist did not. He also talked about himself habitually, sharing stories that often felt comparative. Although I recognize that he could have been a good fit for some clients, he was not a good fit for me. 

So, if someone has decided they are ready for therapy, which alone, takes courage, what should individuals, partners, and families be looking for? What questions should you be asking in that first phone consultation or session?

Often before that initial internet search individuals and their families seek advice from those that they know and trust. Referrals from family and friends can be an excellent way to find a qualified therapist who know his or her stuff. Credentials to look for are licensed professional counselors (LPC) who have at minimum a master’s degree in counseling or related field, a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) or licensed social worker (LSW) who may have more case management experience, or a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) who has training in specifically working with couples and families. If you or your child is having issues in school, a licensed educational psychologist (LEP) or licensed clinical therapist (LCP) could be helpful. The best way to check up on a professional’s license is through your states Consumer Affairs website for your state. For Californians:

Take a look at their online involvement. A therapist’s websites can be an excellence place to find a therapist’s rates, therapeutic focus, and whether they might be accepting new clients. Here’s ours: Furthermore, it can be helpful to look into a therapist’s social media presence. A search for Facebook pages, blogs, and/or professional articles can often provide potential client’s a clearer understanding of a therapist’s clinical focus and expertise. There are numerous therapist databases like Psychology Today, Good Therapy, and The Therapist Directory of San Diego that provide succinct profiles of therapists, detailing education/experience, session costs, and clinical focus. Many therapists specialize in specific areas like addiction, trauma, LGBTQIA issues, play therapy, and many others. Finding a practitioner who has experience in your area of need is part of finding a therapist who is a good fit for you. Much of this information can be found out through the initial phone/in-person consultation.

Most practitioners offer a free initial consultation over the phone or in person for clients seeking therapy. It is in these consultations that clients are able to ask questions and speak briefly about what is bringing them into therapy. In my phone consultations I am transparent about the importance of the therapist-client relationship. I let potential clients know that I will check in with them periodically throughout the therapy process to make sure that I am meeting their needs and we are making progress towards goals. Research suggests that the quality of the client-therapist relationship is a fundamental predictor of successful mental health outcomes independent of the type of therapy used. I rarely hear a client suggest that it was a specific intervention that motivated a change in their life. More often I hear that a client felt heard and understood and valued by their counselor. They speak about the power of the relationship. Here are a number of good questions to ask in your initial consultation.

Therapist Expertise

  • How long have you been practicing?
  • What licenses and certifications do you have and which professional organizations do you belong to?
  • What is your general philosophy and approach to helping? 
  • Are you more directive or more guiding?
  • Do you understand, and are you comfortable working with multicultural issues?
  • Have you been in therapy yourself? How recently?
  • When was the last time you worked with someone similar to me?


  • What is your weekly availability 
  • How often would you anticipate seeing me? For how long?
  • How much do you charge? Do you accept insurance? 
  • Do you offer sliding-scale options?
  • What is typical session like? How long are the sessions?
  • What happens if I miss a session?
  • Describe your ideal patient.

Therapy Sessions

  • How do you set up counseling goals? What are they like? What is success for you?
  • How do I prepare for my first session? 
  • What kind of homework/reading do you give patients? 
  • How often do you seek peer consultation?
  • How do you prefer to communicate outside of sessions?

These questions are a place to get you started in your search. If you have the time and resources, be patient with the process. Selecting a therapist is a very personal matter for people and their families. Listen to your instincts and shop around. No one size fits all and it is important that you feel a sense of trust and security when you are with your therapist. Your therapist should take time to discuss your goals, develop a plan to meet your needs, and track your progress throughout. Keep asking questions and if the therapist fit feels off, communicate with him or her about the issue and explore the option of a referral. 

I hope this blog has been helpful to you! Searching for a good therapist is often confusing and anxiety provoking. Particularly for those that might have gone through a poor therapy experience before. Making that first phone call takes courage. Keep improving and good luck with your search! 

By: John Devine, AMFT


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