How to Find Your Ideal Therapist

*Edit April 2021 The Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS) put forth a booklet to help residents of the state of CA find a therapist.  If interested in reading their recommendations (which I highly recommend), please follow this link: BBS link for Residents in the State of CA looking for psychotherapy.

Logistics First

There are some logistics to think through before you make that first phone call.  First, ask yourself these four questions:

  1. What time of day can you commit to 50 minutes a week for a month or two? Some therapists only work evenings, some only daytime and others are varied.  Knowing what you can commit to will help narrow down the search.
  2. How will you be paying for therapy? Again, assume you will be going weekly for a month or two.  What can your monthly budget accommodate?  If you can only afford therapy if its covered by insurance, read this article to learn more about how to use your insurance policy to pay for therapy.  If you can afford to pay about $75-130/session, it might be worth it to pay out of pocket.  There are some benefits to paying privately.
  3. What kind of person would you be most comfortable talking to? Is age, gender, religion a concern?
  4. What type of help are you needing? Do you need help as a couple, family, individual or for a child?  Is there a certain technique you are interested in?  Are you concerned that your problem is not one therapists have the knowledge to handle?  If so, ask.  Ask the therapist if they have experience treating your concern.

Let me give an example about how these logistical concerns can help you narrow down your search.  For example, if you work during the day, need insurance to pay for therapy, would prefer a Christian and need help for your child, this will screen out many of the therapists you find online.  Start with your insurance company, get a list of providers.  Of those, see who treat children and are Christian (often these types of specialties are listed by the insurance company).  Of that group, find a therapist who will see your child when you are off work and can drive them.

Talk to Someone

If you feel comfortable, talk to your friends, family and acquaintances.   You may be surprised to find that many people around you are secretly making effective use of therapy and can make a recommendation for you.  It’s helpful to think through your own logistics first though.  It can be very disappointing to find out the therapist your friend raves about is not covered by your insurance and costs $125/session.

Personality and Specialties

Next, it might help you to feel more comfortable talking with someone if you ask them some “interview questions” first.  This will not only ensure you are getting as close to possible someone who can effectively help you, but it also gives you a feel for their personality and whether you will connect with them.  There is no other medical profession where personality makes such a difference, in my opinion.  I can get effective treatment from a dentist who annoys me, a surgeon who is rude and an ophthalmologist who is just weird.  Sometimes personalities are not a match; with your therapist, this is a deal-breaker.  Here are some of my favorite interview questions I’ve been asked:

  • What type of experience do you have working with _______?
  • What is your belief about addictions, do you insist your patients do AA?
  • Are you available after hours for emergencies?
  • Do you have training in ________?
  • Do you just listen or do you give advice?
  • Do you provide any resources and instruction I can use in between sessions?
  • What if my husband wants to come later, can he?

Things to Know Before the first Call

There are a few rules that therapists must follow.  The first is that there is an ethical guideline that prohibits us from working with people we have a prior relationship with.  Along this line, therapists are cautioned against having a relationship with their patients outside of the professional relationship for at least two years after therapy terminates.  In addition, it is illegal for therapists to have sex with their patients.  These all would be considered dual relationships.  Dual relationships detract from the purity of the professional, therapeutic relationship and are harmful to both the patient and the therapist.  Therapists need separation from their work to maintain in this emotionally and mentally tough field.  Patients need to be able to come to therapy without fear of any judgement or concern for the therapist, this helps make their psychological work paramount for those 50 minutes.

Another caution: therapy is a lot of work and can sometimes, be unpleasant.  There is no such thing as one session and you are cured.  Sometimes, people report feeling worse after a few weeks of therapy.  Your therapist will hopefully work to balance encouraging you to work while being gentle about how much you can tolerate.

Recommendations for the Hiring Process

Once you have interviewed and made your first appointment, consider giving your therapist three sessions before you decide on them.  The first session can be exhilarating, the second daunting and by the third there should be some movement.  If you are not comfortable with the personality or the progress, kindly decline a follow up appointment.  Go back to your list of therapists and call the next one or two.  Get in for another appointment and try again.  Granted, I may be pickier than most given my work, but, I had to meet with six therapists before I found The One.

Therapy for All, Anytime, for Any Reason

How wonderful would it be to have a therapist ready as needed for you and your family?  I don’t always need my therapist, but it makes an enormous difference knowing she is there if I need it.  When you are sick and desperately need a doctor, the last thing you feel like doing is calling around to find one with openings, that takes your insurance and can treat your issue.  Find a therapist today, then, when you are really in a tough place, you know who to call.

Greta Pankratz, LCSW

Individual and Family Therapist and Owner of Santa Maria Counseling.  Check her out on the web at or email at