How to Find a Good Therapist

Looking for a counselor can be confusing and stressful.  There are several things you should consider when choosing yours.  I hope you can find some useful information here to make it a bit easier.  It’s really important to find a therapist who knows what they’re doing and whom you like.  However, these are not the only important things to consider.  Here’s a quick list of important considerations:

1. Ask If They Have Ever Been in Therapy Themselves: Though they’re unlikely to tell you what for, most therapists will answer this question honestly.  It’s very important for a therapist to be aware of and working on their own issues and personal growth.  The good ones know this and do this.

2.  Training and Licensure:  Ask about their training and license.  Make sure they are licensed and in good standing.  Sites like Psychology Today and Good Therapy.org check licenses for each of the therapists they list daily.  Other sites may do this, too, but these are the 2 I use.  The letters behind someone’s name tells you what kind of license they have, but not whether they are in good standing or not.  Here is a good list of what the letters mean.  I won’t go into all of them here for sake of keeping this article brief.

I am a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) in MA and a Nationally Certified Counselor  (NCC) through the National Board of Certified Counselors.  To obtain these licenses I needed to:

  • have a masters degree in psychology or related field (mine was “Mental Health and Behavioral Medicine”);
  • have 3000 hours of supervised, face to face counseling experience;
  • have worked full time for 2 years after obtaining my masters degree;
  • pass the “National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination;”
  • provide references and proof of approved clinical supervision; and
  • agree to prove that I attend 30 hours of continuing education approved by the board every 2 years.

3.  Experience: He or she should have experience providing therapy for the issues you are dealing with.  Just ask them.  Therapists follow a strict code of ethics regarding seeking supervision if they do not have the necessary experience.  You can find a list of issues I can help you with here.

4. Things to Avoid:

If your counselor is doing these things, consider trying another one – or at least discuss your concerns with him or her.  If you don’t get a response that is appropriate with an immediate change in their behavior, definitely keep looking.  Does your new counselor…

  • Talk over you? It’s going to be hard for a person who talks when you’re talking to hear what your saying.  It’ll be even harder for them to help you.
  • Make sexual advances?  If this ever happens, even you feel attracted to your counselor, it is absolutely unethical, unacceptable and should be reported to the appropriate professional licensing board.  Counselors and therapists know that this is never acceptable.  You may wonder why, if both parties consent, that this is inappropriate.  Trust me, it is.  It is an abuse of the natural power differential that happens in therapy and should never occur under any circumstance.
  • Touch you when you don’t want to be touched (not just sexually, any touching)? Some people are huggers, some aren’t.  If you aren’t and your counselor gives you a hug, it might not feel ok.  You should talk to him or her about this.  If it continues, find another counselor.  If you are a hugger and the counselor isn’t, then you may wonder why this person is acting in a way you perceive as cold.  FYI: I’m not a hugger, and in fact find it difficult to find even rare instances when this is ever appropriate.  I much prefer to respect your personal space.
  • Seem like they’re putting on an act or playing a part?  Your therapist being authentic not only makes it easier to relate to him or her, but is necessary to be a good therapist.  If you find yourself feeling as if the person is a phony, find someone else.
  • Cover up mistakes?  Everyone makes mistakes.  It’s what you do afterwards that counts.
  • Consistently late for appointments?  This really just shows a lack of respect for your time if your counselor is always late.  Being late a couple of times is one thing, but if you find yourself always starting sessions late, it may be time to move on.

5. Things to Look For:

If you can answer “yes” to these, it’s a great place to start.  Do you feel as if the person:

  • Listened to you and gave you their full attention?
  • Has an accurate understanding of what your goals are?
  • Seems like they care about you and your goals?
  • Acts with compassion and unconditional positive regard for you?
  • Pays attention?
  • Welcomes questions about their credentials, techniques and experience?
  • Checks in with you about the progress of therapy and whether you think you are on track?
  • Is sure to tell you the truth, even if it’s something you don’t want to hear?
  • Supports you or even pushes you (in a good way) towards your healthy goals?


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