How Do I Select a Therapist?

Updated on November 18, 2014
M.D. asks from Napa, CA
8 answers

I have decided to seek therapy while going through a rough time. Dealing with depression, anxiety, and hurts from other people, as well as just stress from life.

When I look online I see too many options: LSCW, MA, MFT, Psychologist, Counselor, Psychiatrist. And then there are the different treatment approaches - overwhelming options there too. I also know a few people on the local list from psychology today. Is it a mistake to see someone I know?

I know that (the collective) you can't know all of the situation, and can't make the decision for me, but I need some way to narrow down the list! At least somewhere to start.

1 mom found this helpful

What can I do next?

  • Add yourAnswer own comment
  • Ask your own question Add Question
  • Join the Mamapedia community Mamapedia
  • as inappropriate
  • this with your friends

More Answers



answers from San Francisco on

Ask your doctor or a close friend for a recommendation. I found the most amazing therapist after my son and I experienced a violent trauma and I found him by asking a friend whose wife is a therapist. Our therapist is amazing and has helped us far beyond the initial reason we started seeing him. I wish you good luck in finding the right person. I think it is great that you are taking care of yourself in this way.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Santa Barbara on

I don't think it will necessarily be a mistake to talk to someone you know. I think you should have various people in your life who can help you with different things.

I actually think if you start with that 'someone you know' and explain what you are looking for, that person may be great at directing you to a psychologist.

I also think you need to visit a few to realize who is a good fit for your personality and needs.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Denver on

Here's a fairly brief description of all the initials following the therapists' names:

A psychiatrist or a therapist with an MD after his or her name will be able to prescribe medications in the event they are considered appropriate for you. The others do not prescribe medications but will have many other ways to help. is a great place to look up doctors' credentials, type of practice (for example, family counseling, children only, adolescents only, elderly patients only). You can read people's opinions, and see general info about a therapist (age, gender, specialty, experience, education, etc).

If you have a doctor that you trust, you can ask the doctor for a recommendation. Your doctor should know something about your general health and whether he or she would recommend a psychiatrist or psychologist for you.

If you have insurance you can get a list of providers that contract with your insurance and use that list to start with. But beware, even though your insurance company lists a provider, that provider may no longer take your insurance. A lot of rules have changed.

Don't be afraid to let a new therapist know that you are searching for someone to come alongside you and help during this healing time. During your first appointment, take note of their promptness, availability by phone or email for questions, billing practices, their attentiveness and willingness to listen to you. You can usually speak with their office staff prior to making an appointment to ask if they're taking new patients, whether they bill insurance or require self-pay, what kind of practice they have.

And I'm glad that you're seeking help. That indicates strength! I hope you find exactly the person you need.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

I started with the practical, which providers accept my insurance and how convenient are their offices and hours.
I then started calling around to see who was accepting new patients.
When we got therapy for my daughter (anxiety) we tried a few before finding the one that clicked for her. I also made sure I only contacted those that specifically worked with teens and anxiety issues.
Good for you and best of luck!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Des Moines on

It can be overwhelming. I previously worked in the mental health field and titles/abbreviations etc can vary state to state. Generally, a psychiatrist is a med doctor for mental health issues so less talking about your background, coping skills etc and more diagnosing and writing prescriptions. Psychologists can also be therapists but again more medical/prescription/diagnostically inclined. The word "counselor" doesn't always mean a licensed therapist which I highly recommend.

In my state we woudl call who you are looking for a LISA (Licensed independent social worker"), someone with a MA would be qualified and a MFT is a marriage and family therapist. If the word therapist is in their title, thats a good thing! :) I would go with someone with some years of experience under their belt.

I definately feel its a huge mistake to go with someone you know. You will not be able to fully open up at some point in time. Or their experience of you (however small) will cloud their ability to work with you.


answers from Columbia on

My husband is a MFT and deals with a lot of folks under the therapy umbrella. I believe that therapy can be a very helpful environment to manage the internal junk in our lives and grow past it. Good for you for recognizing that!

I think you just have to try a few therapists out until you find someone you feel comfortable talking with, and who is going to move you forward in processing and dealing with what's going on. You're going to find that different therapists ascribe to different theories. For instance, a MFT might prefer Bowen family systems theory and will refer to the family system in determining your next steps.

I also suggest someone you don't know. There's something freeing about working with a stranger. You can be open with them and never have a concern over your past or future interactions with them.

I wish you all the best and if anything....just pick one randomly and start there. If you don't like them, choose another.



answers from Chicago on

Selecting a therapist that you stick with is a lot like finding a babysitter or even a regular doctor. You talk with them and try to see if you feel comfortable talking to them, see what they believe is the best beginning approach, how they treat etc. If the doc recommends meds for you, are you comfortable with that right away? Why are they going into right away etc. Lots of questions. And do not be afraid to look elsewhere if it just does not seem to be helping after a few months. My daughter saw one years ago and really nothing was happening. She would not open up to her even though she was really nice. She just never progressed so it was not a fit for her.

I am currently looking for an orthopedic doc and so far I have talked to 2 that seem to think medication is the best approach. Still looking.



answers from Philadelphia on

Call them and ask them their approach and philosophy towards therapy after briefly describing your issues. You will be able to tell if it is going to be a decent fit and if you click with them or not. If nothing else though, you should be able to rule out a few that you just don't care for. Good luck.

Also, IMO, there are a lot of really bad therapist out there. Remember that therapy should make you feel better overall and if it is not working stop seeing that therapist the same way you would stop taking a prescription that caused you to break out in hives.

For Updates and Special Promotions
Follow Us

Related Questions