Finding a Therapist Who’s a Good Fit

By: Dr. Lisa B. Taylor

With all the things that are happening in the world, everybody could use somebody to talk to about their fears, concerns, problems, mental health issues, etc. With all the stigma surrounding mental illness the thought of going to therapy is scary, embarrassing, and overwhelming. When you think about finding the right therapist to open your heart to, to share your many secrets with, and to get help for your mental wellbeing, you want a nonjudgmental space where you can feel safe.

However, for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) individuals, it can be even more overwhelming. Due to the history of racism in America, medical care disparities that prevent BIPOC individuals from having access to care, and mental healthcare biases, BIPOC individuals may not feel safe. Moreover, it can be foreign for them to seek out a therapist.

Growing up, a lot of people of color were taught, “You better not tell your business to nobody. What happens in this house stays in this house!” So, to expect us to share our intimate business with a stranger – a therapist – is not something that we can easily do.

Finding a mental healthcare professional can produce anxiety and be overwhelming within itself. And for BIPOC individual, it can be even more frustrating. Why? Because you want to find a therapist who you can identify with and who can identify with you. Having to explain and reexplain yourself, your cultural and ethnic norms, spirituality and faith, etc. over and over again to a therapist who cannot relate to you feels frustrating. Who wants to spend the majority of their therapy session doing that – nobody!

Moreover, when you come to a therapist to talk about your issues, but have to educate and explain racial, cultural, and ethnic norms to help the therapist help you with your issues, it can feel annoying. When you are emotionally and spiritually distressed, experiencing the effects of trauma, have a mental illness breakdown, and are already dealing with the stigma of having a mental illness, ain’t nobody got time for that!

However, I have a hunch that BIPOC individuals do have time for finding a good therapist and want one who is a good fit. This requires some time and effort on the front end, so that you can gain the therapeutic care that you need and enrich your mental health and wellbeing.

Here are a few tips to help you choose a therapist who is a good fit.

1. Gather Information

When looking for the right therapist for you and the mental healthcare that you need, you need access to information. There are a few ways you can start your search and that can help you get information.

Word of mouth.

Word-of-mouth is still one of the best ways to get information. People not only share contact information about their therapist, but they also share their experience which can make a big difference saving you a lot of time and eliminating some frustration. Ask for referrals from people whom you trust and in your social network like family members, friends, coworkers, faith community, sports buddies, etc.

Online searches.

Explore mental healthcare resources websites that are specifically for BIPOC individuals. This can be overwhelming, especially if you don’t know where to start, are not computer literate and have a problem navigating websites for the relevant information that you need to find therapists who look like you and who can better relate to you. So here are a few links to start with:

Check for specialization.

It’s important that you find a therapist who has been trained in the area of your mental healthcare need and treatment. There are therapists who specialize in various areas of mental illnesses and treatments. For instance, if you are dealing with anxiety disorder, it’s not going to be beneficial for you to see a therapist who specializes in autism spectrum disorder or pervasive developmental disorder.

You can receive treatment from therapist who offer specialized mental health care in areas like marriage and family counseling, PTSD, trauma, postpartum depression, anger management, eating disorders, bipolar, personality disorder, childhood behavior problems, etc. It’s also important to check out what kinds of treatments the therapist offers, along with the age groups that the therapist provides services for.

Check credentials.

You want to know the therapist credentials. Where did they attend school? Did they receive specialized training? Are they inclusive? What organizations and collectives are they a part of?

Check for insurance and pricing requirements.

Just because a therapist accepts insurance does not mean that they will accept your insurance. Ask what the services will cost and what’s your deductible.

Check for location or teletherapy options.

Location is important when looking for a therapist. Finding a therapist in your area can make it easier and more convenient to show up for your counseling sessions, especially if it’s already difficult to do daily task like get out of the bed, get dressed, and get out of the house.

If you prefer connecting online, many therapists now offer teletherapy as an option.

Step 2: Prepare for Set Up Interviews.

Once you have identified a list of therapists who you think might be a good fit for you, then you want to interview them. Interviewing your therapist can feel intimidating, so here are some things that you can do to prepare for your interview.

Have a list of questions that that address your concerns and your expectations. Since you are a unique individual, you may have different questions. However, here’s a list to help you get started.

  • What services and treatment do you offer?
  • Am I charged for cancellations and no-shows?
  • How long have you been practicing?
  • Do you offer in-person, telehealth, or both?
  • What’s your philosophical approach to therapy?
  • How do you integrate faith, spirituality, religion, and mental health?
  • How do you determine my counseling goals?
  • How do you measure the effectiveness of therapy?

Set up introductions. Find out if the therapist offers a brief introductory call before setting up an appointment or an introductory in-person visit. This is intended to determine if you are a good fit for one another. This is important for both of you. Like all relationships, the therapeutic relationship is based upon trust and faith. You need to feel a level of connection with the person who will be providing guidance and counsel. If you do not feel that, then the relationship will not work, and you will not trust the therapist and receive the mental healthcare that you need.

Shop around until you find a therapist who is a good fit. It’s okay to shop around. Just because you see a therapist one time does not mean that they are the right fit for you. You have the option to unapologetically and without hesitation seek a different therapist.

Step 3: Choosing Your Therapist

Tap into your intuition.

Once you do not have anything else left to compare, but how the therapist makes you feel, it’s time to turn to your intuition.

Choosing a therapist is like dating. You are looking to develop a long-term relationship with someone who will positively impact and/or transform your life. Choosing the right therapist for you is also about co-creating a sacred space for you to get the mental healthcare help that you need. Just because somebody looks like you and can relate to you does not make them the right therapist for you. You have to learn how to trust your feelings, which requires you to learn to more fully activate and use your intuition.

Often, we can dismiss our intuition when making decisions. However, intuition plays a critical role when choosing a therapist, so it’s important to trust your gut. Rational thinking is part of the process; however, it is not the only way of knowing.

You can learn to tap into your intuition even when it does not come natural for you. Start by observing and being aware of how you relate to the therapist and ask yourself a few questions:

  • How do I feel when I look at the therapist’s picture?
  • How do I feel when I read the therapist’s bio, website, blog, etc.?
  • How do I feel when I talk to the therapist on the phone, via video, and/or in-person?
  • What kind of memories, images, ideas, or hopes does their picture, presence, and words trigger?
  • How do I connect with and relate to the therapist and how do they connect with and relate to me?

You might want to write down descriptions of how you feel or just sit with your feelings, so that you can be more aware of them. This will be especially helpful during your interviewing process and the first counseling sessions when you are shopping around for a therapist who is a good fit for you.

Getting the most from your therapy.

So how do you integrate therapy into your already busy schedule without adding more stress and anxiety. You may need to get mental health support and buy in from people.

Your family may feel threatened by the amount of time you are setting aside to take care of you and make changes in your life, so it will be helpful to identify ways to work through that. Talking about this and having a plan might be helpful, so everyone will be on the same page.

Your friends may need to learn how to support you on the journey. Instead of them giving you advice, you may need to ask them to just be a listening ear.

Your therapist may need to understand you and your issues more fully in order to help you develop goals and to create effective treatment plans. So be honest about what’s working and what’s not.

Integrating your mental healthcare into your life makes it a lifestyle and not just something you do occasionally. Learning to integrate mental healthcare is essential because it is maximum self-care.

Mental healthcare is magnified healthcare. It is more than taking a bubble bath. It is practicing self-care in ways that help you to be emotionally, mentally, and spiritually healthy. It is about the everyday little things that you do to aid your mental health and wellbeing – from showing up for your therapy appointments, participating in and engaging your therapy goals, following your treatment plan, asking for what you need, making yourself and your mental health a priority and taking the time that you need to care for yourself. It can be as simple as practicing good hygiene to going for a walk to taking your medication as prescribed.

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