Tips for Choosing a Therapist

I still vividly remember the first time I was looking for a psychotherapist as a client. I had no idea what the names of specific therapies meant. And I thought the science of human behaviour was settled, so that my therapist would know “the truth” about me once I tell them my story.

A decade or so later, after years of clinical and research training, I know so much more about the science and art of therapy. It translates into acute awareness of both how advanced and how limited our knowledge is, depending on the context. There is most certainly nothing like “the truth” uncovered by a wise expert. Instead, the understanding of client’s problems and solutions is developed together: In a way, clients and therapists co-construct the story of the problem, of client’s strengths and resources, and plot a road map to desired changes. They do it by combining the therapist’s current knowledge (which is ever-evolving), with client’s values and experiences.

Because of this, how you select a therapist depends directly on how you think about therapy. Yes, first, you should definitely check that they meet general professional and ethical standards of helping professions! [NOTE: Anybody can call themselves a counsellor or a therapist in most Canadian provinces, including Alberta, so please please please ask about credentials and training!]

Yet once you move beyond that, it becomes about the fit. Whatever plan your therapist may propose needs to make sense to you, and fit with what you are willing to do. Therefore, it makes sense to reflect on your own hopes and expectations first, and only then to interview your potential counsellors.

For yourself, think about:
– What intrudes on your life the most right now? How do you make sense of it?
– What changes would you like to see? How do these changes fit with your values, with what truly matters to you?
– What was helpful in the past with things like these? What was unhelpful? IF you know about different types of therapy, are there some that appeal to you – and why?
– Are insurance, health care plan, or employee assistance program available to you? How much are you okay paying out of pocket? How many sessions could these resources translate into?

Even if due to circumstances, you have little meaningful choice (so sorry, that’s tough), just thinking about these questions helps to prioritize and build self-awareness. And these are skills to help you make the most out of whatever options are available to you.

Once you develop some answers to these questions, start lining up candidates. You could check directories, provided by professional associations (e.g., or commercially (e.g., Psychology Today, Theravive). Online, you could search for counseling/counselling/psychotherapy + your location + whatever other key words are important to you.
(the single vs double L thing is the Canadian versus the US spelling)

If money is really limited, you could call 2-1-1 for local low- or no-cost resources. Some therapists (including me!) offer sliding scales for motivated people who have difficulty affording therapy.

As you review profiles, note how these therapists approach things that matter to you. Once you picked your favourites, interview them. Make sure you understand:
– Their general credentials and adherence to professional, ethical, and legal requirements. Specific questions you could ask are: Are they licensed or certified with professional or regulatory organizations? Which code(s) of ethical and professional standards do they follow? If problems arise, how do they resolve them?)
– What approaches do they typically use? Where would they start with your situation? If their experience is limited, do they have supervision and/or an approach that makes a lot of sense to you?

As you talk to them, focus on the following:
– Do you feel listened to and understood?
– Do you like this person’s approach and does it make sense to you?
What you are looking for here, ideally, is a feeling of total and enthusiastic “yes” from yourself. If you feel any concerns or doubts, discuss them. You will get either closer to that “yes” – or further away from it. Proceed accordingly: This may include booking an appointment, sleeping on the decision, or running far far away. Although it could be helpful to sleep on it in any case, to avoid rush judgments.

I hope you find your match! 🙂

For more ideas, this UK-based website greatly expands on the questions and considerations I outlined here. And this post from The Establishment talks in detail about finding non-judgmental therapists for marginalized people.

One response to “Tips for Choosing a Therapist

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