How To Pick A Therapist
How To Pick A Therapist
Dear Tacit,

I was thinking about going to counselling – but it all seems very complicated.  How does a person pick the right therapist for their needs?

Signed: How To Pick A Therapist

Dear How To Pick A Therapist,

What a terrific question – I think many people wonder the same thing, and when they don’t know where to start, they sometimes never begin the process.  When you are looking for someone to go to for counselling (this can also be called “therapy”), you need to find a therapist/counsellor who is the right fit for your personality and for your needs.

One of the most important factors knowing how to pick a therapist that will work for you is the comfort level you have with that person – if you do not feel that you can be yourself (without being judged or pressured in any way), you will never be able to open up and delve into the uncomfortable and challenging issues that you want to address.  Does your therapist really listen to you – do they engage in your sessions with you, or just sit and say nothing? (You will likely want a therapist who will offer you some insights into patterns you are showing.)  Good therapists know how to offer a combination of different approaches adjusted specifically to meet each client’s unique needs (they don’t just use the same tools/approach with everyone).

You may prefer a male or a female therapist – or counselling that is close to (easier access) or away from (for more privacy) your home community – or you might prefer a quiet counselling office (one therapist) or a busier place (with multiple therapist options).  Consider the age/experience of your therapist – the cultural background of your therapist – and whether or not you want (or do not want) a particular religious/spiritual component to the therapy you are seeking.

Another equally important factor to consider is your therapist’s credentials – you want to be sure you are going to a person who is properly educated and has the specific qualifications for the support you feel you need.  There is a big difference between what a life coach and a therapist does – or between what a psychiatrist and a therapist can offer.  (They all provide an equally important and useful service – but the service works best when it fits with your needs!)

Your therapist should always be registered with some sort of legitimate governing body.  All registered therapists must continue to take courses and increase their own education/skills each year; they must have specific types of liability insurance; and they must participate in some form of supervision process of their own, with a therapist mentor who supports them.  (If they cannot verify for you that all of these things do happen, then run the other way!)

Remember that you are allowed to interview your potential therapist/counsellor before you get ready to be vulnerable with them. Check out their website and Google them, to see what you can learn about who they are as a person.  There are also some excellent directories that can help verify your therapist’s qualifications – Psychology Today and Theravive, are two of the main ones used in Canada.

Among therapists, there are different specialties that each offer.  A good therapist will never try to work with clients who are outside of their scope of practice (range of training).  If you are not sure what a certain type of therapy is or what might work best for your issues (CBT; DBT; Solution Focused Therapy; Somatic Therapy; Play Therapy; EMDR; Neurofeedback Therapy/Training; etc), then ask a potential therapist to explain it to you.  Good therapists will always offer a free consultation (usually by phone) to discuss these kinds of things, before you decide if you want to see them or not.

Consider the financial aspect of starting therapy.  If you plan to use benefits or insurance coverage, check to see how much counselling your policy will allow.  Do the math so you know how much you will be paying out of pocket when your benefits run out.  There is a large range in the amount that therapists charge for their services – you want to be sure you can afford to keep seeing the same person when you no longer have coverage.

There are often some good subsidized (or free) counselling options available in many communities.  And most private therapists have a subsidy or sliding scale rate that they also offer, depending upon a client’s circumstances (if the policy on how to access this support seems vague or secretive, then it might not be real).

Ask around – see who other people trust and recommend.  Take notice of the therapists who don’t just speak up when they are trying to get new clients.  Notice the ones who also offer free resources or mental health support within their communities – or who recommend other therapists instead of themselves, when they are not suitable for a client’s needs.

Finally, give yourself about 3 sessions with a new therapist to see how you feel the flow is progressing.  Make sure you feel comfortable in their office space.  Notice if they are on time for your sessions – or if they tend to cancel/reschedule a lot.  If, after the 3rd session, you are just not feeling the connection is the right one for you, tell your therapist – they will NOT be offended.  It is their job to help you find other options that might work better, and a good therapist will provide you with a few recommendations for someone new to check out.

Take Care!

Do you have a question you would like us to address? Please feel free to reach out to us at Your answer will be provided confidentially. 

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