Therapy can be immensely beneficial and has helped millions of Americans with a whole range of issues. In order to get the most out of therapy though, it is important to firstly identify which form of therapy is most appropriate for the patient, and then to find the right individual therapist.
The importance of finding the right therapist really cannot be overstated; working with the right therapist will increase your chances of getting the results you want from therapy whereas working with the ‘wrong’ therapist may mean you make little to no progress. We also recommend reading our guide about finding the best counseling services near you.
Before just jumping in and booking a session with a therapist, it is probably a good idea to give them a call and try to get a “feel” for them. Whilst this initial conversation is as much about your own tuition, there are still some formal questions that you should ask them.
Many therapists practice multiple techniques and approaches whereas others prefer to stick to one or two. For example, if you want to start CBT then you need to check that the therapist offers this, but also that they agree that it would be beneficial for you.
Therapy is a form of highly skilled listening and whilst a good therapist will make it look easy, it isn’t. It takes a lot of study, skill and practice so checking up on professional qualifications is a good place to start.
Note that the use of the term “therapist” is quite vague. Counsellors do not need a PHD of any kind and in some cases, self proclaimed “Life Coaches” can practice as counsellors. Psychotherapists on the other hand, need a relevant degree plus professional accreditation.
The more years practice a therapist has, the more experience they have and the greater likelihood they have previously helped people in your situation. On the other hand, a less experienced therapist may have a drive and a freshness lacking in their more established colleagues.
Ask the prospective therapist how much experience they have in working with people in your situation. Whilst you don’t need to go into specifics or detail, just tell them you are feeling stressed, depressed or that you feel you need help with alcohol. Most experienced therapists will have encountered the most common issues multiple times.
These are the bare minimum questions you should ask. In many cases, after asking them you will probably have a firm idea about how you feel. If you want to get even deeper though, then you could ask them some more personal questions such as, why they became a therapist, or whether they have ever been in therapy themselves.
Of course, you should also take this opportunity to get the admin bottomed out and confirm how much they charge, how flexible they are (in terms of fees and appointments) and what their cancellation policy is.
If you are considering starting online therapy then the process is quite different.
When you sign up for an online therapy site you are required to complete an initial questionnaire. This is then used to algorithmically match you with a therapist or a short-list of prospective therapists which you are then expected to choose from. The therapist’s profiles can sometimes be pretty limited or outright lame. For example;
“Hi I’m Tobias, I studied in New York and I practice CBT. I believe in self love and also like fishing”
Often, the profiles don’t help you make any kind of informed choice.
In some cases, you can check the therapist’s professional qualifications and level of experience yourself from their profile but not always. If you don’t like the look of a therapist, you can simply reject them and an alternative will be offered – however, ultimately you are accepting or rejecting based on very little.
If you want to actually speak to the online therapist you usually have to pay and commit to your first session. Note that in a therapy session you will probably not be able to ask the therapist any questions so you will simply have to start your therapy and see how you like them. If you don’t feel that they are right for you, then you can replace them.
We’ll now take a look at some of the best online therapy sites and the various freedoms they each offer in allowing you to choose a therapist.
Unlike most online therapy sites, these 3 do not operate on a subscription basis but rather charge patients per meeting. Whilst this can work out being more expensive, the advantage of being able to speak with and “vet” a proposed therapist beforehand, can save you wasted time and wasted sessions cycling through unsuitable therapists. All 3 are large, reputable telehealth platforms, but we feel Amwell is the best choice – You can read our Amwell review to see why.
The Betterhelp model will initially try and ‘nudge’ you into accepting the matched therapist but there is a hack to work around this. Using the Desktop version of their site/app, you simply have to select the “find a therapist” link and enter your location. You can then look over all relevant profiles and pick one you like the look of although you cannot speak with them until your first session so arguably you are better off trusting the algorithm.
However, note that you do need to make sure that they are registered to practice in your home state otherwise you will not be allowed to use them. Read our Betterhelp review for more information.
The big advantage of Talkspace is that they offer all patients an initial consultation with a licensed counsellor who will help you find a therapist. Whilst you still don’t get to speak to the therapist themselves until the actual first session, having an expert on hand can really help you make a more informed choice. You can read our Talkspace review, or our Betterhelp vs. Talkspace comparison first and see why Talkspace is considered one of the best online therapy sites.
When you first sign up to Online-Therapy.com and complete the signup questionnaire, they will match you with one recommended therapist. However, if you reject their suggestion then you are free to choose your own therapist from all available profiles. Our Online-Therapy.com review has more information on that.
With Relationship Hero you are free to request your own therapist from the start based on profiles. However, most of their therapists are “life coaches” and the like and very few are psychologists or even experienced counsellors.
Much like with Betterhelp, when using Calmerry you need to employ a bit of a hack to be able to choose your own therapist. When you sign up and reach the payment screen, open up a support chat and ask to see a list of therapists. While you may have to get a bit forceful, you can negotiate to make completing payment conditional upon seeing your preferred therapist.
However, just bear in mind that you are still limited to a therapist who is registered in your state. Read our Clamerry review here.
Counseling on Demand is a much smaller site than any of the above. They only have around 21 therapists working for them and few are qualified psychologists. However, they do let you choose your preferred therapist from their profiles right from the start.
All of the above sites offer differing levels of freedom of choice when finding a therapist. Whilst some are better than others for it, it is worth bearing in mind that some of the smaller sites such as Brightside, Cerebral and Sondermind don’t permit any kind of choice whatsoever and offer you either their suggested therapist or nothing!
In summary, whether you choose to begin conventional, face to face therapy or go for online therapy, it is always worth taking some time to find the right therapist for you. And always remember, if after a session or two you feel that your therapist maybe isn’t the right one for you, do not be afraid to speak up and look for another – you owe it to yourself.