How to Find a Therapist, According to People Who Have Been There

I have a confession: As someone whose job involves espousing the benefits of therapy and encouraging people to seek mental health treatment when they need it, I have considered giving up on trying to find a therapist multiple times in the past couple of months. Last year, my long-term therapist abruptly resigned, and it was only recently that I decided to get back on the horse and find their replacement. Because, well, finding a therapist can be hard work that requires a lot of trial and error. Frankly, for a while, I didn’t want to put in the effort.

Now that I’m in the throes of my therapist search, I remember quite clearly why I put it off for so long in the first place. Between navigating insurance and schedules and finding someone who is actually a good match, trying to lock down a mental health professional can feel frustratingly like dating. And I hate dating.

All of that said, I’m currently seeing a therapist I’m feeling cautiously optimistic about. And I can confirm: Despite the trials and tribulations of the search, it’s typically worth it in the end.

I’m far from the only one whose therapy journey has had some ups and downs. I asked people how they found a therapist they loved, and their responses show that there’s no right method or timeline. If you’re feeling discouraged or tired as you seek help, let these success stories serve as a reminder that everyone’s road to The Right Therapist is different.

1. “I wanted to break up with her for at least the first four sessions.”

“I found my therapist through my insurance and wanted to break up with her for at least the first four sessions because I didn’t feel the chemistry. I couldn’t get up the nerve, so I kept going. I’m really glad I did! I needed a therapist, not a friend. A lot of people say that the right therapist is a gut feeling, but I’ve realized that for me personally, it’s going to take a while to warm up no matter what. If I hadn’t stuck it out, I probably would’ve gotten stuck in a cycle of dumping therapists before I had really given them a chance.” —Maria C., 25, Fort Collins, CO

2. “He was the complete opposite of what I was used to.”

“When I was getting my master’s degree, I struck out on therapists at my school’s counseling center twice and wasn’t able to fit group therapy into my schedule. After a traumatic event, my psychiatrist had me book a new therapist. He was the complete opposite of what I was used to. Previously, I had my most helpful therapeutic experiences with cisgender women who happened to be devout Protestants. I also later had a Protestant cis male therapist who introduced me to eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) work that was very helpful at the time.

This new therapist was cis male, Jewish, and was actually trained in sports psychology. He told me his modality was Constructivist, which I had never even heard of before. He also did not have extensive trauma training as some of my other therapists did. I did not have high hopes that it would be a good therapeutic relationship.

I wound up seeing him almost weekly for two and a half years. He will always be my standard of what a therapeutic relationship can become with time, trust, and incredible work by both parties. I discovered that while certain modalities have been more effective than others for me, it really is the quality of the therapeutic relationship that makes therapy most effective. I’m so grateful that the third time was the charm.” —Teresa P., 35, Houston

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3. “It took me months of research to find a place I liked.”

“I’m on my third therapist. The first one broke up with me to become a life guru, the second one I had to stop seeing when my insurance changed after an acquisition. It took me months of research to find a place I liked and weeks after that to actually get the nerve together to contact someone. I found a practice, and the person they paired me with is truly amazing. I feel so understood in a way I didn’t with my other two (older) therapists. Working in tech and being so online, neither of my other therapists got that. My therapist now really encourages me to work through all of my online stuff with her, and it’s been life-changing.” —Amanda B., 33, New York City

4. “She was willing to lower her rate to treat me.”

“I met my therapist through a consciousness workshop. We worked together off and on in that capacity, with me going to workshops and then helping facilitate as a volunteer. Then my life hit the skids (had an injury, had to take off work, got depressed) and I asked if she would be my therapist. She’s actually in Northern California and me in Southern, so we do our sessions by phone. It’s worked splendidly for more than 15 years.

I dip in and out—I might not need help for a year or two, so we talk for anywhere from six months to two years, and then I take a few months or a year or two off. What’s really amazing is that my insurance doesn’t cover her, and she was willing to lower her rate to treat me. All I had to do was ask. She lowered it by a good 40 percent.” —Christina G., 47, Los Angeles

5. “It took a few years of on and off searching’”

“I found a great therapist after a few years of on and off searching. After my first session she said, ‘Did I invite you to my group session?’ and I then did six weeks of group therapy with six other women to learn how to build better boundaries. Group was great because it was like a fast track therapy session on a cheaper scale. Now I go once a month to individual sessions. If you like and trust the therapist, never discount group sessions!” —L.S., 26, Salt Lake City

6. “I took a strategic approach to my therapy search.”

“I took a strategic approach to my therapy search. What I looked for in a therapist: early hours, geographically desirable, sense of humor (I crack a lot of jokes), someone who would talk to me and share experiences rather than just listen, someone young enough to understand the pressures of working in digital, but also not so young that they thought I was cool.

What I love about my therapist: He’s all of the above, he has given me helpful exercises, he is open if and when he’s had similar struggles, and he’s a block away from my apartment.” —Lynae C., 30, Los Angeles

7. “Something about her website was just warm and friendly to me.”

“I was one of the lucky ones. I opened up Psychology Today, plugged in my insurance and location, and found my dream therapist on the first page. Something about her website was just warm and friendly to me, so I felt like we’d get along. And we did! I was instantly at ease, even though I heard intake could be uncomfortable and awkward. She’s really created a safe space for me.” —Sasha R., 29, Portland, OR

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8. “She’s digging deeper to help me better understand myself.”

“I’d been seeing my original therapist for about a year before she informed me she was moving out of state. I asked if she had any recommendations and that I wanted a Black woman because I needed someone who would get me and Black cultural references because of shared experiences.

Whereas I spent most of my time talking about my professional ambitions with the original therapist, my current therapist got straight into the heart of matters, immediately asking me insightful questions about my family. That uncovered a lot of hurt I didn’t realize I’d been covering up and holding on to all these years. I started therapy with the goal of navigating a toxic workplace and undoing cycles of not being kind to myself, but my current therapist has taken it a step further by digging deeper to help me better understand myself.” —L’Oreal P., 31, Chicago

9. “Her compassion made me feel truly cared for.”

“Before I moved from D.C. to New York City, I thought I was a pro at finding therapists, but New York is a unique beast. Therapy here is expensive, and the affordable therapists are in high demand. It took me about three months to find a few decent options. The first therapist I tried was a complete bust, but the second? I hit the jackpot. Within a couple of visits, I realized she was just right for me. She had an unstructured style that helped me when I was being stubborn and compassion that made me feel truly cared for.

I continued to see that therapist for four years. Then a series of traumatic events landed me in a psychiatric unit. After I got out, I had a candid conversation with her about whether I was getting the help I needed from her, and she was honest about her methods not being the right fit for my circumstances. She referred me to a dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) practitioner. My DBT therapist has proven to be the right fit at the right time, and my quality of life has never been better.” —Meghan W., 32, New York City

10. “She makes me feel like my feelings are valid.”

“Before finding my current therapist, I had two run-ins with therapy that didn’t stick. I made some half-hearted attempts to find a therapist in New York City but was never motivated enough to fight my way off of anyone’s waitlist. It wasn’t until I moved to North Carolina last year at age 30 that I finally decided to get serious about seeing someone.

I looked on Psychology Today for therapists in my area who identified as female (as I do), specialized in anxiety, relationship issues, and body image issues, identified as LGBTQ+-friendly (I’m cisgender and relatively straight, but I wanted someone progressive and inclusive, so this seemed like important criteria), and was within a 15-minute drive from me because I didn’t want therapy to add stress. I ended up getting an appointment with the first therapist I called and liking her.

One thing worth pointing out that I didn’t really notice until a few sessions in is that my therapist…kind of looks like me? I haven’t brought this up with her, and I’m not sure if it’s common or not, but it intuitively makes sense that I’d feel most comfortable with someone I perceive as being similar to me.

Anyway, I’m 10 months in, and it’s so much better than I even imagined. What’s been most helpful to me is that I’ll tell her something I think is weird or bad or shameful, and she’ll just nod and ask me to keep talking about it. Talking about things I’m usually afraid to talk about and having someone listen without any kind of judgment really normalizes those things. It’s not even about what she says, just the fact that she listens and makes me feel like my feelings are valid.” —Christine B., 31, Durham, NC

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11. “She took it upon herself to research my Indian culture.”

“I’m from India, and I moved to New York City in 2017 for college. Before that, I had been living with undiagnosed depression and anxiety ever since I was a child. There was so much stigma and lack of information surrounding these issues that I had nowhere to look for help. Things got tough in my first semester, and I reached out to my school’s medical center for free counseling. That’s where I met my therapist. I often hear people talk about how hard it is to click with a therapist on the first go, but it really did work for me. She had the task of understanding pieces of my life in India which were very culturally different than the United States. She was so receptive and took it on herself to do that research.” —S. S., 19, New York City

12. “She practices outside the normal realm of therapy.”

“I found my therapist when I was in my junior year of college. I was going to my ob/gyn for premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), and she gave me a business card for a therapist. I knew just by looking at it that she was the person I was looking for. The card itself was colorful, with soft, blended rainbow colors. Also, her name was gender-neutral, which I only realized later makes me more comfortable with people, probably because I’m not cis myself. It was like I had an intuitive sense that we’d click. That happens to me sometimes. I just feel it. So I went to see her.

She practices outside the normal realm of therapy, at least that I’ve experienced. She’ll tell me about things she’s learned from her own wisdom teachers. We’ve talked about spiritual stuff and the universe. She practices Reiki, and I got my first Reiki treatment from her. We’ve used crystals, animal medicine cards, and other things that have helped me understand whatever it is I’m struggling with at the time. She’s never once imposed an answer on me that pushes me in a specific direction. She offers neutral advice and supports me in whichever way I choose to go.” —Sarah W., 27, Raynham, MA

13. “She taught me how to mourn lost relationships.”

“I found a therapist after having a meltdown that consisted of work drama, family drama, and relationship drama all entering my life around the same time. I thought I wanted to die. My therapist had a three-month waiting list. I know not everyone has the luxury to wait, and those three months did suck. But in my depressive state, calling around and finding someone else who felt right and didn’t have a long wait seemed impossible. So I waited, and it was worth it. She taught me how to mourn lost relationships the same way I would deaths and move forward.” —Tory F., 26, Columbus, OH

Quotes have been edited and condensed.

Related:

https://www.self.com/story/therapy-success-stories, GO TO SAUBIO DIGITAL FOR MORE ANSWERS AND INFORMATION ON ANY TOPIC

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