How to find a therapist
Approaching therapy for the first time or a seasoned student of CBT? Here’s how to make sure you're finding the right match
image Sam Taylor/Netflix
words Isabelle Aron
We all know that bottling up your feelings is a disaster waiting to happen. But even if you’ve got close friends and family to speak to about your problems, sometimes you need an objective, trained professional to help you do the work. But the idea of going to therapy can seem like a big, scary thing. How do you find a therapist who ‘gets’ you? What if it's awkward? What if your ‘issue’ doesn’t feel like a big enough deal or you start fancying your therapist like Tony Soprano? To help make it easier, we ask experts for tips on finding a therapist and what to expect in your sessions.
What should you look for in a therapist?
Do your research and be specific about your needs. Dinah Butler, a therapist with 30 years’ experience, says this is something she’s seeing more of, especially with her Gen-Z clients. “Since Black Lives Matter and George Floyd, a lot of black clients are contacting me specifically,” she says. “I get a sense that people want someone who they can identify with.” That could be a therapist who understands your cultural background, your sexuality or something else. “If somebody is in a polyamorous relationship, for example, they want to know upfront that they've got somebody who's knowledgeable about that and is not going to judge it,” adds Butler.
How do you work out which kind of therapy you need?
CBT, EMDR, DBT, exposure, equine… where to even start. The term ‘therapy’ covers various techniques, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which is available through the NHS. But Butler says “CBT is not the only model that can work with anxiety and OCD.” If you need help cutting through the jargon, it’s best to ask. Butler suggests saying: “This is what I want to talk about. Will your model be helpful?”
What questions should you ask yourself before starting therapy?
“It helps to know what you want to get out of it,” says Butler. Maybe your mental health is deteriorating and you want to address an issue before it gets worse, or you might have a particular problem or relationship that you want to talk about. “But you don’t have to be in a crisis,’ she adds, ‘It could just be that you want to know yourself better.” The idea that you don’t have to have an ‘issue’ to benefit from therapy is something that Max Selwood, a creator who suffers from anxiety, depression and OCD and posts about mental health on Instagram and TikTok, strongly believes. “There isn’t a single person who wouldn't benefit from talking about their emotions,” he says.
How can you tell if your therapist is right for you?
Start by having an initial conversation with a therapist and taking it from there. Butler suggests asking yourself: ‘What does it feel like talking to this person? Do you feel comfortable? Do you think they’re going to help you?’
“Sometimes you only know once you've had a few sessions,” she says. But it’s important to trust your gut. And if you don't click with your therapist? Don’t be afraid to try another one. Selwood says that just because a certain therapist isn't right for you, it doesn't mean therapy doesn't work for you. “Once you find the right person who you really trust, that's when there's going to be progress,” he says.
What if the first session doesn't go how you expected?
Go in with an open mind and be prepared that talking about your feelings with a stranger might feel a bit weird at first. “The relationship grows with trust,” says Butler. “It's absolutely okay to think: I want to talk about this issue but I don't feel like talking about it in detail in the first session. You're not going to be completely comfortable with it straight away.” When you do get more comfortable, Selwood advises talking about “what’s actually going on inside and not just what you think is the right answer”, based on his own experiences with therapy. “Don't give up just because it didn't work the first time around - keep pushing,” he says.