How to Find a Therapist: A Beginner’s Guide


Feb 24, 2023

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Being a full-time or part-time student is challenging, even for seemingly healthy individuals. However, the American Psychological Association (APA) states that student mental health is worsening by nearly every metric. 

One study from Healthy Minds, which collected data from 373 U.S. campuses, found that over 60% of college students met the criteria for at least one mental health problem. If you believe your mental health is suffering, you might consider going to therapy. The thought of seeing a therapist might scare you, but plenty of licensed professionals are willing, able and determined to help you with your unique mental health struggles.

If you’ve decided to seek mental health care, you might not know where to start. You probably have a ton of questions. If you’ve read this far, you’re in the right place. 

Here is a beginner’s guide on how to find a therapist. 

What to Look for in a Therapist

No two therapists are the same, but there is definitely a therapist out there who is right for you. Finding a therapist who is a good match for your specific needs is crucial. 

Think of it this way: you wouldn’t search for a dermatologist if you have severe stomach pain. You wouldn’t see a surgeon for a simple cold. The same should be true for therapy. Finding a therapist who specializes in areas most relevant to you and your mental health issues is essential.

Here are some vital characteristics to look for in a therapist, according to Grand Canyon University:

  • Exceptional, clear communications skills
  • Strong therapeutic rapport
  • Stellar listening skills
  • A strong sense of empathy
  • Trustworthy
  • Problem-solving skills
  • An open mind
  • Self-awareness

Even though therapists might have certain specializations, they should all have these basic qualities.

How to Find a Therapist to Suit Your Unique Needs

Taking care of your mental health is important, especially as you grow older. While some activities like dancing, playing sports or going to the gym can benefit your mental health, sometimes you need to reach out and see a therapist.

There is no shame in going to therapy. If anything, it proves that you have a good sense of self and know it’s time to get professional help. Many people seek treatment, so remember — you’re not alone. 

Here are the steps to follow if you need help finding a therapist.

1. Start Your Search

It’s unlikely you’re not the only person looking for a therapist online or in your local community. You can start on Google and search “therapists near me” or “therapists for students in my area.” Spend some time researching online and see what types of websites come up. You’ll probably find sites like Healthline, Psychology Today, VeryWellMind and more. 

Start looking at the therapists in your area and read some of their reviews. Suppose you want to use insurance for your therapy appointments. In that case, you can contact your health insurance provider directly and ask for in-network therapists. You might hear about therapists from friends and family, get referrals from your doctor or see therapists on directories from mental health organizations. 

2. Consider Your Goals

As you search, it’s crucial to consider the goals you want to achieve by going to therapy. Are you trying to heal from a breakup? Do you struggle with academics? Is it hard to speak openly with your family and friends? Write down some of your current problems and think about your future self. How do you want yourself to feel after therapy? 

When you see your goals on paper, you’ll be able to tell a potential therapist about them. From there, they can create a suitable treatment plan to get you on track to meet your goals.

3. Set Up a Consultation

Most therapists and mental health services offices will establish new patients by providing an initial intake or consultation. It’s usually a free, 15-30 minute introductory session with a therapist. During a standard intake, the therapist will ask basic questions about your life, such as why you’re seeking therapy, your age, your lifestyle, your job or what school you go to.

This might seem scary initially, but therapists understand that new patients might not know how to handle an intake. It’s normal and expected to be nervous. If you’ve never sat through a therapy session, the intake will give you a glimpse of what a typical session entails. You can ask questions, speak honestly and see if you and the therapist might work well together.

Taking Care of Your Mental Health and Well-Being

Remember — finding a therapist best suited to your preferences might take time. Every therapist has a unique personality. Be open and willing to advocate for yourself and ask for a new counselor if your current therapist is not helping you.

Your mental health should be treated just as seriously as your physical health. If you’re experiencing a mental health crisis, contact a helpline below:

  • Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: (800) 799-7233
  • National Grad Crisis Line: (877) 472-3457
  • National Sexual Assault Hotline: (800) 656-4673
  • National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline: 988

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