Mental Health Column: How to Find a Great Therapist

By John Howard and Peter Craig – December 2, 2019

A great therapist can help you know yourself better, improve your relationship skills, help you arrive at important insights and give you tools to bring to life’s twists and turns. A therapist can help lift you out of depression, heal that anxiety you’ve carried around for years and support you and your partner to achieve healthy communication.

A great therapist is a trusted sounding board, a confidante and a third-party opinion on life decisions. A therapist can help you learn and grow beyond what you know is possible based on your prior experience. A great therapist forms a real relationship with you, cares about you and your success and encourages you as you move forward in life.

If you’re looking for a therapist, how do you find a great one? One that you feel comfortable talking to, that seems to understand who you are, and that has the training, education and experience to help guide you according to your goals? Here are some tips to match yourself with a therapist that is right for you:

1. Don’t choose a therapist based on technique or specialization alone. While technique can be important in some specialized cases, research shows that the most important factor in effective psychotherapy is the quality of the relationship between you and your therapist. You’re looking for a great person and therapist that you feel matches your personality, not just one that practices a specific technique.

2. Ask around and read websites. Austin is a word-of-mouth kind of town. If you don’t mind letting your friends or colleagues know that you’re looking for a great therapist, you might get some good recommendations from people you know. You can also ask healthcare providers, or other members of your support team such as personal trainers, chiropractors and coaches. Once you have a list of names, peruse the therapists’ websites and see if you connect with how they describe themselves. Do you get a good feeling from reading about them and their approach? That’s a good sign that you might connect with them in person.

3. Be patient and think long term. Great therapists often have full schedules and may not have immediate availability. Don’t delay getting into therapy right away if the issue is pressing, but if it can wait a few weeks or a couple months, you might consider waiting until your top choice in a therapist has an opening. A great therapist can sometimes get to the bottom of an issue faster, and a good fit with your therapist may allow you to go deeper in your work. You might spend a little more money with a therapist that is usually busy, but the added cost is usually well spent in terms of focusing on the key areas, saving you both time and money in the long run. Think of therapy as a long-term investment in your personal growth, not just a quick fix for an immediate problem.

4. Does your therapist walk their talk? One of the hallmarks of a great therapist is that they are their real selves when they’re with you, and they’re not just performing in a role. You want someone with real life wisdom, and someone who practices what they preach. A therapist who walks their talk is generally down to earth and accessible rather than authoritative, stuffy or formal. When a therapist is available for a deep and genuine relationship with you, it can enhance the therapy and its effectiveness. Great therapists are also typically engaged in their own therapy, learning and growth and are humble enough to know that they are works in progress rather than examples of perfect living. You can ask a therapist you are considering what they do to focus on their own healing, growth and learning.

5. A therapist that knows the treatment plan. A great therapist respects that you are the expert on your own objectives, but also knows that you have come to seek a professional’s expertise in helping you arrive at those goals. A therapist understands that they must be in charge of the treatment plan, and understand the most efficient path from A to Z. You can expect a good therapist to help guide you to your goal without being preachy. You want a therapist that knows the way — on whatever issue or issues you’re working on — and that holds you accountable to a growth process that leads you there.

6. Ask them if you’re a good fit for them. A therapy relationship is a two-way street. You’d like to choose your therapist, but the therapist also needs to choose you. Great therapy can occur when both client and therapist feel it’s a good fit. Since therapists have experience with what types of clients match their work the best, it can be helpful to ask if the therapist feels you connect well with their approach. It’s part of our ethics as therapists to make sure that clients are well-placed. Don’t be surprised if your therapist suggests that a different therapist or therapy might be better for you. Sometimes that decision is determined after the first session, and sometimes after some time in therapy. Being matched well with your therapist makes the work more productive and effective, and allows for the magic that can occur when you have a great fit.

Finding a great therapist can take time, trial and error and asking around to find out who people recommend. It may be advisable to try something different if you feel stuck in the work or like it’s not a great fit. A great therapist offers a safe place to talk about your deepest thoughts and feelings, and a helpful voice that guides you gently in the direction you’re wanting to go. A great therapist also has the training and experience to understand the most effective path to your life goals.

These days, going to therapy has become commonplace and a well-established; a valuable way to examine your life path, set new goals and move to achieve them. Find a great therapist and invest in yourself, whether it’s to heal anxiety, depression, stress, relationship problems, sleep or other issues or just to optimize your life. Finding a great therapist is a little like having a little Yoda in your pocket — you have someone on your team that cares about your health, fulfillment and success in life. We could all use more team members like that!


John Howard and Peter Craig are psychotherapists at Austin Professional Counseling and Presence Wellness, a multidisciplinary center dedicated to helping you heal, grow, and thrive at life with the latest approaches to physical, mental, and relationship well-being.


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