Finding the right therapist
Research shows the quality of the connection you have with your therapist is the most important factor in how successful therapy is for you. That's why it's important to start therapy with someone who you click with. The truth is, finding them can take a little bit of work and can sometimes feel like a bit of a guessing game, so it's important to keep trying until you find the right one for you.
If you've already been to your GP to talk about your mental health, you might have received a referral to a therapist they recommend. Taking a recommendation from your GP can be a helpful first step, but it's really important to do your own research. They might have the right experience, but do they have the qualities that will help you connect with them?
This is also good to keep in mind for any recommendations you receive from friends and family. It's not uncommon to get advice from people close to you, especially if those people have been to therapy themselves. Again, this can be a great place to gather suggestions, but keep in mind that the therapist your friend sees might not be the right person for you.
How to find a therapist?
The Australian Psychological Society has a 'Find a Psychologist' tool online that allows you to search their directory of practitioners by issues and location. If you're unsure what you'd like help with, consider starting your search by location and filtering the list.
You can also try searching for free or low-cost psychologists using our Service Finder or searching terms like:
- Psychologists in [Location] for [Issue]
- Therapists in [Location] for [Issue]
- Medicare Psychologists (or Therapists)
It can be helpful to include social and cultural attributes in your search, for example, LGBTIQ+ friendly. Search results might not show the names of psychologists specifically, so try clicking on therapy centre websites in your results. They usually have a number of therapists you can choose from, making it easier to compare and choose the right therapist for you.
What makes the right therapist?
When choosing your therapist, it can be helpful to think of the attributes you would like in your therapist. Everyone is different, but many people say they’re looking for a therapist who is:
- A clear communicator
- A good listener
You might also think about how you feel when you talk to them. It's a good sign if you feel:
- Open to sharing
Keep in mind that, like any other relationship, the bond between you and your therapist strengthens over time, so it can be useful to keep reflecting on the relationship with your therapist after each session.
What should I be looking for?
The most important thing to consider when finding a therapist is how comfortable will you feel with this person? Can you get a sense of their personality from what they've written about themselves? Remember to also look at the areas they specialise in (e.g. depression, relationships) to see if they have experience in the area you need.
It’s important to trust your gut. If at first glance you don't think you'd get along with someone - maybe they remind you of an old school teacher or partner you had issues with - feel free to pass and keep searching for someone you feel comfortable with from the get-go.
Once you've narrowed it down to a few therapists, it's a good idea to reach out to them for a quick chat. This is a perfectly normal thing to do. It can help you get a better idea of the real person behind the online profile and ask any questions you might have. It can also save you the frustration and cost of going to your first therapy session and only then finding out that you don’t feel comfortable talking to them.
For many therapists, this will be common practice and something they'll be more than happy to do for you.
Therapists normally conduct back-to-back appointments and might not be able to chat the first time you call. Instead, leave a message and ask them to call you back when they can. If you don't feel up to calling, consider sending them an email with a few of your questions.
When you connect with a therapist it would be helpful to share a bit of your background, the specific issues you’d like help with and your goals for attending therapy.
It's also a good time to ask them any questions you have about their way of working, and them as a person and therapist.
You might consider asking them:
- How would you describe yourself and your style of therapy?
- Do you have experience working with people with [issue]?
- What's your approach to helping someone with [issue]?
- What do you charge per session?
- Do you accept Medicare?
- How far in advance do I need to book an appointment?
- How frequently do you see people at first?
- Are you available at a time/day that’s convenient for me?
If you don't like how things went on the call, maybe your gut is telling you something. Be open to continuing to look around. You don't need to make a decision on the spot. You can thank the therapist for the chat and let them know you'll have a think and be in touch.
Putting in this little bit of effort before your first session helps to screen your potential therapists and can help you find someone you can build a strong relationship with.
Why is picking the right therapist so important?
When choosing a therapist, you're choosing someone to be on your team. So they need to be someone you can trust and someone you can talk, learn and grow with.
If you don't feel comfortable and understood or are not able to connect with your therapist, your chances of achieving a positive outcome from therapy are significantly lower. Without honesty and openness, your therapist will have a really hard time figuring out how best to help you achieve your goals.
Remember, therapy is a two-way street. When you feel comfortable sharing your thoughts and feelings with your therapist, they'll have a better chance of being able to help you.
What if it doesn't feel right?
After your first or second session, you're probably going to have some idea of whether you 'click' with your therapist.
At this stage, it’s important to trust your gut. If, for whatever reason, you get the wrong feeling from them, then it's more than okay to not return for another session and instead find someone else who may be a better option.
This is a very normal part of finding the right therapist. So it's important that you don't view this as a problem with you, a problem with your therapist, or a problem with therapy.
Just like finding a best friend or a life partner, the person you're going to connect with is unique to you, and finding that person may take some trial and error.
By taking the time and that little bit of extra effort to find the right therapist, you’re setting yourself up to achieve the best possible result.
Keep in mind that if you decide to move to a new therapist, you may need a new referral from your GP, but you can transfer your Mental Health Treatment Plan if you have one.