How to Find a Good Therapist

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You’ve made a big step by deciding to get help. Now you have to find that help. Finding a good therapist can be daunting for anyone, especially if you aren’t feeling well. These tips will help you find a therapist and find out if they are a good match for you.

Most of this article also applies to psychiatrists or other mental health professionals. Therapist is a broad term that includes different types of counselors, therapists, and psychologists. The main difference between therapists and psychiatrists is that psychiatrists can prescribe medication and therapists cannot. Typically therapists provide some type of talk therapy, and psychiatrists focus on medication regimen. Many people see both a therapist and a psychiatrist who work together. There is a wide range of different mental health care professionals because therapists and psychiatrists can be divided into specialties, licenses, and treatment approaches.

Where to Start

To start your search, ask for a referral from your primary doctor or ask for recommendations from your friends, family, or support group. You can also research online by searching your insurance provider website, Yelp, or databases like Psychology Today.

Look for these things during your initial search:

  • Are they accepting new patients and do they take your insurance?
  • Do they specialize in bipolar disorder?
  • What is their style of therapy?
  • What is their availability?
  • Check Yelp reviews and disciplinary records for any red flags. If they have practiced in other states, check the disciplinary records for those states as well.

Questions to Ask

Once you’ve found a therapist, you need to see if they are a good fit for you. Here are some questions to ask at your first appointment or in advance on the phone. When discussing these questions, be open about your needs so you can make sure it is a good match.

  • Experience
    • Do you have a specialty?
    • Specialize in bipolar?
    • Specialize in certain age group, such as adolescents?
    • How long have you been practicing?
    • Where else have you practiced?
    • Do you keep up to date on advancements specifically about bipolar?
  • Style/Approach
    • What is your overall philosophy for your practice?
    • Do you use any methods like CBT or DBT?
    • What is your approach to medication?
    • Will you work with the rest of my health care team?
    • What are your goals? Think about what you want out of your sessions and if this matches their goals.
  • Availability
    • What is your schedule like? Consider if your schedules are compatible so that you can make appointments.
    • Are you available off hours? Who do I reach in an emergency?

Not a Good Fit?

What if you’ve gone through these steps and decide it’s not a good fit?  It’s ok if you don’t like your therapist and want to switch to a different person. About half of our volunteers did not like first person they saw. On average, it took a few months for most people to find a good match.

Be honest and upfront when you tell your therapist it’s not working out. Try saying something like, “I don’t think this is working for me,” “I don’t think this is a good fit,” or “I want another opinion.” Then look for a new therapist by starting at the beginning of this article. It can be frustrating trying again if you don’t like the first person you see, but it is worth the effort. In order to get the best care, it’s essential that you feel comfortable with this person and trust their working style.

Click here to learn more about treatment for bipolar disorder, and here to read more about therapy in our blogs.

This article was written by our Advice and Support Community, a group of about 50 volunteers who contribute their advice based on their experience living with or caring for someone with bipolar disorder.

International Bipolar Foundation is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read or received from the International Bipolar Foundation.

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