Finding The Right Therapist For You

The process of finding a therapist can be highly anxiety producing. Frequently when people decide they would benefit from seeing a therapist, they are experiencing significant upset in their lives – not the ideal moment to be dealing with the stress involved in finding someone with whom it feels safe and right to be vulnerable. All sorts of people may hold themselves out as competent professionals to assist with emotional and mental issues, but, just as in any field, discrimination is called for. A sweet personality is no guarantee of ethical or effective skills, and a therapist who is just perfect for one person may not be a good fit for the next. One size does not fit all!

By following these tips, the psychotherapy consumer can greatly increase the probability of finding a therapist who will help the client reach his/her therapy goals in a highly satisfactory manner:


Word of mouth is a good starting place. If someone you know and respect has had good success with a particular therapist, it is possible that you might, too.

Referrals from other professionals are a good bet. Doctors, lawyers, massage therapists, clergy, teachers, etc. often hear about the work of therapists and can assist in your search.

Remember that virtually anyone can take out an advertisement or create a website. But a professional who bothers to participate in his/her professional organization is demonstrating an investment in being affiliated with colleagues who strive to uphold high standards of care. For example, Marriage and Family Therapists in California are likely to be members of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT).

All therapists listed on CAMFT¹s website are members in good standing. Take a look at You can search there for a therapist by name or location and also by treatment modality and by clinical issues.


Before interviewing a therapist, be familiar with the various options available. In California, and most other states, the law requires that anyone providing professional services to diagnose and treat mental disorders must be licensed, or be in pursuit of a license and working under the supervision of a licensed clinician. All licensed clinicians in California have passed rigorous state exams and are required to regularly complete continuing education. These are the pertinent licensed professions in California:

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists, also known simply as MFTs or LMFTs, are clinicians with a minimum of a master’s degree in psychology, clinical psychology, counseling psychology or marriage & family therapy. They are trained to understand family systems, and they work with individual adults and children, couples, families, or groups. MFTs generally focus on assisting the client/patient to achieve more satisfying relationships in their lives, thereby alleviating the emotional or mental issue that bring them to therapy. The underlying assumption is that psychic or emotional pain is rooted in relationship troubles, either current or from the family of origin.

Licensed Clinical Social Workers have a minimum of master’s degree, and are skilled in matching individuals and families with social services. They often work in hospitals, clinics, and agencies, but may also work as therapists in private practice.

Psychologists have a doctoral degree in psychology, or clinical psychology. Psychologists often have advanced training in research methods, testing of brain functioning, learning disabilities, and other aspects of psychology.

Psychiatrists are medical doctors with advanced training that allows them to prescribe psychotropic medications, i.e., medicines to treat emotional or mental problems. Some psychiatrists only prescribe medications, and some do talk therapy as well. They frequently collaborate with the other professions to manage medications while another type of therapist does the talk therapy.


Interview more than one possible therapist, and be wary of any therapist who discourages this idea. No one therapist is ideal for everyone.

Tell the therapist what you are wanting from therapy. Notice what happens then. Do you come away feeling as if the therapist heard you and responded appropriately?

Inquire as to the potential therapist’s education, training, licensure status, and membership in a professional organization for that license. You may check online with the appropriate licensing board to see if the therapist is licensed, and if there has been any disciplinary action taken against the license.

Ask the therapist what it is that happens in his/her office.

Reprinted with permission from the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists.