Choosing the right therapist is an important first step on your mental health journey.
Individuals who connect with and trust their therapist show better outcomes overall. They also tend to find therapy more enjoyable, less stressful, and more rewarding. Feeling safe and comfortable in the patient-therapist relationship is key to maintaining the kind of openness and honesty that propels therapy forward.
At the same time, it’s important to find a therapist whose educational background, areas of interest and experience, and treatment strategies align with your expectations and goals. Psychotherapy is not a homogenous, one-size-fits-all endeavor. There are different schools of thought and different approaches that may work better for you than others.
In this article, we’ll take a step-by-step look at how to choose an online therapist that meets your emotional and psychological needs.
The first step is to paint a clear picture—both for yourself and your future therapist—of why you’re seeking therapy.
One way to do this is to describe where you are now and where you’d like to be. What kinds of feelings and thoughts are you having and how would you like them to change? There’s no right or wrong approach here. Write as much or as little as necessary. You might fill a page; you might just jot down a few descriptive words.
The process is more important than the actual result. The act of thinking and writing will help you more clearly understand what you’re looking for, which you can then communicate to your therapist.
It can also be useful to learn a bit more about the different kinds of therapy available to you. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), and psychodynamic therapy are all popular approaches. Reading through the descriptions may give you a better idea of what approach is right for you. This is also something to discuss with your therapist at your first session.
Online therapy platforms can be broadly broken down into two main flavors:
OnlineTherapy.com , for example, is a popular website with a large directory of therapists available for online counseling. You can filter results by issue or focus (like anxiety, depression, marriage counseling, etc.), language, region, gender and sexuality, faith focus, profession, age group, treatment approaches, and more.
The advantage of directories like this is that you can read through as many profiles as you like and directly contact the therapists that stand out.
Most therapists specialize in only a few domains. This may not only reflect their interests but also their educational background and treatment approaches. If you’re struggling with anxiety, be sure to look at therapists who specialize in anxiety management. If you and your partner are having trouble communicating effectively, seek out a couples or family counselor. Lean on your notes from Step 1 to help you narrow down your search.
Quick Tip: When faced with a large number of profiles online, you can use your browser’s built-in search function (Ctrl + F on Windows, Cmd + F on Mac) to look for specific terms, like “work-life balance”, “transgender,” or “sports.”
Matching services like Betterhelp and TalkSpace have grown in popularity in recent years. They leverage the power of AI and sophisticated machine-learning algorithms to match patients to therapists based on a questionnaire or interview.
The advantage here is that much of the work is done for you. You need only answer the questionnaire honestly and you’ve got a good chance of being matched with the right therapist on the first try. Betterhelp and TalkSpace count roughly 3.5 million users between them, which means they have a huge amount of data to draw upon to make accurate recommendations.
You lose some of the control, but the process can be much quicker and just as rewarding. The best online therapy platforms have been built with the input of professional psychologists and therapists, so it’s a little like having an expert help you in your choice.
All online therapy platforms allow you to ask to be matched to a new therapist if you’re not happy with your current one, so there’s very little risk involved.
Once you’ve chosen a therapist from a directory or have been matched with a therapist online, it’s crucial you approach this new relationship openly and honestly. This doesn’t just mean being open and honest with your therapist (which takes time), but also with yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and be sure to clearly explain your hopes and expectations for therapy.
A good therapist will listen to what you have to say, honestly let you know whether and how they can help you, and then work with you to build a treatment plan. They will also help you adjust your expectations based on their experience and common outcomes and explain what you can expect from your sessions together.
It can take some time to feel comfortable enough with your therapist to talk about your thoughts and feelings. In some cases, the anxiety or discomfort you feel may be quite general and not specific to your relationship. If that’s the case, speak to them about it; they may be able to help.
However, if after a few sessions you feel like you’d be more comfortable or better able to connect with somebody else, it may be time to change therapists. After all, trust, openness, and honesty are all essential to making the most of your experience, so it’s important to find somebody that elicits these kinds of feelings.
Therapists understand this and want you to feel comfortable and make progress. They understand the importance of the patient-therapist relationship, and a good online therapist will encourage you to seek out somebody you feel compatible with.
Finally, don’t be afraid to “go back to the drawing board.” This is a normal and natural part of therapy. Plus, you’ll have a better idea next time of who you’re looking for, what you liked, and what you didn’t like. Time spent in therapy is never time wasted.
Choosing an online therapist is important. The patient-therapist relationship can have a big impact on your personal experience with therapy and its effectiveness.
Start by getting a clear picture of why you’re seeking therapy and what you hope to achieve.
Next, use an online platform to find a therapist or take advantage of sophisticated matching services. You can compare platforms using our chart of best online therapy services and choose the service that fits you best.
Finally, spend time getting to know your therapist and establishing a treatment plan with them. If you don’t feel comfortable with your current therapist, don’t hesitate to seek help from somebody else.