The Science of Seeking Help

By Susan Buss, LCSW
July 2, 2006
In a search for a therapist, many dive in head first without asking the right questions, then find themselves searching for a new professional after wasting time and money on someone who, in the end, is the wrong fit for them. In the search for a qualified therapist, there are several important steps to take that can mean the difference between frustration and a long-lasting, healing relationship.

Making The First Step

The Internet is a great place to start your search. Many therapists are listed online or have their own Web sites, which makes it easy to take that first step toward therapy. Ask for referrals from physicians or family members, or visit Web sites like that simplify the search even further with an online listing of therapists, organized by location and specialty.


Once you’ve identified several therapists you’d like to approach, continue the screening process by calling or e-mailing with questions regarding cost per session, location, scheduling and insurance options. Look for a therapist whose office is less than an hour away from your home, who has hours that work with your schedule, and whose payment options are clearly defined. Also find out whether you can contact them at any time or if they have set hours when they will communicate with you.


It’s best to interview several therapists during your search. This will help you feel like an informed consumer making a wise and empowered investment in the most important part of you, your mental and emotional health. As you interview potential therapists, remember that academic training and professional experience are important, but it can also be helpful if they’ve worked with your issue before. While they may be more than willing to rattle off a list of theorists such as Freud or Jung, it may not mean much to you. You need to know that he or she understands where you’re coming from. If a therapist has experience working with your particular issue, ask him or her what treatment approach they usually follow.

There are times that it may be important to seek a therapist of a certain gender or sexual preference, or one who has had similar experiences as you. For instance, new parents may prefer a therapist who has raised children, or someone in recovery may want a therapist with expertise in that area.


Once you’ve chosen a therapist, you will visit his or her office. And although it would stand to reason, not all professionals are, well, professional. Professionalism in the therapist’s office means finding someone who is ethical, who treats you fairly, and has a license in good standing. As you speak with prospective therapists, trust your intuition; if you have a bad feeling about anyone you speak with, don’t work with that person as your intellectual and emotional safety could be at risk. In the office, a therapist should have appropriate verbal and physical boundaries, and sit at a comfortable distance from you. There should be a sense of consistency between words and deeds, and between what they, and others, tell you. A good therapist should be a clear and open communicator, a good listener, and share in the conversation.

Trust Your Gut

When making a decision on which therapist to see, it’s most important to listen to your gut. Ask yourself these questions: Do you look forward to returning, on some level? Is the therapist easy to engage in conversation, and does he or she inspire hope? Do you feel like you’re an equally important part of the clinical team? If the answer to all of these is YES, you’re on the right path.

Hopefully, your search will lead to a positive, life-altering relationship with your chosen therapist. But if you attend several sessions and decide this therapist isn’t the one for you, don’t get discouraged – your first time in therapy, even a few good sessions is an accomplishment. Many people visit two or three therapists before finding the one they stick with for the long-term.

Referring to this article:
“The Science of Seeking Help” was written by Susan Buss, LCSW, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and published in the Find (formerly Mental Health Journal in August, 2006.

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