How to Find Your Therapist

By: Joseph Lowe

How long did it take you to find your therapist? Did you call up a local agency? Or did you walk into your college counseling office? Did you exhaust your researching skills or did you look for someone who looks like the right fit from their site bio page? Did you trust the first therapist you chose (or were maybe assigned to) or did you shop around for the best fit for your specific therapeutic needs? Are you feeling overwhelmed by all the questions I’m throwing at you? Yeah, I would be too.

Narrowing down the best therapist for yourself is both exciting and overwhelming. It can be akin to asking and answering dozens of questions at breakneck speed before you know what you’re even looking for – as you might’ve experienced at the beginning of this article. This can be especially nerve wracking if you’ve never scheduled a therapy appointment.

From figuring out insurance questions to combating therapy stigma to experiencing general nervousness, choosing therapy isn’t as easy as therapy yeasayers make it seem. After all, according to a 2022 Healthline survey, 48% of respondents visited two or more therapists to find the best therapeutic match.

Finding “a therapist” is much easier than finding “the therapist” or “the therapists”. Let’s consider this a quick, handy multiple-step guide to tracking down your ideal therapist. We’ll review a number valuable considerations to reflect, such as:

-Understanding therapist credentials
-Learning basic therapeutic approaches (and what might resonate with you)
-Finding the therapist meeting your unique needs

I can’t promise this will help you find your therapist on the first try, but I can guarantee lessons learned here will point you in the right direction. Now we are assuming here that you understand you need to seek help from an individual mental health professional – but perhaps you don’t know where to start.

Understanding Credentials

Perhaps your initial search started as most general searches do – on Google. You typed in “therapists near me”, and you were met with a plethora of hyperlinks, agency names and acronyms resembling Campbell’s alphabet soup. While it might feel daunting, these acronyms can be understood in simple terms and determine the treatment approaches you’ll experience.

Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LCMHC-A, LCMHC, LCMHC-S)

Textbook Definition: According to the North Carolina Board of Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselors, a licensed clinical mental health counselor (LCMHC) is, “…a person engaged in the practice of counseling who holds a license as a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor issued under the provisions of the North Carolina Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselors Act.”

Layman’s Terms Definition: If an individual holds the LCMHC licensure, it implies they have been approved by the state of North Carolina to engage in the practice of traditional therapeutic practices. Each licensed counselor has earned a master’s degree in a counseling related field and have engaged in practicum and internship experiences before gaining licensure. If you’re curious about the LCMHC-A and LCMHC-S acronyms, this implies they have earned either an associate level license or a supervisory license respectively. For LCMHC-A counselors, each counselor is supervised by an LCMHC-S to ensure they meet state requirements to achieve full licensure. Counselors under the LCMHC-A licensure are newer to the field, but are still licensed and knowledgeable clinicians just as their more experienced peers. As a note, any of the following abbreviations with an “A” at the end of the acronym operate under similar rules.

Social Worker (LCSW-A, LCSW)

Textbook Definition: According to the National Association of Social Workers, a licensed social worker engages in, “…the professional application of social work theory and methods to the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of psychosocial dysfunction, disability, or impairment, including emotional, mental, and behavioral disorders.”

Layman’s Term Definition: If an individual holds LCSW licensure, it implies they are also approved by the state of North Carolina to engage in the practice of traditional therapy practices. Similarly to LCMHCs, any LCSW has completed a master’s program in social work as well as gained practical therapy experience before gaining licensure. This may sound similar to LCMHC because it is. A critical difference between an LCSW and an LCMHC lies in the scope of practice. While LCSWs can work with clients directly through psychotherapy, their expertise also might allow them to work on a broader scale to help communities find resources, engage in social reform, help with housing concerns or influence public policy if desired.

Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT-A, LMFT)

Textbook Definition: According to the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy, licensed marriage and family therapists(LMFT) are, “…mental health professionals trained in psychotherapy and family systems, and licensed to diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders within the context of marriage, couples and family systems.”

Layman’s Term Definition: If an individual holds LMFT licensure, he or she is licensed to provide therapeutic services in the state of North Carolina – however the LMFT theoretical approach may differ significantly from that of the LCMHC or LCSW. While the LCMHC or LCSW may focus on theoretical approaches across behavior, cognitive or humanistic theories – more on this in the next section – the LMFT has been trained to enlist family systems approaches centered around brief, solution-focused therapy according to the AAMFT. An LMFT provides therapy under the context that relationships play an integral role in evaluating concerns and the overall treatment process. If your therapeutic concerns revolve around relationship concerns or stem from childhood or relationship trauma, perhaps an LMFT might be an ideal therapist for you.

Psychiatrist (M.D.)

Textbook Definition: According to the American Psychiatric Association, a psychiatrist is, “…a medical doctor (an M.D. or D.O.) who specializes in mental health, including substance use disorders. Psychiatrists are qualified to assess both the mental and physical aspects of psychological problems.”

Layman’s Term Definition: If an individual is a psychiatrist, that means she is a medical doctor and has attended/completed medical school. She is eligible to perform medical tests, order lab or psychological evaluations as well as prescribe medications – such as antidepressants, sedatives, or mood stabilizers, among others. Psychiatrists might practice therapeutic interventions or engage in talk therapy as your traditional LCMHC, LCSW or LMFT does, though they are the only mental health professional with the ability to prescribe medications. Quite often, LCMHCs, LCSWs or LMFTs work closely with psychiatrists to help guide clients through prescription or talk-focused interventions together. That is you might work with a team of mental health professionals as opposed to one singular therapist.

Whether you’re choosing to partner with an LCMHC, LCSW, LMFT or psychiatrist, it’s critical to ensure your therapy is covered by your insurance and understand out-of-pocket costs associated with the services you’re searching for. Generally, if working with insurance, your insurance provider will provide a list of covered licensed mental health professionals as well as a directory of covered practitioners if requested.

Understanding Theoretical Approaches

Okay, we’ve checked off therapist credentials. Now, what in the world are all of those theories therapists write about on their bio pages? Let’s take a quick step into an introductory counseling theory class for a moment and review counseling techniques. The American Psychological Association (APA) provides a phenomenal breakdown of theoretical approaches I’ll be using as a guide, but let’s try to review their synopsis for your comprehension and add a couple more approaches.

Behavior Approaches

Key Idea: Behavior therapy places emphasis on the cause and effect nature of positive or negative behaviors. Behavior approaches assume that a scientific approach (think operant conditioning or classical conditioning from middle school) analyzing your specific actions might shed some light on why you feel the way you do. Practitioners work with clients by utilizing interventions aimed at identifying positive and negative patterns of behavior and replacing them with alternatives as necessary.

Example Approaches: Systematic desensitization, Cognitive restructuring, Exposure therapy

Cognitive Approaches

Key Idea: Cognitive therapeutic approaches categorize faulty thinking patterns as the primary culprit of emotions and feelings. Plainly put cognitive practitioners believe altering the way you think will alter the way you feel and behave.

Example Approaches: Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), Reframing, Cognitive restructuring, Mindfulness techniques

Family Approaches

Key Idea: Family therapeutic approaches operate under the assumption that a client’s family and social relationships will provide a roadmap of his or her state of mental health. Therapists operating under this approach try out interventions such as building out genograms (think of a family tree built around the client’s interpersonal relationships), role-playing social situations or even inviting family members into therapy sessions (with consideration and permission of the client) to aid with communication concerns or negative thought processes.

Example Approaches: Family systems therapy, Strategic family therapy, Structural family therapy, Genograms

Humanistic Approaches

Key Idea: According to the APA,, “This approach emphasizes people’s capacity to make rational choices and develop to their maximum potential.” Humanistic practitioners might operate under the belief system that the client is ultimately the expert and often defer to them about the content direction of the counseling session. Personally, I’ve always considered humanistic approaches closely related to psychoanalytic approaches as both center on internal belief systems and the client’s search for meaning or purpose.

Example Approaches: Person-centered therapy (Client-centered therapy), Gestalt therapy, Existential therapy, Narrative therapy

Psychoanalytic Approaches

Key Idea: Psychoanalysis was founded and heavily influenced by Sigmund Freud. Psychoanalysis places heavy emphasis on the unconscious (thoughts or impulses we are not aware of) and the conscious (what we are presently thinking about or experiencing). Practitioners often believe much can be learned about the unconscious through dedicated talk interventions with a psychotherapist. The psychotherapist can then analyze conversations for clearer interpretation of the unconscious and conscious.

Example Approaches: Jungian approaches, Adlerian therapy, Dream analysis, Free association

Eclectic Approaches

Key Idea: Every client is different, so every client deserves a unique blend of therapeutic approaches during a session. This is the “no singular theory fits every client” approach. A practitioner operating under this assumption will often study and use a plethora of counseling theories and intervention models to find the best fit for the client based on the client’s particular needs. Rather than defining oneself as a Jungian psychotherapist or a Freudian therapist or a CBT-practitioner, this therapist might just be all of the above.

Example Approaches: All of them

Finding your fit

As stated previously, it’s not tough to find a therapist. I can assure you that your search engine of choice will provide you with an infinite amount of information on nearby therapists within a 10-mile radius. Yet, finding the right therapist can be as challenging as it is rewarding. Unfortunately, there is no other way to find that therapist without beginning your initial search. Fortunately, here are a few helpful recommendations and resources to get you started.

Here are a few websites to begin your search:

Psychology Today –
Online Therapy –
APA Search Engine –
AAMFT Directory –
Mental Health America Affiliate Resource Center –
Good Therapy –
Three Oaks Behavioral Health –

Here a suggestions to begin your therapy search on the right note:

As mentioned before, and I cannot stress enough, ask your therapist of choice about their payment options. Learn more about your insurance coverage and reach out to your insurance provider to see what mental health professional credentials are covered under your plan. Furthermore, it could be beneficial to ask your potential therapist about discounted rate offerings that might be available for you to take advantage of. You’ll never know until you ask, and a simple question could open the door for you to better mental health.

Research and identify a few therapists that fit your ideal professional, and start to set up short interviews with them. Not all therapists will offer a short consultation meeting, but a number of them will do so free of charge. During your interview sessions, be sure to ask the most pertinent questions to understand how they can help you during your plight. Here are couple to start off with:

-What particular mental health concerns do you have the most experience with?
Have you worked with someone that matches my cultural background or unique identifiers? If not, how do you feel about that potential challenge?
-Do you offer telehealth options or do you primarily see clients in person?
-Can you see clients after traditional business hours? Where are you located?
-What is your emergency response protocol if a client is in crisis? Who would I reach out to?
-What therapeutic approaches or theoretical interventions do you utilize often?
-Do you think I’d be a good fit for your practice?

Don’t be afraid to say no thank you. In my young therapy career, I’ve been ghosted by clients more times than I can count. I’ve been told by a client or two that perhaps I’m not the best therapist to meet their needs. This is to be expected, and this is also why most therapists keep a wide network of mental health clinicians to recommend your way during those times. Speaking for myself, though I tend to believe most clinicians believe similarly, it’s an honor and a privilege to work with every client we have. There’s no hard feelings if a client should choose to find another provider that better suits their needs.

Were the vibes right? After you’ve spoken to a few therapists, take some time to revisit how you felt during the session. Did you feel comfortable or were you fidgety? How was your anxiety level? What was your demeanor prior to the discussion versus after you ended the meeting? If you went in person, did the office decor throw you off? These subtle perspectives matter because this therapeutic adventure is completely about you and your needs. The therapist – no matter how revolutionary they may seem – must ultimately meet your requirements and specific necessities.

There you have it. Everyone on the Three Oaks team hopes this blog post is helpful in your therapy journey. We invite you to add any other suggestions, thoughts or comments if you found this helpful!