When “shopping” for a therapist you should put in as much time and effort as you do when buying a pair of shoes.

When you need a new pair of shoes, you pick a pair that appear to meet your needs, you try them on and walk around the store to see if they are the right fit. If they are not, you try on another pair to see if they feel more comfortable. You continue to do this until you have found the perfect fit.  

Why would you do anything less when looking for a therapist?

When you are looking for a therapist to help with thoughts of suicide, finding a therapist who specifically treats suicide risk is critical. If you’ve ever been abused by someone in authority or affected by historic trauma, are part of the LGBTQ+ community or experienced racism, you may want to ask questions that help you find out whether a potential therapist is culturally informed and sensitive to your experiences.

A few questions for you to consider asking your therapist during your first session:

  • Are you a licensed mental health professional in this state?
  • What do you consider to be your specialty or area of expertise?
  • How much experience do you have working with people who are dealing with thoughts of suicide?
  • What kinds of treatments have you found effective in resolving suicide risk? Are they based on evidence from randomized controlled trials, such as the Collaborative Assessment and Management of Suicidality (CAMS), Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Suicide Prevention (CBT-SP) or Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) ?  (this answer must be “yes”)
  • How many years have you been in practice?
  • What insurance do you accept?
  • Will I need to pay you directly and then seek reimbursement from my insurance company, or do you bill the insurance company?
  • Are you part of my insurance network?
  • Do you accept Medicare or Medicaid?
  • If I need medication, can you prescribe it or recommend someone who does?
  • Do you provide access to telehealth services?
  • How soon can I expect to start feeling better?
  • What do we do if our treatment plan isn’t working?

If you want to be part of a supportive network of people who understand your experiences, you may want to consider looking for a therapist who’s involved with support groups or group therapy sessions.

When you’ve narrowed down your choices, you may find it helpful to think about your goals and questions, so you can be sure you and your therapist are well matched and aligned on your treatment plan.

Here are a few things to notice as you talk with your therapist:

  • Does the therapist interrupt you, or do they listen carefully to what you’re saying?
  • How does your body feel during a therapy session? Do you feel tense?
  • Does the therapist respect your time by being prompt to appointments?
  • Does the therapist brush off or invalidate your concerns?
  • Do you feel seen, heard, and respected during your session?

No matter how many professional accreditations your therapist has, your own feelings of trust and comfort should be your top priority.  Ultimately, finding the right therapist is a personal matter. Human connection is at the heart of effective therapy, and you can build that sense of connection whether you meet your therapist in person, on the phone, or online.

Your goals may change as you work with a therapist. It’s okay to talk to your therapist about changing the direction of your treatment plan as your needs evolve.  But if you feel uncomfortable with your therapist for any other reason, it’s all right to look for someone else. You don’t need a reason to switch therapists. It’s enough that you don’t feel comfortable.

[Sources: American Psychological Association and Anxiety and Depression Association of America]