How to Find the Right Therapist

Determine the type of professional you need.

If you’re suffering from ailments like panic attacks, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder, look for a clinical psychologist or social worker rather than a psychiatrist, said Dr. David D. Burns, adjunct clinical professor emeritus at the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine.

If the issue is something more like bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, sociopathy, borderline personality disorder or schizophrenia, it’s best to see a psychiatrist or a psychologist with considerable experience in that specialty. The American Psychology Association offers a comprehensive list of options. Depending on your insurance provider, you may be restricted to specialists within your network.

While the role of a psychologist is primarily to diagnose and use talk-based coping strategies, don’t rule out the possibility of medication from a psychiatrist if you continue to experience profound suffering. For many patients, Dr. Burns said, medication can be important and even lifesaving. (Combining regular therapy sessions with medication is linked to more sustained symptom relief than either option on its own — but pursuing that route is a conversation to have with the therapist you choose.)

Look for chemistry.

I learned the hard — and expensive — way that I needed a strong therapeutic alliance with my therapist. I needed someone who was warm, reliable and within my price range, and the people I had seen up to that point were none of those things. Finally, I broke up with my psychologist by text message, and ghosted my eating disorder counselor.

Then, after a nerve-racking phone call, an intake worker at the Montreal Center for Anxiety and Depression played matchmaker based on my needs, and placed me with a clinical social worker.

Angela, my social worker, used cognitive behavioral therapy to…

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