What do I look for in a psychologist/therapist?

So you have decided you need to see a psychologist but are uncertain regarding how to go about finding someone you would feel comfortable enough with. This is the experience of pretty much anyone looking to start therapy and it is quite daunting!


Exactly what should you be considering when looking for a potential therapist?

I have found that most people these days simply google psychologists in the geographical areas that are convenient for them. The days of being referred by a medical doctor seems to have passed and of course asking anyone you know about psychologists potentially opens you up to all sorts of questions and/or assumptions about why you are wanting to start seeing someone. So off you go ad search for psychologists only to encounter multiple websites and perhaps feeling even more lost with all of the options available to you.

Some factors that might be helpful to consider include:

  • practicalities:
    • is the therapist’s location convenient for you in terms of your home and/or workplace?
    • is it a cash only practice? Some psychologists only accept cash from clients. Some however do claim from medical aids on behalf of clients. This is particular helpful should paying for sessions and then claiming back from your medical aid result in cash-flow difficulties for yourself. Therapy is difficult to sustain financially for most South Africans and even if you are covered by medical aid, the inconvenience and financial juggling of first settling with the therapist and then claiming back from the medical aid is a big deterrent for many. I understand this and so I am a therapist who offers my clients the service of claiming directly from the medical aid on their behalf.
  • demographics of the therapist:
    • This includes gender – it may feel important in some cases to see a female therapist if one has experienced sexual abuse or assault at the hands of a male. Age – one might feel that much of their difficulties stem from their relationship with their mother and might want someone of similar age to their mom for this reason or might want someone their age for exactly this reason! Many clients also feel that much of who they are and the way in which they see and understand the world is based on their cultural background. In this case, you may feel a therapist who appears to have the markers indicating that she/he comes from a similar ¬†background to you might be important to you. It may feel that they will have an implicit understanding of your experiences and relationships.

Having said this, however, it is often the case that what we think may be the best fit for us in terms of the demographic and other features of the therapist are in fact based on assumptions that are either not the case or that the personality of the therapist is just not the correct fit for you.


Fit between a client and therapist

The single most important factor to look for between yourself and a therapist is the “fit” between the two of you. This is how it feels when you are in the room with that person. Does it feel like you are able to warm up sufficiently to this individual to open up to them? Do you have an automatic liking to them? Do their subtle body and facial signals put you at ease? Only you will know this and only you can determine this for yourself.


How does one know this before the first session though, you might ask? Well, you don’t. You do have to take a chance on a therapist. Go with your gut though and when having a look at various psychologist’s websites look our for aspects about what they say, the way they say it or the pictures on their site that speak to you. You will know after the first session however whether you would like to give the therapy a go with the psychologist or not. If it doesn’t feel right, try someone else. Concluding that therapy isn’t for you after one not great experience with therapy is like concluding you might be of a different sexual orientation after one bad date with someone!


I wish you all of the best in finding the right therapist for you. The fit is vital to the therapeutic process. And when it is a good fit, the results can truly be magical…


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