What credentials and qualifications should I look for in a therapist or counselor?

Finding the right therapist can be a daunting task, especially if you’re new to the world of psychotherapy. With so many options available, it’s important to do your research and understand what credentials and qualifications to look for in a therapist or counselor. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through the process of finding the right therapist, from the initial research phase to the first session and beyond. Whether you’re seeking therapy for the first time or looking to switch therapists, this guide will provide you with the information you need to make an informed decision.

Before the Consultation: Researching Potential Therapists

When starting your search for a therapist, it’s important to gather information about their education, certifications, and specializations. A therapist’s website should provide these details, giving you insight into their qualifications. Different mental health accreditations exist, such as licensed professional counselors (LPC), licensed clinical social workers (LCSW), and licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFT). It’s essential to verify a therapist’s credentials on the Department of Consumer Affairs website for your state.

Additionally, a therapist’s website should communicate their approach to therapy and any specific techniques they use. Some therapists specialize in areas like substance abuse, family therapy, couples counseling, or financial issues. By reading their website, you can gain an understanding of what to expect during sessions. It’s important to keep an open mind, as there are many different approaches to therapy, and there is little evidence that any one therapy is better than another.

While online reviews can be helpful in identifying potential therapists, it’s important to approach them with caution. Therapy is subjective, and what works for one person may not work for another. However, reviews can help you identify red flags, such as therapists who watch the clock or push their own agenda. Ultimately, trust your gut feeling when reading reviews and consider them as one piece of the puzzle in your decision-making process.

During the Phone Call: The Consultation

Once you have narrowed down your list of potential therapists, it’s time to reach out and schedule a consultation. Many therapists offer free phone or in-person screenings before setting up an appointment. During this consultation, you’ll have the opportunity to share a bit about your background, the specific issues you’re facing, and your therapy goals. It’s also a chance to ask the therapist questions that are important to you, such as their education, experience, and success rate with your particular issue.

In addition to asking about the therapist’s background, it’s important to gauge their listening skills during the consultation. A good therapist should be compassionate, nonjudgmental, and attentive during the conversation. However, it’s important to remember that what constitutes “good” listening can vary from person to person. Some individuals prefer therapists who listen and provide a safe space for venting, while others prefer therapists who take a more active role in teaching coping skills and offering feedback. Trust your instincts and consider whether you feel heard and understood during the consultation.

During this initial phone call, it’s also essential to inquire about the therapist’s fees and availability. Therapy can be a significant financial commitment, so it’s important to have a clear understanding of the costs involved. Additionally, ask the therapist about their treatment plan for your specific issue. A well-prepared therapist should be able to provide a general idea of how they suggest treating your problem and what strategies they believe will help you reach your goals.

During Your First Session: Establishing a Connection

The first therapy session can be slightly awkward, especially if you’ve never been to therapy before. It’s important to remember that therapy is a collaborative process, and the conversation will naturally unfold as you and your therapist get to know each other. Your therapist may start by asking about your week or any specific issues you’d like to discuss, and the conversation will progress from there.

During this initial session, it’s essential to pay attention to your therapist’s professional conduct. Good therapists establish clear boundaries, keeping the relationship professional and focused on your needs. They should remain attentive throughout the session, avoiding distractions such as checking their phone. It’s also crucial that your therapist supports your goals and objectives rather than imposing their own agenda.

Establishing a treatment plan is another important aspect of the first session. Your therapist should work with you to define specific goals and objectives for therapy. The treatment plan should outline strategies and techniques that your therapist believes will help you achieve those goals. Before beginning treatment, your therapist may also ask you to sign an informed-consent document, which outlines your rights and responsibilities as well as theirs.

After a Few Weeks: Assessing Progress and Red Flags

After a few weeks of therapy, you should start to feel supported and hopeful. Therapy is a process, and it takes time to see progress. However, if you don’t feel a sense of control or change after several sessions, it may be time to reevaluate your therapy experience. Therapy should empower you and provide you with the tools and skills to cope with your emotional challenges.

It’s important to be aware of potential red flags that may indicate a problematic therapist-client relationship. If your therapist constantly watches the clock, makes you feel guilty for quitting, or pushes their own agenda, these are signs that you may not be receiving the help you need. A good therapist respects your boundaries and goals and will refer you to another professional if they cannot help with a specific issue.

Other red flags to watch out for include therapists who talk more than they listen, interrupt you frequently, engage in inappropriate behavior, or violate your confidentiality. These behaviors are not only unprofessional but can also be harmful to your therapeutic progress. If you experience any of these red flags, it’s important to trust your instincts and consider switching therapists.


Finding the right therapist is a personal journey that requires research, self-reflection, and trust in your instincts. By following the steps outlined in this comprehensive guide, you can navigate the process of finding a therapist who is qualified, empathetic, and aligned with your therapy goals. Remember that therapy is a collaborative process, and it’s important to establish a strong therapeutic alliance with your therapist. With the right therapist by your side, you can embark on a journey of self-discovery, growth, and healing. Call us today at 833-820-2922.