Ask a Therapist: How Do I Know What Type of Therapy Is Best for Me?

Verywell / Catherine Song

In the “Ask a Therapist” series, I’ll be answering your questions about all things mental health and psychology. Whether you are struggling with a mental health condition, coping with anxiety about a life situation, or simply looking for a therapist's insight, submit a question. Look out for my answers to your questions every other Friday in the Healthy Mind newsletter.

Our Reader Asks

There are so many different types of therapists and treatments I don’t know how to get started. How do I know what type of therapy is best for me? 

-Sarah, 66

Amy's Answer

It can feel overwhelming to research therapy options. And many people give up on getting a therapist because they don’t know how to get started. Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to simplify the process so you can begin therapy and start feeling better.

Understanding Credentials

When you look at therapy directories or you start researching therapists in your community you’re likely to see a variety of initials after their names—LCSW, LPC, LDAC. Psy. D, LMFT, etc. 

Those initials stand for things like Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.

Those initials just mean that they have the credentials they need to practice. They have the education, the experience, and the approval of their state licensing board to be a therapist. 

Ultimately, most of them offer the same types of services. So, unless you’re really interested in doing so, you don’t necessarily need to understand all those titles. Instead, stay focused on finding a licensed mental health professional that you feel you can connect with.

Types of Treatment

Getting past the initials is only the first step, however. Many therapists also talk about the types of treatment they offer, like cognitive behavioral therapy or EMDR

There may be one specific type of therapy that speaks to you. For example, you might find EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) sounds like an appealing way to deal with past trauma. Or, you might think that sounds awful because you want to talk about moving forward, not the past.

If you have a strong feeling about a type of treatment, choose a therapist who offers something you’re interested in.

Fortunately, you don’t have to know what treatment is best for you. That’s the therapist’s job. A therapist may recommend certain treatments based on your needs and goals.

If a therapist isn’t trained in a specific treatment modality that they think may be a good fit, they may recommend you transfer to another therapist. 

Ultimately, however, it’s up to you to decide what you’re comfortable with. If a specific technique or type of therapy doesn’t seem to be a good match, you aren’t obligated to do it. Ask questions and get to know a bit about the potential risks and benefits before starting any therapy.

What to Look For

The most important thing to look for in a therapist is someone you’ll feel comfortable working with. A healthy therapeutic relationship is more important than the type of treatment.

You might decide you’re most comfortable working with someone who is around the same age or maybe you want someone who is from your parents’ generation. It’s important to consider what type of person you imagine yourself opening up to the most.

In addition to the type of person you want to talk to, consider their specialties. Most therapists will say whether they specialize in treating specific issues or conditions or whether they have extensive experience working with certain populations. 

So whether you want an older female therapist who specializes in anxiety, or you want a younger male who works with individuals who identify as LGBTQ+, it’s important to find a good match.

Communication Options

In the past, therapy usually involved meeting with a therapist one time a week in an office setting. That’s really evolved over the past few years, however. 

Now, you can have video appointments, phone calls, or text message conversations. It all depends on what you’re looking for. 

So consider whether you’d like to reach out to a local therapist who you can see face-to-face or whether you’d like to access an online therapist who may offer several ways to communicate.

Keep in mind that you may have a greater pool of therapists to choose from if you opt for online treatment. So on the positive side, you may be able to access a therapist who has a specialty that no one in your community has but on the flip side, having more therapists as options might feel overwhelming.

Fortunately, many agencies or online therapy services do that matching for you. Just tell them what you want to work on and a bit about yourself, and they may be able to make some recommendations about who is the best fit for you.

Where to Look

There are several places you might start looking for a therapist. If you’re interested in seeing someone in your local community, you might start by asking your physician for a recommendation.

If you have a friend or family member who sees a therapist, you might ask them to see if their therapist can recommend someone. Seeing the same therapist as a sibling or close friend might not work well if you’re talking about them in treatment. You can also check online directories or conduct a quick online search. 

If you’re open to online therapy, check out the various online therapy sites. You might find that these services will help you discover the best match for you. They may suggest several therapists for you to then choose from or they may assign a therapist to you based on your needs.

By Amy Morin, LCSW, Editor-in-Chief
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist, and international bestselling author. Her books, including "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do," have been translated into more than 40 languages. Her TEDx talk,  "The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong," is one of the most viewed talks of all time.