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Mental Health

How to Find the Right Therapist for You In College

This article is part of Her Campus’s ‘Anxiety on Campus: Feeling Seen & Speaking Out’, a project dedicated to highlighting mental health and anxiety on campus. 

Whether you have a mental illness or just need someone to talk to, therapy can be a great solution with endless health benefits. That said, it can be a really stressful, anxiety-inducing process to try and find the right person and therapy type for you and your needs, especially if it’s your first time searching for a therapist.

It’s really important to make sure that your therapist is someone you feel comfortable with; if not, your treatment might not be as impactful and beneficial. You don’t want to add to any mental health strains, so here are a few tips on finding what may be the right option for you.


Consider what kind of therapy and therapist you want

There are many different factors to be considered when you’re determining what kind of therapy you need and want. A few questions to keep in mind might be: how often do you want to go? What specialty would you like your therapist to have? Do you prefer any sort of method of therapy? Suzy Johnson*, junior at UC Davis, says, “Something that made a huge difference was understanding the type of psychologist that was right for me,” because she was not well-versed in the vast world of therapy.

Two particularly popular types of therapy, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, are cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and psychodynamic therapy. CBT combines two schools of thought (cognitive and behavioral therapy, respectively) into a comprehensive practice that addresses personal thoughts and beliefs as well as explicit actions. This therapy can be used to address depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and eating disorders.

Psychodynamic therapy is a more traditional form of therapy that has its roots in psychoanalytic therapy, though contemporary therapists don’t rely on this methodology anymore. The focus here is on subconscious feelings and how these affect one’s actions. This kind of therapy is often used in combination with other types. 

Many different kinds of therapies exist, a detailed list of which you can find on the National Institute of Mental Health’s website. Making sure you practice the one that can be most effective for you is vital. Becoming familiar with different types only increases your chances of finding what’s right for you, and, therefore, improving your mental health.

It might be important for you to consider the gender of your therapist. Dr. Carole Lieberman M.D., psychiatrist and author, says, “For example, if a woman has had an abusive father, she might not feel comfortable with a male therapist.” There are a lot of reasons that gender might impact the success of your therapy, and if you think this might be the case, you might want to narrow your search. Dr. Roy Stefanik D.O., a psychiatrist and clinical assistant professor at the Georgetown University School of Medicine, says, “If you feel you would be much more comfortable with one particular gender or another, start there.” Trust your instincts when it comes to searching for a therapist, as these should guide you in the right direction.

Additionally, if you identify as LGBTQ+, you might want to take care to ensure that your therapist is friendly to your identity, or that they have special experience and knowledge in these areas. The Gay and Lesbian Medical Association has an online directory of inclusive therapists that will respect and consider your identity.

Start with your school’s resources

If you don’t have any idea how to begin the search for a therapist, your college’s health center should have a mental health office that can be helpful to you. Check their website, walk in or make an appointment to ask for a referral or to see if their therapists and psychiatrists can suit your needs. As a part of your enrollment at the school, it might even be the case that there are a number of free counseling sessions you have access to, right on campus.

Tori, a senior at DePaul University, found her therapist at the school’s counseling center. After taking advantage of the free counseling sessions, her counselor was able to refer her to another therapist, off-campus. “It was nice to have that counselor to launch off from,” Tori says. “He knew me and had met with me and recommended people based on my needs and what he thought was best.” Going through the counseling center will really ease your stress in the therapy search because they are more aware of methods as well as more familiar with you and your needs.

Check websites for reviews

Psychology Today has listings for thousands of licensed medical professionals who others have reviewed. This site is useful because it allows you to look for a therapist you know by name or practice, as well as search just by your location if you are starting from scratch. Dr. Stefanik says, “Reviews can be very difficult to interpret—people are much more likely to write a bad review if they’ve had a bad experience than a good review for a positive one.” He suggests looking for patterns in the reviews that paint a more holistic figure of the therapist you’re researching. Doctor reviews can be very helpful in steering you in the right direction, but take them with a grain of salt.

You should also be aware of whether or not the therapist you are interested in has been the subject of any malpractice lawsuits. If this bothers you, you might not want to see this therapist. The state medical board keeps track of this information, so if you check the website for the state in which you are looking for a therapist, you will find listings of those individuals who have been involved in such cases.

It’s also good to check the therapist’s or practice’s own website to get a feel for their methodology and overall approach. There you will probably find doctor bios and backgrounds on the type of care they offer. Dr. Stefanik also says to keep in mind whether the description written for the therapist is “sincere or thoughtful.” How the therapist chooses to represent themselves online can be a good tell of their in-person conduct!

Prepare for your first appointment

Avoid any anxiety about what your first appointment may or may not hold by getting extra prepared. Take stock of how you are feeling the night before your appointment and how you expect to feel after. Why not make a list of goals or things you are looking to get out of your therapy? Dr. Stefanik suggests “writing some notes beforehand and bringing them to the session with you if you’re concerned you might forget to discuss something you feel is important.” You should also remember to make a list of any medications you take so that whoever you’re seeing is fully aware of your current medical status.

Dr. Lieberman adds that you should focus on the most important issues you’d like to discuss with a therapist, in order to give them an idea of what they are going to be working on with you. She says that a therapist should be able to help you with issues big and small, but it might be easier to get the big goals out on the table just for the sake of mental organization!

The American Psychological Association (APA) suggests asking your therapist several questions at the time of your first appointment, including those about their specific methodologies as well as their credentials. How long have they been practicing psychology for? What are their specific focuses? Do they have any specific experience with issues such as your own?

Don’t forget to inquire about their prices and the types of insurance they accept. “Many insurance companies provide coverage for mental health services,” according to the APA. Whether it be through your parents or your own employer, it is best to check on these logistics before starting therapy to make sure it is financially feasible, or if you might have a restriction on exactly how much therapy you can partake in before you have to start paying out of pocket. 

Evaluate your progress

Checking in with yourself at different stages in your therapy is imperative to make sure you are receiving the best possible care.  You might not feel like your problems are entirely solved after your first few sessions or weeks of therapy, but you should have a handle on whether or not the therapist is for you. At this point, it makes sense to ask yourself if your visits have been helpful and if you feel like you have made progress or are feeling better.

Even if progress is not the case, Dr. Lieberman says therapy is “not about making you happy every session.” Dealing with personal, deep-rooted issues is likely going to cause some serious frustration, but you should feel like it’s getting you somewhere and helping you confront and deal with your obstacles. She recommends that, after your first couple of sessions with a therapist, ask yourself a simple question: “Does this therapist seem to get me?” Just be honest with yourself, as that is the only way you can hope to get anywhere with your therapy.

Nathalie, a junior at SUNY Old Westbury, says that looking for a connection with her therapist was crucial in her process, and later with regard to the effectiveness of her actual therapy. “If the connection is not there, there is no point in staying because I won’t feel comfortable with the therapist,” Nathalie says. The comfort factor is super important; if you do not feel okay with your therapist, it may be difficult or impossible to talk to them and discuss your obstacles.

Therapy is often times tied up in social stigma that prevents people from getting the help that they need — it is certainly not the case that you need to have a diagnosed mental illness to be receiving therapy. Therapy is just like working out and getting enough sleep, like a way to take care of one’s body. If you think therapy might be the best next step for you, consider reaching out to your on-campus resources to understand what options are out there.

*Names have been changed

The information in this article does not intend to be a substitute for professional medical advicediagnosis or treatment. Always consult a trained mental health professional before making any decision regarding treatment.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Margeaux Biché

Columbia Barnard

Margeaux Biché is a current senior at Barnard College living in New York City. During her freshman year, she studied at the George Washington University in D.C., where she wrote for The GW Hatchet. She is a Women's, Gender & Sexuality Studies major and is passionate about social justice. While she does not know exactly where she'll take her degree, she hopes she can contribute to the advancement of marginalized peoples through legal and/or activist work. Chocolate covered pretzels are her favorite food, Rihanna is her favorite musician and her go-to talent is her ability to wiggle her ears. Margeaux loves dogs, hiking and her hometown basketball team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, all of which are oft-featured on her Instagram account. Twitter | LinkedIn
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