Finding the right therapist is daunting. Even for me- when my friends and family ask for help finding the right person to work with, I struggle.

There’s no perfect way to be sure that a therapist is right for you. That might be frustrating to hear already- that you can’t just pull up a score, or fill out a survey, and be assured by numbers and hard science that you’ve made the right choice. There’s not even one particular therapeutic approach that stands out as the “best”- some are better than others, but there’s no guarantee. And when you’re making a commitment of time, money, and your own vulnerability, it’s totally understandable to want the best you can possibly get.

Fortunately, it’s not quite that dire. What matters for you in finding a therapist isn’t their modality, training, or impressive CV- it’s that you feel heard and understood when you talk to them. Research shows over and over again that the relationship between you and your therapist is one of the most important factors in determining whether therapy will be effective. To put it simply: you just need to feel like your therapist gets you.

To help with this, most therapists offer free consultations. From the therapist’s end, they want to sort out whether your concerns fit with their treatment approach, and give you a chance to find out what you need to know to make your decision. If for any reason they can’t work with you, they should let you know during this call as well. For you, this is a way of finding out whether this person is going to understand you.

There’s no required questions to ask, and there’s no need to prepare for the phone call (other than finding some privacy so you don’t share your concerns with your coworkers or spouse). But if you want to come prepared, here are some that might help you figure out if this is the right person for you.

Have you worked with _____ before? This one is probably self-explanatory. While fit is super important, some level of experience with the thing that’s bringing you into therapy is pretty crucial.

What do you do to maintain your clinical skills? Most good therapists will keep up with a mixture of consultation (speaking with other clinicians about cases, while maintaining confidentiality, to see if they’re missing anything important), their own psychotherapy, trainings, conferences, reading groups, and self-study. Your therapist doesn’t need to do all of this, but if they try to assure you that they don’t need to do any, I’d call that a red flag.

How do you feel about _____? Do you have personal experience with _____? Yes, it’s okay to ask your potential therapist questions about their personal life or personal feelings. Therapists vary pretty widely in how much they prefer to disclose, but any professional will be comfortable declining to answer anything they don’t want to. And there may be something important to you- if you’re LGBT, your therapist better damn well be LGBT-affirming and knowledgeable. If you’re a parent, you may prefer a therapist who is also a parent so they can really understand what’s going on for you. If you’re recovering from an abortion, you probably don’t want to work with someone who’s pro-life. And if spirituality is a big resource for you, you may want to work with someone who understands that feeling.

But really, how does it work? If you’re confused about any of the nuts-and-bolts type of stuff- frequency, scheduling, homework, or confidentiality- it may be really helpful to get clear about what you’ll need to do to be successful with your therapy.

These are just a few ideas- there really aren’t any wrong questions, and there isn’t a rule that you have to ask any. In writing this, I hope I helped you think through what you really need to feel supported in a therapy relationship (even if it’s not with me!) and gave you permission to communicate your needs. And communicating your needs is another key to successful therapy and successful relationships- so you’re hitting the ground running!

So now you know why I offer a free introductory phone call– because it’s really important to help you decide if this is the right therapy for you. If you’re in San Francisco or the East Bay and looking for therapy, get in touch- let’s find out if we’re a good fit!