How to pick a great therapist

At least once a week I go through the process of helping people find good options for therapists. It is very difficult to navigate the world of counseling when you are not familiar with it. And often you really need someone who is specialized in a certain way to really make progress. For example, I don’t work with couples, so when couples contact me, I refer out to other therapists that specialize in working with couples. So I decided for this week’s blog I would write a guide for finding a good therapist. Here is a step by step guide:

  1. Decide if you want to use your insurance or not. If you have insurance, you can either go with a therapist that is mostly covered by your insurance (in-network) or you can use your “out of network benefits.” This decision will most likely be made based on what you can afford. Most often therapists that do not participate in insurance plans are sought after enough that they do not need to participate in insurance plans to get business or they prefer not to interface with insurance plans. Additionally, therapists that do not participate in insurance plans usually have a certain number of clients that they will see for a reduced or adjusted fee (sliding scale) based on your income level. Often the experience and expertise of the therapist is reflected in their rates per session. 
    1. IN-NETWORK - If you use an in-network therapist, the sessions will be be covered aside from a copay. You can call your insurance company to find out what your copay is for outpatient therapy is. 
    2. OUT-OF-NETWORK - Call your insurance company to find out what percentage of your fee they cover and what deductible you may have to meet before you receive reimbursement for sessions. Some insurance plans do not have out-of-network benefits. You will most likely file your own claims to your insurance company with receipts from the therapist. Then your insurance company will reimburse a portion of your fees.
    3. PAYING OUT OF POCKET - Sometimes you will want to choose a therapist based on their expertise and will be willing and able financially to pay for the services even if you don’t have out-of-network benefits. Coaches services for example are not reimbursed by insurance. 
    4. SLIDING SCALE - Many therapists have several slots for clients that cannot afford their full rate and will adjust your rate to match your income
  2. Specializations: Now that you have an idea of whether you will use insurance or not, start considering what types of specializations you need or want in a therapists. You may want to research some of these different specializations before looking up therapists. Here are some aspects to consider:
    1. gender - would you like to work with a man, women, or LGBTQ clinician
    2. focus on age - do you want a therapists that works exclusively with your age group
    3. diagnosis - you may have seen a psychiatrist and know you have a specific diagnosis that you would like to work on. do you want a therapist that specializes in that particular issue
    4. modality or training - would you like to work with a therapist that has a specific training or uses a specific technique. there are a range of techniques available to work in. Here are few of my favorites, feel free to contact me about further recommendations about techniques:
      1. EMDR - for trauma and very stuck patterns you can’t seem to stop
      2. Art Therapy and Dance Therapy - especially helpful for children, trauma, geriatrics, and those who tend to be intellectuals and struggle to connect with more creative and intuitive living
      3. Somatic Therapies - Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, Hakomi, and Somatic Experiencing are all focused on integrating the experience of the body and mind to heal trauma and break through limitations and negative belief structures
      4. DBT - great for suicidal ideation, self-injury, and emotional explosiveness
      5. Gottman - for couple’s work
    5. spirituality - would you like a therapist with a similar spiritual or religious background or approach
  3. Zip code - In terms of actually looking a therapists up, here is how you do it:
    1. go to and find the link for “Find a therapist” 
    2. put your zip code in and how far you are willing to travel from your zip code, you can always expand your search
    3. put in the different details you are looking for in a therapist (as described above) and remember to put your insurance company in the search if you want to try to find a therapist that takes your insurance plan


Some advice from a therapist in your search:

  1. Word of mouth versus looking up a therapist - It can be helpful to talk with friends and family about therapists they know as opposed to just starting from scratch. 
  2. Trauma-informed and attachment based - I highly recommend you look for these buzz words in therapists’ descriptions of themselves and their work. These two terms imply that the therapist has had more recent and advanced training and is not still working from Freudian techniques
  3. Don’t be afraid to shop around. It is a service, don’t be afraid to try a few therapists before deciding on one. And if you start working with someone and don’t think it is a good fit, tell them and switch to a new therapist.
  4. See a therapist that specializes in the concerns you want to work on. Don’t waste your money on a therapist that works with everyone and everything or it may take years longer to work through the issue you want to work through.
  5. Find a therapist that is works in a strength based approach and spends time on celebrating victories as much as they focus on processing issues. 
  6. Ask for a free consultation before paying for a session to see if it is a good fit.
  7. Your therapist will prob recommend working together once a week to start. I recommend this as well. It is important to build a relationship. 


Signs you are working with a great therapist:

  1. They collaborate with you and don’t believe they know your life better than you know your own.
  2. If you feel the therapist is shaming you or is overly biased towards your opinion consider moving on.
  3. You should feel like your therapist gets you within the first 3 sessions. And that when he/she doesn’t get you, you can bring it up. Your therapist will never be perfect and you will need to be honest when they are off track. 
  4. You feel both nurtured and challenged.
  5. You feel SAFE! If you feel uneasy and don’t feel comfortable bringing it up with your therapist, you may want to see if you feel the same with another therapist. This may be more about something you are dealing with or it may be about something you are feeling from the therapist. 
  6. Your therapist focuses on obstacles to your growth rather than diagnoses.
  7. You feel inspired to come back even if it feels like hard work. You feel hopeful. 
  8. You feel your therapist is present with you. 
  9. You don't feel like you may be wasting your money.

Should you have more questions or want more advice about this process, you can contact me. Or if you are interested in working with me as a therapist and would like a free 20 minute consultation, contact me at or 240-480-0152. I work in person in Denver, CO or over secure virtual video chat for those outside of the DC area. 

Kimberly Ottinger