Finding A Therapist That Understands You: Here’s Where To Start

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated May 14, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Beginning mental health treatment can seem intimidating, but finding a therapist that understands you can make the process easier and more comfortable. In many cases, working with a therapist that understands you can also lead to a stronger therapeutic alliance, potentially making treatment more effective.

If you’re in the process of seeking out a mental health provider, there are a few steps you can take to help you find a therapist who will provide you with the most effective treatment possible. First, you might consider factors like the therapist’s specialty, licensure, experience, location, and cost. Next, you could research local providers, ask for referrals and recommendations, or join an online therapy platform to find a therapist who is a good match for you.

A woman sits in a chair across from her female therapist and talks while the therapist smiles.
Looking for a therapist who will understand you?

The importance of the therapeutic alliance

The therapeutic alliance is typically defined as “a deliberative relationship in which therapist and patient interchange reasons and opinions on feelings, values, beliefs, and hopes in a nondirective way.” This relationship between clients and their mental health professionals can be essential to effective treatment, as seeking therapy is often a deeply personal and vulnerable experience.

By building a trusting and collaborative relationship, it can be easier to be honest and respectful with one another and agree on treatment goals and plans. Additionally, the therapeutic alliance can serve as a mutual agreement to stay engaged in and committed to the treatment plan.

Most therapists might agree that a strong therapeutic relationship can lead to more effective treatment and enhanced client satisfaction. According to research, “there is consistent evidence that the quality of the therapeutic alliance is linked to the success of psychotherapeutic treatment across a broad spectrum of types of patients, treatment modalities used, presenting problems, contexts, and measurements.” Believing you are understood by a therapist can be the first step to establishing this important relationship.

What to look for in a therapist

Finding the right therapist may start by considering the basics. You may have specific practical requirements a therapist must meet before you consider pursuing treatment from them. Thinking about or writing down these specifications can guide you in your search. Some of the considerations you might take into account when searching for a mental health professional include the following:


Depending on your specific mental health concerns and needs, you may choose to seek out a therapist specializing in a certain field, such as family therapy, marriage therapy, substance misuse, eating disorders, or LGBTQIA+ support, among others. These specialized therapists may provide you with the type of care most suited to your needs.

If you are struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources. Support is available 24/7.


There are various kinds of psychology professionals who are able to provide mental health care. You might consider the level of education and licensure a provider has when determining the right provider for your needs. Below are some of the most common types of licensed mental health professionals.

  • Licensed professional counselor (LPC): This type of professional typically holds a master’s degree and is qualified to provide a full range of mental health services.
  • Licensed clinical social worker (LCSW): An LCSW usually has a master’s or doctorate degree in social work with at least two years of post-graduate supervised clinical experience. They can provide wellness and mental health services to individuals and groups of all ages.
  • Licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT): An LMFT may hold a master’s degree with clinical experience and a clinical exam, and they can generally provide mental health services to couples and families.
  • Clinical psychologist (Ph.D. or PsyD): Clinical psychologists typically have a doctoral degree in psychology, and they can provide mental health treatment but cannot prescribe medication.
  • Psychiatrist (MD): Psychiatrists are medical doctors with advanced education and training in mental health disorders. In general, they can prescribe and manage medication regimens, and they may or may not offer talk therapy services.


Finding a therapist with experience relevant to your situation and needs can be beneficial when seeking treatment. You may look for details of their past experience online or by speaking with them directly. It can be helpful to come prepared with questions about how they’ve helped other people with your specific concerns in the past. 

A man in a grey shirt sits hunched over in a chair across from his male therapist and listens as the therapist talks.
Getty/SDI Productions

Treatment methods

Some mental health professionals may have experience in certain treatment methods, which may affect your decision when searching for a provider. Depending on your concerns and what you want to accomplish in therapy, you may prefer or respond well to certain treatment methods. 

Some examples of therapeutic treatment methods might include the following:


If you plan to attend in-person sessions with your therapist, you might consider the location of their practice and what your commute may look like. How long will the commute take using your preferred method of transportation? Is the building easily accessible? Will rush hour traffic make the commute more difficult?


Cost can be a common concern when beginning mental health treatment. Speaking with potential providers about typical costs, accepted methods of payment, and insurance coverage can help you gain an understanding of what you can expect to pay. 


Finding a therapist whose availability aligns with your schedule can be important when seeking mental health treatment. For instance, if they are only available during the hours you typically work, it may be difficult to regularly attend sessions. You might ask potential providers when they are typically available and how far out they schedule to see if they align with your own availability.


Even if everything else checks out, a strong therapeutic alliance often begins with a connection between the client and the therapist. If possible, you might consider scheduling consultation calls or trial sessions with potential therapists to see if there is a connection and whether you could see yourself building a strong relationship with this person.

How to find a therapist that understands you

Once you’ve considered logistics, finding a therapist that understands you can begin with a variety of methods. To find a therapist who meets your requirements and matches your therapeutic needs, you might:

Research local providers

Searching for providers in your area using a directory or online database can be a helpful first step when looking for local mental health professionals. You might consider their credentials, bio, experience, and reviews, if available, to determine whether they might be a good fit for you.

Ask your doctor for a referral

Your primary care physician may be able to match you with a suitable mental health provider based on your needs. They may ask about some of the symptoms you’re currently experiencing and direct you to someone in their network or with whom they’ve previously worked who may understand and can help with your challenges and concerns. 

Check with your insurance

Your insurance may provide coverage for mental health services, so it may be worth checking with your insurance provider to better understand what types of services are covered, which mental health providers are in-network, and how many sessions are covered by your plan. Within those options, you can begin searching for a provider who is a good match.

Check with your school or employer

If you’re currently enrolled in school or employed by a company, they may offer mental health services in some capacity. For instance, many universities have health centers that include counseling specifically designed for college students, with therapists who understand the unique challenges of being a college student. Speak with your school or employer to discover what kinds of services may be available to you.

Ask for referrals from friends or family

If you have friends or family who are currently or have previously received mental health care, they may be able to refer you to a provider or practice that they found beneficial. If they experienced similar challenges to what you’re currently experiencing, their provider may be uniquely suited to help you.

Consider online therapy

Online therapy can be an effective way to find a therapist who understands your unique needs and meets your logistical requirements. For example, with BetterHelp, users generally take a survey that matches them with the most suitable therapist based on their needs and preferences. If at any time they believe their therapist isn’t the right match for them or doesn’t understand them, it’s easy to get matched with a new therapist with just a few clicks.

A woman in an orange shirt sits on a couch in the therapists office and talks to her female therapist with a worried expression.
Looking for a therapist who will understand you?

Research has frequently shown online therapy to be just as effective as in-person options. One study suggests that internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy (ICBT) could be “effective in the treatment and management of various psychiatric disorders such as depression, GAD and social anxiety, panic disorders, phobias, addiction and substance use disorders, adjustment disorder, bipolar disorder, and OCD.” Additionally, the study notes that ICBT is often more cost-effective than in-person treatment and can increase rural communities’ abilities to receive treatment.


Mental health care, like therapy, can be a helpful tool for addressing mental health concerns, improving mental and emotional health, and managing overall well-being. A critical component of effective mental health treatment is often a strong therapeutic alliance, which typically begins with finding a therapist that understands you. Your search for a therapist may begin with practical considerations, such as specialty, location, and cost. However, finding a therapist with whom you feel connected and comfortable can be just as important when looking for the most effective provider. Some methods for seeking out a therapist that understands you might include searching for local providers, seeking a referral from a physician, friend, or family member, or beginning online therapy, which can eliminate many logistical concerns and allow you to switch providers at any time.

Learn how to cope with challenging events
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet started