Searching For A Successful Therapeutic Relationship

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated May 2, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention substance use-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use, contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Support is available 24/7. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

It can be normal to be nervous when starting therapy, but finding a suitable therapist may make the process feel less overwhelming. Understanding the qualities to look for in a provider, such as their educational or degree requirements, clinical experience, and communication skills can be beneficial. 

Below are several tips to consider when building a successful therapeutic relationship with any provider, including mental health counselors, marriage and family therapists or child therapists.

What qualities should you look for in a therapist?

How to find a successful therapist match

Before choosing a therapist, you may consider your personal requirements for a provider. Each person can be unique, so some factors may matter more to you than they do to others. We’ve listed a few steps to take that can enhance your overall experience below: 

Understand education and training

Having at least a master's degree in mental health counseling, clinical mental health counseling or a related field of education (such as clinical social work or marriage and family therapy) can be important to consider; as it relates to someone’s experience as they learn how to become a therapist

Psychologists often hold doctoral degrees with a focus on clinical work or research. A child therapist or therapists who addresses mental health issues and substance abuse may also require specialized training. 

If a practitioner lacks the proper clinical education, it could be a red flag.

Look for a license

All states mandate that practicing therapists (whether they’re a family therapist or a specialist in some other area of mental health) obtain and maintain a state-issued license. These licenses generally necessitate meeting minimum education standards, including completing a graduate degree program, adhering to state laws and ethics and fulfilling supervised clinical hours. Therapists must also engage in continuing education to stay updated on the latest research in their field. If a therapist fails to provide licensing information or lacks a license, you may choose to report them to the national board and refrain from a consultation.

Consider affordability

If you are paying for therapy out of pocket (as you might if you go outside of your health insurance plan), it may be helpful to determine what a therapist charges before making an appointment. If you're concerned about pricing for a marriage and family therapist, for example, you can ask about your options—which may include paying the fee for marriage and family therapy or finding some secondary solution that supports your marriage and family needs in-network or at a rate that you can afford. 

Some therapists may offer a sliding scale, meaning the cost could depend on your income. Sliding scale fee systems can help people with lower incomes find support. If you have health insurance, ensure your policy covers the therapist you want to work with before attending a session unless you are prepared to pay out of pocket.*

*The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the average salary for a therapist is $56,570—however, this Bureau of Labor estimate doesn’t account for the expenses that can come with running the practice. 

This means that your therapist, despite this quote from the Labor Statistics bureau, likely doesn’t take this home. As a result, they may be open to flexible payment plans or other options to help you connect with therapy in a more affordable way over a set duration of time. 

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Ensure they have experience

You may wish to consult a family therapist or marriage and family therapist experienced in addressing your specific symptoms or concerns, such as mental health disorders or a behavioral disorder. This can be especially important if you are working with an allied care team to address your range of needs, as you might with substance use disorder (formerly known as substance abuse) or another condition. 

Prior to scheduling an appointment or during the initial session, you may briefly explain your reasons for seeking help and inquire about their experience in the relevant field. Some conditions may benefit from a therapist with specialized expertise. You can inform your therapist if you're seeking a particular therapy module.

Find someone you're comfortable with

If you're uneasy with your current therapist, you might consider seeking a new provider. Sometimes, people might not be compatible in a professional setting, which doesn't necessarily indicate any fault with you or the therapist.

Take availability into account

When looking for a therapist, you may try to find someone available to meet with you as soon as possible. It may not benefit you if you have to wait on a waiting list for months every time you need an appointment. Once you start your sessions, try to schedule regular appointments weekly, biweekly or monthly. You can then talk to the therapist to determine their availability before starting a therapeutic relationship.  

Finding a therapist 

Once you have an idea of your therapy requirements, you may look for a mental health counselor or therapist who meets those needs. As you do this, you may consider the following strategies: 

Ask for recommendations 

You may talk to family and friends and find out if they have therapist recommendations in your area. You can also ask for a referral from your primary care physician. 

Check with your insurance company 

If insurance covers the cost of your therapy sessions, you might look through your plan to see which local therapists are within your network and covered by their service. This information may be available on their website as well. 

Search online 

If you're still uncertain, you may consider searching online to find professionals who practice therapy. You can do this by browsing through Google results and examining their reviews to verify past client satisfaction. Additionally, review their website and bio, which may include information about their supervised clinical experience or work, before scheduling an appointment. It can be helpful to keep in mind that therapists typically have more than only a bachelor's degree, and for some areas, such as substance abuse issues, have specialized knowledge.

What qualities should you look for in a therapist?

Counseling options 

If you feel therapy could help you improve your symptoms, you might consider taking action now. You can start searching for a therapist who meets your requirements. If you face barriers to treatment keeping you from finding a provider, you can also consider alternative therapy modalities like internet-based therapy. Teletherapy can benefit those with a busy schedule or those who can't afford traditional therapy due to insurance co-pays or lack of coverage. It can also provide an option for those who experience social anxiety or fear at in-person sessions. Attending a session from home can be more comfortable. 

Additionally, research shows that online cognitive-behavioral therapy generally resulted in significant and clinically meaningful improvements in individuals experiencing anxiety and depression after 12 weeks of online treatment, with results that were suggested to sustain for six months. If you're looking for a convenient way to find a therapist, you may consider phone, video, or live chat sessions with a licensed therapist through a platform like BetterHelp.


Selecting a therapist can be a daunting task. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, professionals in this field typically have more than just a bachelor's degree and should possess supervised clinical work experience—which is part of the reason that you may incur such costs. If you ever feel unsafe, unheard or disrespected by a therapist, you may consider finding a new provider. Before starting a session, you may consider having a conversation with a potential therapist to ensure you're on the same page. When you're prepared to begin counseling, you may contact a therapist online or in your area for further assistance.

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