How to find a therapist in Los Angeles without losing your mind

 background image:  instagram.com/runwalktalk

background image: instagram.com/runwalktalk

If you live in Los Angeles (or any big city) and you've gone through the process of trying to find a therapist, you know it's not exactly easy. There are so many therapists here, and it's overwhelming to know how to choose the right one.

As a therapist myself, I've been on both sides of this process. Finding a good therapist is one of the major pain points people in my personal life want advice about. So I'm putting all my guidance here, in the hope that it will encourage more people to get the help they need.

If you're going through this process now, here are some tips to help you find the right therapist without losing your mind.

1. Ask your most trusted friends for referrals, but know that you may not be able to see their therapists

If you've got a friend with a good therapist, chances are that particular therapist can't see you without complicating the therapeutic relationship they've already got with your friend. 

But that therapist can probably refer you to other, equally good therapists, because therapists are pack animals just like the rest of humanity and we tend to gather in like-minded tribes. So use your friends (and their good therapists) as a resource.

[An aside: Many people get hung up on what license-type a therapist has. You'll probably notice that the good referrals you get are for therapists who have different types of licenses (MFT, LCSW, psychologist, etc.). I'm an LCSW and clearly have a bias for my training, but I have not yet noticed a difference among these license types that would make me choose someone based solely on that factor.]

2. The Internet is useful, but sometimes it's kind of a liar

You're likely savvy enough to Google any therapist names you get from friends, and you've probably found some names of your own by browsing different therapist directories online.

It will serve you well to remember that being highly ranked in Google for searches like "Redondo Beach therapist" or "Beverly Hills therapist" or "[whatever your neighborhood is] therapist" is just a sign of good SEO (see what I did there?), not good clinical skills.

Pretty websites, good (or bad) Yelp reviews, and online directory profiles should be taken with a grain of salt, because marketing requires such a different skill-set than therapy.

Don't be overly impressed by a good website or a polished Internet presence. It's not always a great indicator of how good someone will be as a therapist.

However, what people choose to put out there about themselves can be a helpful gauge for whether they might be a good fit for you - because it says something about their level of self-awareness, maturity, and boundaries.

So if you're getting bad vibes from what someone has written about how they work, or if they're dressed like a total goofball in their profile picture (and not in a good way), or if they have public social media profiles that exhibit questionable judgment, or if they just clearly prefer to treat a population or issue that's not you - it's okay to move on.

3. Pay attention to how you feel on the phone

It's not uncommon to have to leave a bunch of voicemails and wait for therapists to call you back. Does the therapist call back within a reasonable amount of time (i.e., a business day, two max, unless they have an out-of-office outgoing message on their voicemail)?

On the first phone call, is the therapist distracted or impatient while on the phone with you? Or does talking with them make you feel cozy and okay? Are they clear about what you can expect from them, including their availability and fee? 

You don't have to make an appointment with someone that you don't like over the phone. Don't worry about a potential therapist's feelings, but use yours to decide if you want to move forward with a first appointment.

Keep in mind that most therapists don't do an extended first phone call (mine is about 15 minutes) and save most of the assessment for the first session, so make sure you manage your own expectations around this.

4. Plan on seeing a handful of therapists for first appointments before making your final pick

Imagine going on a first date with someone, feeling lukewarm about them, but deciding to go ahead and marry them, because you're too over it to go on more first dates with other people.

Sounds pretty crazy, right? But many people take the same approach with therapy.

They will call a few therapists, make an appointment with the first one that calls back and sounds normal enough, and go to their initial session.

Then, once they've opened up and told this therapist all their history and what they need help with, they feel stuck and keep going, even if they realize during the first session that it's not a great fit. Because starting over is so hard.

Just as in any close relationship, therapy requires a commitment from both people. The relationship you and your therapist build together is a big factor in your treatment success, and you're each half of that collaboration.

So meet with 5 or 6 different therapists for an initial appointment before you decide who you want to choose as your therapeutic other-half. It will give you a realistic view of how different therapy can be depending on your therapist, and it will make you more likely to pick the right person to help you.

It sounds like a lot of work - because it is. But it's a lot less emotionally taxing than going through months of ineffective therapy with a bad fit and then starting over.

5. Ask lots of questions in the first session (here are a few to consider)

You may be wondering how you can tell if a therapist will be a good fit for you. It's actually quite simple when you remember that you're going to therapy because something hard has happened (or is happening) in your life, and you need help dealing with it. Think about what you need, and the right fit will be clear.

Everyone has different expectations of therapy. No matter what, you have the right to feel comfortable with your therapist, to know that they will take you seriously, and to ask if they have the appropriate training to help you.

Before you go in, make a quick list of what you're trying to get from therapy, and what qualities you would like your therapist to have, and then ask them about those things.

For instance:

  1. If you're new to therapy: I'm not sure what to expect from therapy - can you tell me what the process has looked like for some of your other patients and how you can help me?
     
  2. If you don't understand the type of therapy they do: Can you explain your therapy approach in non-clinical language? 
     
  3. If you want to find out if your therapist is flexible and able to take feedback from you: What do you do when clients disagree with you or say they don't like something you've said or done? 
     
  4. If you feel kind of raw and you want to make sure the therapist will be kind but also challenge you: How do you typically provide feedback to clients when they're doing something that you think is getting in the way of their goals?
     
  5. If you're a person of color who needs to know your therapist has an understanding of dynamics of race and culture: How do you handle issues of cultural difference that come up in therapy?

A big part of the therapist's job is to be aware of and responsive to your needs. One key way to figure out if they're good at doing that is in the way they respond to your questions, so make sure you ask some. 

Good therapists welcome questions and feedback from their patients, starting in the very first session. They try to understand you and they're easy to talk with, even about things that are unpleasant and uncomfortable.

Know that good therapy is worth all this effort

Like most worthwhile things, it takes some time to get started, and the process of finding help isn't as easy as it should be. But once you find your therapist and dig into the work, therapy can help you to really change your life.

Getting good therapy is a truly transformative experience. Hold on to that thought as you embark on your therapist search, and use the hope (and expectation) of transformation to inform your choice.

....

Sepideh Saremi, LCSW is a psychotherapist and the founder of Run Walk Talk, mindful running + talk therapy in Beverly Hills and Redondo Beach, CA.