Finding the Right Therapist


By: Mariah Rooney and Laura Babala

It is said that trauma happens in relationship and is healed in relationship and working with a trauma-informed therapist is an important part of healing. Now that you have decided to seek out a therapist with whom to explore your healing journey, you may be wondering how to find the “right” one. With so many degrees, certifications and trainings among mental health professionals, it can get confusing. One of the most important factors in the relationship with your therapist is the ability to feel safe and connected. Here we are offering some tips that you may consider as you begin the process to find the right therapist for you:

Training and experience

Most therapists who have been licensed to provide mental health care have graduated from an accredited university with at least a masters degree in their field (LMSW, LCSW, LMFT, LPC) and some have a doctorate-level of education (PsyD, PhD). In order to become licensed to practice on their own, after graduating each practitioner will also have completed around 2000 hours of supervised work in their field before they take a licensing exam. Psychiatrists – medical doctors (MD) or Nurse Practitioners (NP) who specialize in the brain and nervous system  – may also be involved in your care. Sometimes they will play a role in diagnosis and medical treatment like the use of medicine. If you choose a psychiatrist for therapy, you may wish to make sure they have been trained specifically in therapy as some MDs are trained wholly in the medical model and do not have additional training related to psychotherapy. After achieving their license to practice, most practitioners are required to continue education in workshops and trainings in specific areas. You may wish to ask what additional training or certifications a therapist has to find out more about their commitment to learning multiple trauma treatments.

Trauma-informed care

We believe that trauma therapists committed to trauma-informed care will be trained in more than one trauma-focused modality that include treatments for both the body and the mind. Some modalities that are used in treating trauma are: Internal Family Systems, Somatic Experiencing, various somatic modalities, Neurofeedback, EMDR, SMART therapy, Attachment, Self-Regulation and Competency (ARC) therapy, Polyvagal-informed therapy,  Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, and Trauma-Sensitive Yoga among others. You may wish to inquire whether a potential therapist is trained in both talk and embodied therapy modalities or whether they can refer you to body-based therapies in collaboration with talk therapy. And of course, in the process of researching therapists, you are invited to pay attention to your own embodied response because if we are listening, the body is always speaking to us. 

TRF offers a Certificate in Traumatic Stress Studies with leading experts in many of these modalities. For a list of providers who have completed this training click here.  

TRF offers a Trauma Informed Neurofeedback Certificate Program. For a list of providers who have completed this training click here.

Questions you may consider asking a potential psychotherapist

Finding the right trauma therapist depends not only on identifying a trained professional skilled in multiple trauma-informed modalities, but also on the chemistry you have with this professional. Some might call it “the right vibe.” In fact, it has been found that the connection you have with your therapist is one of the key factors in why therapy “works.” Here are some questions you may wish to explore a potential “fit” with a therapist:

  • Inquiring about their training and experience:
    • How long have you been working in this field?
    • What kind of training have you received in trauma-focused modalities or approaches? How do you integrate those modalities into your work?
    • Do you have experience working with folks who have similar experiences and challenges to me?
  • For some folks finding a therapist who can offer affirming and aligned care based on identity/ies and/or orientations to the world is important. If this is also important to you, you may consider asking questions related to this, such as*:
    • My identity as a _____ person is very important to me and is a central part of my experience. Do you have experience or training in working with folks who share the same or similar identities?
    • I am most comfortable working with a therapist who identifies as _______ (e.g. gender, race, etc.). May I ask how you identify?
    • My beliefs and experiences in the world have shaped who I am and have impacted me in many ways. It is important to me that I find a therapist who doesn’t necessarily fully share my beliefs, but can offer affirming care for me. (This is an opportunity to share more about yourself and explore this further with a potential therapist). 
    • *Note: It can sometimes feel uncomfortable to ask providers these types of questions, but it is important to know that this is a common point of discussion for many therapists, particularly for therapists who are trauma-informed and who understand the impact of intersecting identities on our lived experience. There are also a variety of population and identity-specific directories that exist and may be helpful resources for you in your search. 
  • Obtaining information regarding fees, insurance, scheduling and other policies:
    • Do you accept insurance? If so, what insurance do you accept?
    • What are your fees for sessions and how do you prefer to accept payment?
    • You are out of network for me and I would like to submit for reimbursement from my insurance if possible. Are you willing to provide monthly superbills for me to submit to my insurance?
    • How do you handle scheduling? What are your policies for cancelled or missed appointments?
    • How do you prefer to communicate between sessions if needed?
  • Exploring how the provider practices and more about their approach:
    • Would you describe your approach as directive? Supportive? Collaborative?
    • Do you/have you engaged in your own therapy and healing practices?
    • Do you receive ongoing consultation, supervision, or other professional support?
    • What is your stance or openness to clients integrating additional and adjunctive therapies into their healing journey?
  • You deserve to feel connected with your provider, particularly as we know the relationship is central to all trauma healing work. Here are some questions you may explore related to your connection with this potential provider. You may consider this a bit of a “vibe” check:
    • What kinds of treatment or therapy do you think might help me?
    • What is your approach to challenges that may arise in the therapeutic relationship?
    • If one or both of us determine this isn’t a fit, how will we talk about that and would you be willing to make referrals? 

Healing is possible and finding a trauma-informed therapist trained in multiple ways of healing from trauma is a positive step on your journey. Using the tips above may be helpful in pointing you in the right direction in connecting with a therapist that is right for you. For a directory of therapists that have completed TRF’s Certificate in Traumatic Stress Studies and/or TRF’s Trauma-Informed Neurofeedback certificate programs, click here

Photo by christopher lemercier on Unsplash

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