Types of Therapy and How to Find the Right Therapist

By Janie McGlasson

The basic way to start the process of finding the therapeutic support you need is to identify the number of people in the room: Do you want to do more personal work, which would lend you to individual therapy, or are you looking to understand the relational dynamics with the important people in your life, where group therapy can be an incredible tool. I’d advise you to use this beginning framework in order to unpack the different types of therapy available to you, as well as some questions you can ask yourself to be sure that you’re getting what you need.

  • Individual therapy: This is always a good place to start if you’ve never been in therapy before. There are two ways that you can go about individual therapy. The first is a more short-term, problem-specific work (i.e. test anxiety or a recent car accident), OR a more long-term, depth-oriented work (i.e. exploring a history of being bullied or understanding how your parents’ marriage impacts your own). There are many different types of therapy under this umbrella, but overall research supports that your connection to your therapist impacts your growth more than if they practice psychoanalysis versus cognitive behavioral therapy. Individual therapy is usually in-person, or over video for 45-50 minutes, at least one time per week. Fees vary by region, specialty, education, of the therapist, etc., but often seeing an experienced therapist would cost anywhere between $100-250 per session. For lower fee therapy, there are clinics and community mental health agencies that offer affordable therapy and many therapists that accept insurance.
  • Couples or family therapy: Couples or family therapy can be incredibly helpful if you are feeling stuck in a pattern that you’re having trouble getting out of on your own (i.e. communication breakdowns, a family trauma like a move or a loss, low sexual desire or satisfaction within a partnership). The short-term versus long-term work also comes into play with couples and family therapy, although session times can vary more with sessions lasting anywhere from 45-90 minutes, depending on the therapist. 
  • Group therapy: Groups vary from topic-specific (i.e. grief, divorce, or parenting groups) to general populations (i.e. young adults, men, co-ed, moms). There are programs called “psycho-education” groups where the structure of the group is more for learning and processing information (an example of this would be a parenting group)—these groups usually meet for a set amount of time. There are also process-oriented groups that may be topic-specific, but are less structured, allowing for whatever comes up in the group to be the focus. These groups often run consistently for months to years and can be a great support systems, as well as safe places to understand yourself within community. Groups usually meet weekly for anywhere from one-to-two hours. Group session fees varies depending on the type of group, region, specialty of the therapist, but are usually anywhere between $25-100 per session.

Having an idea of the different types of therapy and their respective costs can help you start to narrow down the process and give you the language to get what you need out of therapy. As you start this journey with this information in mind, I invite you to ask yourself what you are looking for, how much you can afford, and how long can you to commit to therapy. Starting off with these questions answered can set you on the right path of growth and healing.

How to Find a Therapist

This is one of the most common, and most vulnerable, questions that I get from people that know me well enough for whom I can’t serve as their therapist. (Take a moment to watch this Kristen Bell video on therapy to understand that, while it would be great, “friend” and “therapist” can’t be synonymous.) It’s important for those who still want help finding a therapist that they can trust. And I only say “vulnerable” because the process of finding a therapist can be emotional, frustrating, and, in a positive sense, the start of the process of openness that is necessary for successful therapy. There is no easy path, or clear process, to finding a therapist, but there are some clear areas to take note of when finding the best fit.

Know What You’re Looking For

Finding your fit starts with knowing what you want. For instance: Knowing if you want short-term versus long-term therapy; a set weekly time versus a flexible schedule; in-person sessions versus video/phone session; and knowing how much you can afford for how long (i.e. one session per week at $150 for six months) are all crucial factors in finding the right therapist for you. It can also be helpful to know if you have a preference for gender, age, or distance from your home. If you hate commuting and are not sure if you trust women, then a female-identifying therapist on the other side of town might not be a good long-term fit for you no matter how many people have sung her praises.

Google Is Your Friend

There are some therapist directories like Psychology Today, Good Therapy, Advekit, and many more—but many therapists only use their websites for marketing. So, when you’re looking for a specific type of therapy, or wanting to work on a specific issue, googling what you’re looking for can actually be an effective first step to finding a therapist that specializes in that area. So far, tools like Yelp have proven less effective because many therapists stay away from this form of marketing due to the subjectivity of therapy (see the “Connection is Key” point later in this article), and so the rating system and sample size do not lead to realistic ratings.

Your Friend In Therapy Is Your Friend

If you know anyone that is a therapist, knows therapists, or is in their own therapy—these are great resources for finding a good fit. Even if their friend/therapist/therapist’s friend isn’t “the one,” therapists are usually the best referral sources for finding what you need. If I meet with a client once and notice that we may not be a perfect fit, I often get a feel for why that is and who would be a better fit all within that first hour. So, talking to, or having your friend in therapy talk to, a therapist about what you’re looking for can be the best line to your therapy match.

Connection Is Key

Research about the effectiveness of therapy has continually proven that a person’s connection with their therapist is more important than what theory the therapist is utilizing. So while cognitive behavioral therapy has proven to be helpful with anxiety, psychodynamic therapy helps with relational issues, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) has helped many with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the main indicator of growth and healing is how safe an individual feels with their therapist. This does not necessarily mean feeling comfortable—therapy can often be uncomfortable because of the vulnerability required. But you need to feel safe to enable that vulnerability. To discover this safe feeling, it is completely acceptable to set up initial sessions or phone calls with multiple therapists to find where you feel the most connected.

And Finally: Ask Questions

Trying to be sure of fit within one or two sessions is difficult, especially if you feel uncomfortable asking questions about topics that matter to you. Once you know what you are looking for, feel free to ask if the therapist fits these needs. There are some questions that a therapist may choose not to answer (age, kids, siblings, parents, etc), but if these are deal breakers for you, even this can represent a good indicator of connection. I know that any therapist that I see for the rest of time will get the question, “Have you ever been in therapy?” on our first meeting, because I do not personally feel comfortable meeting with someone who has not done their own work. So know what you need, and asking for it is the beginning of making moves in the therapy room. And, now, you’re ready to make them!