They’re trained and licensed. First things first, therapists should be licensed. This means they have had enough relevant education, are aware of the laws pertinent to therapy in your state and are held to an ethical standard. Unfortunately, there are people who market themselves as therapists without this so look for LMFT, LCSW, LPC, or LCP designations after their name and degree. If they are a candidate or student, you’ll be informed of their education, experience, and licensed supervisor in the first session but it’s also okay to ask for this information before you schedule.
You can make it to therapy. Consistent sessions are important, especially at the beginning of therapy. Make sure your therapist is in a part of town that isn’t too difficult for you to get to. Also make sure they have regular or semi-regular time slots that will work for you.
You ‘click’ with them. Although it may not sound like the most important thing, the therapeutic relationship is actually the factor that matters most when predicting benefit from therapy. It may not happen right immediately, but sometimes you can tell if there won’t be a click right away. This is important so you might want to talk over the phone before having a session or meet with a few different therapists.
Their ideas sound good to you. There are many different theoretical orientations that a therapist may be trained in, and while we don’t expect you to know those things specifically it is important that our approach makes sense to you. Ask them to explain their approach and ask questions to clarify – if you feel it makes sense then this is a good sign that you’ll be able to speak the same language when you’re working on a problem.
You can imagine or find yourself opening up to them. A great sign of rapport and the therapeutic relationship is that things flow easily, and you can see yourself building a trusting relationship over time with that person. Sometimes a therapist reminds you of a painful relationship – by talking about this with them you can decide whether it would be a positive to work through this or if it is too much of a barrier (especially if it is trauma-related).
They can accept a challenge. Relationship is so often part of the work so it’s important that your therapist responds well to small challenges, indicating that you can trust them with bigger ones if necessary. Do they admit when they’ve made a mistake? Can they talk about what happens in the therapy session? These are good signs. Be honest if you don’t like an idea or direction in therapy– a good therapist will be able to listen and accommodate while also holding to and explaining why they think something is important.
There’s nothing off putting. Therapists are also flawed humans but issues like never returning calls, not having their license and degree displayed in the office, or a messy or dirty workspace are red flags that the person you’re trusting with your most difficult problems is not very detail-oriented or maybe even irresponsible. Whether these are deal-breakers will vary from person to person but pay attention and tread carefully.