5 tips for choosing the right mental health professional

If you are thinking of seeing a mental health professional to get some support, that's great news. But you might be finding it pretty daunting to actually choose someone to see. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed by all the options and not know where to start.

One of the strongest factors in successful treatment is the quality of the relationship between the patient and their mental health professional. It’s important that the person who works with you ‘gets’ you, and isn’t just some random person. It’s kind of like dating; you might have to try a few therapists until you find one you like, trust and feel safe with. There are a lot of options when it comes to choosing a mental health professional. These tips can help you to find the right one for you.

1. Think about your needs

Before you get started, have a think about your ‘ideal therapist’. Consider things such as:

  • their style (professional or casual)

  • their level of experience and training/qualifications

  • their availability (Do you need to see someone ASAP, or can you wait?)

  • cost (Tip: if you find someone you really like but you can’t afford them, let them know that the cost is the only thing getting in the way. Ask if you can work out an arrangement with them for paying the session fees. Many therapists will adjust their fees for clients who are experiencing a financial strain. See more tips here for getting professional help if you don’t have much money.)

  • age/gender/cultural identity of your ideal professional.

01 Think about your needs

2. Do your research

There are a lot of mental health professionals out there, all with different levels of training, qualifications and areas of experience. It’s important that you work out which type of professional you want to see. You might need a psychiatrist or a clinical psychologist if you’re seeking a diagnosis and treatment for a mental health disorder.

But if your concerns are more general – you’re experiencing low mood, stress or anxiety symptoms in response to recent life events/changes, say – you might benefit from seeing a registered psychologist, mental health nurse practitioner, mental health occupational therapist, mental health accredited social worker, mental health trained GP or counsellor.

Once you know which type of professional you’re after, you can have a look at the options in your local area. While a Google search might be enough, you might find more accurate results by searching professional directories such as:

Bonus tip: You can check the registration status of your selected mental health professional via the Australian Health Professionals Regulation Agency.

02 Do your research

3. Ask your friends and family for recommendations

The best advice is going to come from people who know both you and a suitable mental health professional. Do you know someone who works in the mental health sector and can give you a personal recommendation? This is helpful even if you know someone who knows someone who can make a suggestion for you. It’s important to keep in mind, though, that you might not be able to see the same therapist as your best friend or your sibling, due to privacy issues. However, their therapist might be able to suggest someone else for you to try.

03 Ask friends and family

4. Seek advice from health professionals

If you haven’t been able to find anyone suitable through friends/family, then you can call a local service and ask for their recommendations. Usually within a mental health service or private practice, the administrator or clinic director can give advice on which of their team members might be the best fit for you. You can also always ask a trusted GP for a referral and they will select someone from their network for you.

04 seek advice from health professionals

5. Give the mental health professional a trial

Once you have selected someone who you think might be worth a try, book in to see them for about three or four sessions. After that time, if it doesn’t feel right, don’t be shy about asking for a referral to someone else. The first two sessions are often about the therapist getting to understand your situation and assessing your goals for treatment. It can be tiring and a little awkward at first, so see if you can stick it out until the third or fourth session to really get a feel for what this therapist will be like.

However, if you’re really uncomfortable and don’t want to return to that person, it’s important to listen to your gut feelings and look for another professional who you do feel comfortable with. Like dating, it can often take a few attempts to find the right fit for you. You may also decide you need a different type or style of therapist, depending on what you’re after. (Someone who helped you in the past might not be the most appropriate person for you to see about your current concern.)

05 give them a trial

It’s great that you’ve decided to get some support, and we know that working out where to start and how to find the right therapist can be really challenging. We hope that these five tips will help you to find a suitable mental health professional who can help you to start feeling better soon.

Read the transcript.

What should you do if you don't click with your therapist?

We spoke to Nasalifya Namwinga, Clinical Psychologist, who suggested you:

  • remember it's okay if you don't click with your therapist right away - often it takes a bit of time.

  • make a 'shopping list' of all the qualifications and qualities you want in a therapist, then do your research online to see if you can find a good match.

Article written by Dr Amy Burton, Clinical Psychologist.

What can I do now?

  • Want to chat with a peer worker who can listen and support you? Peer workers have their own experience of tough times and mental health challenges, and recovery. Book a free, text-based session with ReachOut PeerChat here.