Finding a good therapist is an art more than it is a science. There are no Yelp reviews that let you single out good from bad ones and even if there was, you still would have to know whether or not they are the right fit for you. 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NMIH), nearly one in five U.S. adults live with a mental illness in various degrees of severity, yet one study found that about 47% said they saw therapy as a sign of weakness. However, in a twist, the tumultuous year of 2020 made many Americans reconsider entering therapy for the first time. 

For those open to seeking therapy, the question becomes: how do you increase your odds of finding a good therapist and having a good relationship with them?

The first step is trying to get to know early who you will be speaking to and if they have the right experience with what problems you are hoping to overcome through therapy. 

The NMIH first offers a reminder that everybody has their own unique needs going into therapy and they need to make sure that therapist is trained in an area of psychotherapy that matches your needs. Its website shares some initial questions to consider ahead of an initial consultation with a therapist including whether they can prescribe medications and figuring out goals going into therapy. 

However, the next step is to do your best to make sure that the expectations you set for either therapy or the therapist are realistic as well. 

In a study conducted by Joshua K. Swift, Ph.D., and Roger Greenberg, Ph.D., published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology in 2015, they found that one of the most common reasons people left therapy was "unrealistic assumptions" when entering it in the first place. 

"There is a fast-food element in terms of wanting things to happen very quickly, [yet recovery] is not something that will happen in a week or two. That's a surprise to many patients," Greenberg told the American Psychological Association in an interview. 

If you find yourself a therapist to start seeing, experts offer some nifty advice to determine whether or not they are indeed the right fit: treat it like dating.  

A good therapist-patient relationship is characterized by some of the factors that you already use when looking for a significant other. Do you feel genuinely heard? Are you noticing small and positive improvements in your daily life like a better mood? All of these are important traits to have in your therapist. 

Psychologist Alice Shepard from the healthcare company Sesame told USA Today that a key starting point in finding the right therapist is to share your goals early on and let them get a sense of who you are.

"If you're able to share early on, even if you say, 'this is something that I've experienced, I'd like to have the opportunity to explore it, but maybe not right now,' it helps the therapist to know that that's something that you will want to work on later," Shepard said. "They can hold it in mind and have more of a sense of who you are." 

That leads to the final tip which is to be prepared to cut your losses if the therapist you choose does not end up being the right one. 

Cecille Ahrens, a licensed clinical social worker at Transcend Therapy in California, cautions though that like in dating, you should be wary of red flags among therapists, too. She told USA Today that some bad therapist traits to look out for are reliability issues, “unprofessional conduct,” “poor boundaries,” and a tendency to be judgmental or imposing their beliefs onto you.

Writing in Psychology Today in 2017, Ryan Howes Ph.D., ABPP, said that an interpersonal mismatch is not uncommon between a therapist and patient which can get in the way of the entire therapy process. 

"In therapy, as in all close relationships, problems with trust, communication, and empathy could render therapy an obstacle rather than a conduit to healing," Dowes said. He added that if these issues cannot be resolved, "leaving therapy is a viable option."

But even if one therapist does not work out, it's important to not be discouraged from therapy as a whole. Like with dating, it is important to accept that the person may just not have been right for you and it can do more harm than good by continuing that relationship. 

Alex Jenny, a licensed social worker known by her Instagram moniker "The Drag Therapist," suggests using past therapy experiences to find the right therapist.

"Working with a bad therapist or a therapist you don't click with can ultimately cause more harm," said Jenny. 

"Be assertive in asking questions during consultations and with sharing what hasn't worked for you so far when speaking to potential new therapists."