You're depressed and not coping. Your friends have suggested therapy and you're finally considering it. But how do you choose the right therapist?

So many people are reluctant to seek psychological help because they've had negative experiences in the past. It's important not to assume that therapy doesn't work. It may just be that the particular therapist you saw wasn't the right one for you.

Just as you can't be friends with any person, you can't form a therapeutic relationship with any therapist. To make therapy work for you, you need to feel comfortable with and trust your therapist.

Here are some tips:
• Think about who you would feel most comfortable with. Do you prefer a male or female therapist? Someone with a particular world view or religion? Do you have a language preference?

• If you're on a health-insurance plan, find out what your cover is for psychotherapy. If you aren't covered, you'll have to consider other options, such as a support organisation.

• If you can afford private treatment, make a list of potential therapists. Your GP should be able to suggest therapists. An organisation that deals with the problem you encounter, such as a depression and/or anxiety support group, will also have a referral list.

• Phone the therapists and ask them about:

    • Their fee.

    • Whether they do long/short-term work (if you can only afford four or five sessions, it's pointless seeing someone who only does long-term psychotherapy).

    • Method of payment they prefer.

    • Their approach to therapy.

    • Their training.

    • Their expertise in dealing with the problem you're experiencing.

    • Any other questions you feel strongly about, e.g. religious orientation.

• Give yourself time to think about the conversation. Tell the therapist you would like to think about it and that you’ll call back if you decide to make an appointment.

The first session
See the first session as a trial session, and ask yourself the following:

    • Do you feel comfortable with the therapist?

    • Will you be able to trust her?

    • Do you like the way in which she or he treats you?

    • Is she a good match personality-wise?

    • Does the atmosphere feel right to you?

    • Were your needs listened to?

    • Did she behave in a professional manner?

Remember that most therapists also use the first session to ascertain whether your problem falls within their field of expertise. A referral isn't a rejection. It simply means that they don’t work in the field you're interested in.

It will be worth your time and money to make sure that you find the most suitable therapist. Some research has found that the relationship between client and therapist is more important to the outcome than the type of therapy employed.

Image via Thinkstock.