1. Shop online.
This is how most people find a therapist. Many therapists elect to be listed in Psychology Today's online directory. At this writing, a quick search in Portland, Oregon pulls up 977 therapist profiles. From there you can whittle it down by gender, zip code, age, insurance accepted, and even issues treated. When reviewing profiles, look for therapists that give you a sense of what it is like to sit across from them in a session. If they link to a website in their profile, visit the website. Listen to your intuition here and narrow your search down to a handful to call and interview.
2. Call your insurance company.
Insurance companies have directories of "in-network" providers, or providers whose services are covered by your insurance plan. When you call, they may ask you for your preferences and give you a list of names. Again, make sure to get a few names to call and interview.
3. Call your company's human resources department.
Many companies offer an employee assistance program (EAP) as part of their benefit package. Employee assistance programs often cover a wide range of services, including psychotherapy. Furthermore, they usually offer several sessions per year at no cost. Employee assistance programs are usually administered through a third party vendor and you can get the phone number from your human resources department. Much like an insurance company, you may be asked for your preferences and given several names of therapists.
4. Contact at least three therapists.
Before you make an appointment with anyone, contact at least three therapists, and preferably not just by email. You want to get a sense of what it's like to talk to them, not reveal your deepest darkest secrets over the phone. Do they make you feel at ease? Is their style a fit for you? Do you feel like they're genuinely interested in you? Consider asking how they structure their sessions, how they believe change happens, if they've worked with anyone with your issue, and of course, any logistical questions such as office hours. If they are difficult to reach, they may not be responsive while working with you either. Always trust your gut if you have doubts. If you've contacted three and all three had red flags, contact three more. This work on the front end will increase your likelihood of finding someone whom you trust and respect. No one wants to bare their soul to therapist after therapist.
5. Check their license.
I highly recommend finding a therapist who is licensed, and most reputable therapists in private practice are licensed. Licensed therapists are required to complete thousands of post-graduate therapy hours prior to licensure, receive consultation and guidance from a licensed supervisor, pass licensing exams, adhere to statutes, administrative rules, and a code of ethics, complete and report continuing education hours, and are overseen by a licensing board. Looking up a therapist on a licensing board's website can verify that they are indeed licensed and give you any information about past disciplinary actions.
6. Attend at least two sessions.
Most people are wrought with anxiety and emotions going into their very first session. I have had many clients that started crying from the moment they sat down, often saying, "I don't know why I'm crying!" It's because the lead-up of life prior to that first session is often heady, you're nervous about sharing with a person you've just met, and you are feeling vulnerable and maybe even overwhelmed. That first session is often not representative of what sessions will be like with a therapist, so I encourage you to commit to at least two sessions before evaluating your experience. That said, even after doing your best footwork on the front end to select a therapist, you may find they're not actually a fit. Don't feel bad about switching to a new therapist. It is your life! And, speaking as a therapist, we are most interested in you finding the best fit to improve your emotional health and well-being.