How to find a suitable therapist in India: A beginner’s guide

Updated: Nov 20, 2021

There is a saying among therapists, that I think is central to this discussion - “There are no bad therapists, there is only a misfit between the client and the therapist”.

Searching for a therapist is a bit like searching for a date on Tinder, though not nearly as wild.

If this is your first time looking for a therapist, you will likely start with a simple Google search, or ask a friend. Here are some important questions to ask yourself to help navigate the ocean that is Google.

Which type of mental health professional should I go to?

In India, broadly speaking, there are two kinds of mental health professionals – psychiatrists and psychologists (both clinical and counselling). Psychiatrists are doctors, who provide short consultations. They are similar to other doctors - they listen to your issue and prescribe medication. Psychologists, on the other hand, are the ones commonly called “therapists”. They provide counselling services - mainly talk therapy, among many other kinds of therapy.

The professional you choose, depends entirely on your preference. There is no right or wrong choice. That said, I recommend starting your journey with a psychologist. A good psychologist would refer you to a psychiatrist, if need be.

Who is qualified to treat my issue?

In India, there is an uncomfortably large number of untrained and under-qualified therapists with established clinics. A qualified therapist holds a Master's degree, at the least. This ensures that they have been trained to practice, under supervision. They are trained in ethics of practice, which is an essential quality. You may come across therapists who have completed just a diploma or certificate course. They are not qualified to practice. 

As a potential client, you have the right to ask the professional about their qualification, if it is not already mentioned. 

While it is helpful to consider an experienced therapist, it does not ensure the “fit” between the therapist and the client. You could find a therapist you connect with, who may not have as much experience.

Who will I be most comfortable with?

The idea of opening up to someone about personal issues is uncomfortable enough on its own. If a certain kind of person can make it easier for you, go for it. Consider whether you would be more comfortable with a male, female or non-binary therapist. How old would you like your therapist to be? What language would you be most comfortable in? Do you prefer that they follow a certain religion? Criteria like these can narrow it down for you.

You may not find someone who fits all your criteria, but it certainly helps to have some, to guide your search. All qualified therapists are trained in the skill of building rapport with clients. They will provide an empathic and non-judgmental environment, making it easier for you to discuss uncomfortable subjects.

What can I expect from therapy?

Therapy is an active process, that takes time and effort from both the client and the therapist. You and your therapist work in collaboration to bring about changes that helps you with your problem. For therapy to work, you need to be ready to give it time and your best effort.

Contrary to popular belief, a therapist will not simply give you advices that will help your situation. In fact, I would recommend that you steer clear of therapists who simply tell you what to do. It might be easy for you to take their advice and implement it, instead of being an active participant. However, that could be harmful for you, in the long run. Advices can easily make you dependent on your therapist.

Therapy aims to help you solve your current problem, and equip you to handle your own problems, in the future. Therapy is meant to empower you to take charge of your circumstances and grow as an individual.

Keep in mind that every therapist has their unique approach to therapy. Asking a potential therapist about their approach before booking an appointment can be helpful. There is no wrong approach, whatever attracts you might well be a good fit for you.

Can I afford therapy?

Cost is one of the most important considerations. Therapy is a long-term process, which makes it a recurring cost spread over a span of a few months to a few years, depending on the individual and the mode of therapy. Travelling to the therapy setup is also to be considered.

Most professionals charge their fee on a sliding scale. Do not hesitate to approach someone on the basis of the fee they charge. All therapists genuinely want to help. If they can, they will reduce their fee to an amount that is comfortable for both of you. If not, they will likely refer you to someone who can help you instead. Some therapists also provide pro bono (free) hours.

As successful therapy requires long-term commitment, find ways to make it easy for yourself to continue in therapy. Find someone whose office is nearby, or at least easily accessible. Schedule your appointments such that you don’t have to rush to the session from work, or rush to work from a session. This can eventually cause burnout, which will defeat the purpose of seeking therapy. Consider online counselling, as an alternative.

All things considered, expect some trial and error before you find a therapist who is best suited for you. You may start therapy, and eventually find yourself feeling disconnected or misunderstood. Feel free to change therapists. You could even speak to your therapist about these feelings. Most therapists would help you find someone better suited for you and refer you.

After all, your wellbeing is what therapy is all about.

In the future I will cover topics that educates you about the world of therapy. It is more important now than ever before, to reach out for help, and understand the help that is available to us. There is help out there for each one of us. My private practice has made apparent the need to educate people about therapy. I hope to do that here, and reach more people than the ones I see in my practice. Help me in this endeavor by sharing this with others and sharing your experience with me.

I would love to know your experience in therapy, if any. Let us start conversations that help and uplift everyone!

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