1. Find a fit of personality
It is more about trusting your therapist than likability, but the research is clear the therapeutic relationship is the most important component for healing. Everything else will flow from this piece.
Don't be afraid to call or meet with a counselor to see if you vibe, and end it if you aren't eventually hitting a true stride in your work. A typical rule of thumb is no more than 3 sessions to see if you hit it off.
2. Be clear on the type of professional you need
There are several types of mental health professionals, and while some of our work overlaps it is important to find the right fit for what you need. There are psychiatrists, psychologists, Licensed Professional Counselors (LPCs), Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT), Art Therapists, Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselors (LCDCs), Licensed Master Social Workers (LMSWs), life coaches, school counselors, academic advisors, and other religious-based practitioners such as Biblical counselors not to mention specialties.
Please note that I am a Licensed Professional Counselor, so I can only truly speak from my perspective on the other professions and how I see them differently. I am not saying that I know everything about each job. I know about LPCs.
Licensed Professional Counselors: This title requires a master's degree, supervision with clients for 3000 hours, and proficiency in talk therapy. This is the kind of counsel where you typically sit in a room and discuss what is going on in your life. Your LPC may use a variety of techniques.
Psychiatrists: Medical professionals that prescribe medication. Typically these appointments are relatively short and require waiting for a new patient appointment which can sometimes take months.
Psychologists: Medical model professionals trained in psychotherapy. Psychologists are trained in psychological assessment and have advanced education and experience in practical cases typically in personality disorders or research.
Social Work: While some social workers counsel, they seem to be more generally focused on resourcing. A social worker would be a valuable resource if you are food insecure or have trouble with housing.
Art Therapists: Therapists with an art education background who are trained to utilize art as a means of counsel. You may utilize various kinds of arts strategically in processing.
Biblical and Life Coaches are often umbrella terms that do not require any licensure or specific schooling. These people may be helpful with a very specific issue or use case.
3. Get specific about your need
Generalists like your general practitioner can be a great resource for helping you connect to specialists and help you through everyday problems that arise from living. However, if you know you have something specific you want to work on in therapy there is probably extra training for that. It is also good to seek out someone who knows more or has certifications in your situation.
4. Make sure the person you are wanting to go to is licensed and check into their education.
I would not recommend going to someone who is unlicensed because often these programs are not governed. While no governing board is perfect, they do make sure ethical guidelines are followed at some level. While sometimes well-meaning these programs can unintentionally cause harm.
Education standards can vary. A shortcut is to look up CACREP-certified programs and make sure your counselor has had the necessary education. The program I most often recommend to my family and friends is UNT because it meets that standard, but it is certainly not the only option.
5. Get a recommendation from someone you trust
The best way to find a quality counselor is to ask your friends or distant family. It may not always work out, but word of mouth speaks volumes. That counselor can also recommend other providers if necessary.
6. Go to a place where you have power over who you get paired with and make sure your therapist is treated ethically.
As the client, you should have agency over who you are paired with and avoid being randomly assigned to someone's caseload. Often the big box stores of counseling being pushed right now are assigning unmanageable caseloads to new or beginning practitioners that lead to caregiver burnout. This is ultimately passed to you in a lower standard of care. To avoid this be an active participant in who you would like to work with.