A telemarketer (trying to sell me something that would "dramatically increase my referrals") once asked me how I normally got referrals. The majority of my referrals come from other therapists. I am not making this up. The best way to increase my business is to give professional talks at therapy conferences and invite therapists to coffee. It does seem absurd that my "competition" is also responsible for my financial well-being.
In a previous post I mentioned that I already exhausted my professional connections and did not feel the need to debase myself further in my search for a therapist. One thing I could do (but have not yet done), is look online. There are a number of different websites and business locators that might help you find a therapist. Below I will name a few.
You can use Yelp to find a therapist just like you can use it to find a mechanic or a calzone. I am on Yelp. How did I get on Yelp? I created a business for myself, and then about three weeks later I got a confirmation that the business I had created was real and the link was live and available for searches. I clicked a button claiming that I owned the business, and I now have "administrative access" to modify the content. You could actually create a Yelp account for me (please do not do this), or your neighbor, or your dog. It is my understanding that an actual person at Yelp screens these though. The point is, setting up a Yelp page for myself was super easy, free, and took no time at all. The benefit of Yelp is that it is easy to search for services geographically, which is important in a city like SF that takes forever to get anywhere. The downside is that anyone can be on Yelp claiming to do anything they like.
There are a number of commercial search engines referred to as "therapist finders". I am on one run by Psychology Today. This is a paid service for me, but free for those looking for therapists. Besides other therapists, this subscription I have to PT's therapist finder generates the most referrals for me. The benefits for me (the therapist) are that the information I can provide is relatively extensive, it is easy to create external links (like to this website) and update my info, it has pictures, PT has name recognition, and I am pretty sure PT pays to get their result in the top 10 search results on Google and other search engines. The benefits for me (the consumer) are that the interface is simple and intuitive, there is a lot of relevant info, and there are links right on the page for connecting with the therapist (email, video, phone). Also, since it is a paid service, it weeds out some of the undesirables.
Certain professional organizations run their own therapist finders. Two of these are the American Psychological Association (APA) and the San Francisco Psychological Association. I have found both of these locators a challenge to use. For instance, in the SFPA locator, if I choose search criteria that produces no results, I can modify results, but it makes me go through everything all over again. Also, I do not know what criteria to change in order to get results, so it is something of a guessing game how to get actual information from the search. Therapists get on these locators by being members of these organizations. I am a member of APA, but I falsely assumed I was on their locator (that would explain the low number of referrals I have gotten from APA). The information you get about the therapist is minimal, so once you locate someone, you still have some legwork to do. Finally, I do not know anyone who would think to look at either of these websites in order to find a therapist. The up-side is that it takes some effort (money and peer pressure) to be in good standing with one of these professional organizations, and this also tends to weed out some undesirables.
The gist of these locators is that you will get enough information to start making some calls. In my opinion, you should not agree to pay for anything until you have had your first face to face meeting (usually called an Intake Assessment) with the therapist. Phone consultation should be free, unless you are doing teletherapy (which you can decide as a result of the phone consultation). I usually agree to get some basic information over the phone, and this discussion takes about 10-15 minutes. You should ask questions about:
The therapist's experience with your problem
The cost of services and payment/insurance options
An estimation of number of sessions based on information provided
The therapist's approach to dealing with your issue
Scheduling and availability
And anything else you want to ask. If you think it is relevant, then it is relevant.
In my opinion, finding a good therapist is much harder than it should be. After all, therapists specialize in working with people who are already stressed. Why subject them to a process that will stress them further? I will say that finding the right therapist might be like finding the right person to marry, only cheaper.