Jeff Guenther on Feb 18, 2021
I don’t know about you, but I’m seeing therapy matching services pop up on the Internet all the time these days. What I mean by “therapy matching services” are those websites that promise to match you with one, or a handful of therapists, after the potential client takes a rather long survey about what they’re looking for in a therapist and what their presenting problem is. I’m talking about websites like Advekit, Mental Health Match, and My Well Being.
There are others out there, and there are even more getting ready to launch. I know this because they call me asking for my opinion on their project. Clearly, it’s a trend. I think these companies have their hearts in the right places. They’re trying to solve the age-old problem of trying to find a good-fitting therapist by applying today's technology, and good for them! Someone needs to do it. I, just like them, want badly for people to take a short quiz and, in the end, be matched with the counselor of their dreams. Who wouldn’t want that? The thing is, I don’t think it’ll ever be possible. And to be honest, it feels more like a marketing ploy than anything else.
I’d like to go over some of the reasons therapy matching services will never quite work (while also pointing out some of the positives because there are some!). I should also note that I’m a co-creator of TherapyDen.com, a national therapist directory. So I’m both biased and also highly informed in this space. If I ever figure out the secret algorithmic formula for matching clients with the perfect therapist I will, without hesitation, launch it on TherapyDen. But until then, I’m going to be transparent in handing the controls over to the user when filtering for a therapist instead of telling them my website can do all the work for them.
Oh, one more thing: Whether therapy matching services are a gimmick or hardcore science, I’m just happy that they’re acting as a portal to on-ramp more people into therapy. In the end it’s a good thing. Even if I think the method is over-promising.
We already know that 80% of the positive outcome of therapy is due to the therapeutic relationship, or at least therapists know this. This is the stat that calms therapists down when we worry too much about learning every single intervention that’s available. Simply sitting in a room with someone-- exhibiting warmth, empathy and respect for them-- will create a substantial healing effect. So obviously, it’s incredibly important to feel connected with your therapist. There needs to be chemistry between client and therapist. Not the sexy chemistry you aim to feel with a romantic relationship but therapeutic chemistry. If you have rapport, trust, and a real sense of emotional safety, then the healing can begin.
The matching quizzes on these new websites don’t, and can’t, test for chemistry. It’s the same as with dating apps like Hinge, Bumble and Tinder. Those apps claim to have the secret algorithm to love. We all know it’s a marketing ploy. Those apps are bad at figuring out if two people will have chemistry. Just ask anyone who’s used them! It’s a numbers game. You gotta meet a ton of people before you find someone you have chemistry with… Same goes for therapy. You gotta meet a bunch of therapists to find the one that’s a good fit. You can’t simply take a survey, get three therapist matches and be good to go. Sure, those therapists who specialize in grief might be a good fit if you’re going through a tough breakup. But that’s only 20% of the equation. Do you feel close enough to the therapist that you can cry your eyes out in front of them? That’s the real question, and surveys can’t answer that.
Go visit one of the therapist matching websites. Take their survey. It feels like it takes forever. If you actually reach the end, you already feel annoyed and a little exhausted. Sure, this is just my experience, but developing therapy websites is kinda my thing, and from a user experience angle, it’s essential that potential clients can get to therapist profiles with the fewest number of clicks. This is true for buying shoes on Amazon, insurance from Geico, and finding counselors on therapist directories. If you force a user to take a long journey, even if they volunteer for it, you’re going to lose a ton of people on the way. That’s why sites like Psychology Today, GoodTherapy and TherapyDen (sign up for free) are thriving. Those sites may not have fancy quizzes that promise perfect therapy matches at the end but that’s only because people want to search for a therapist by choosing the filters they care about.
I could be wrong*, but these websites do not seem to be created by actual licensed mental health practitioners. In truth, it’s impossible to find out who actually created the website and why, and I imagine that these mental health entrepreneurs have consulted with many therapists. But I don’t know if any therapists are on staff or are the founders. You can’t really figure it out by looking at the website either; there are no “About Us” pages.
I personally only know that many of these websites are not created by therapists because some of them have reached out to me in order to hear my story about TherapyDen and Portland Therapy Center. This is not to say that a non-therapist can’t create a wonderful therapist finder. But therapists have very intimate knowledge about what actually makes a good match, so if you don’t have a mental health professional who’s been working in the field for a while helping you build your platform then you’re at a disadvantage. It would be like asking someone who’s never gone on a date or been in a relationship to create a dating app. And while I imagine these website creators have been through plenty of their own therapy and experienced the struggle of finding a good-fitting counselor, they have only had the experience of one half of the experience.
Please someone prove me wrong and email me with a founder of one of these websites that is also a therapist. I would be happy to update this article.
*Turns out I AM wrong. Soon after publishing this blog I was kindly informed that Advekit was founded by Allison LaSov, LMFT and MyWellBeing was founded by Alyssa Petersel, LCSW. Not to mention, quite a few therapists disclosed how much they have loved being listed with MyWellBeing. Happy to hear it :)
I love some of the questions the surveys ask. Take a peek at these questions from Advekit:
I’m excited about questions like these because it forces the potential client to think about what type of therapist they want, and not what the therapist is specialized in. Fantastic! The only problem is that most therapists aren’t just one of these things. We are all of these things in session. Sometimes I sit back and let the client do most of the talking and sometimes I jump in and challenge more often. It changes from client to client and session to session. Sometimes I teach skills and sometimes I act like a coach. Almost all therapists change on the fly. Still though, I think these questions help to educate the client about what to look for in a counselor. I really like that.
The MyWellBeing website has some great questions, too:
My favorite is how they ask the potential client to rank the importance of these four factors. It really challenges the user to figure out how important location is. I’ve seen the data and I know that location is often the number one factor when searching for a therapist. But asking a client to actually rank these factors forces them to think about how much location really should matter.
This post turned into a bit of a roast. But therapy matching services are only at the beginning of their journey. I love that they’re finding ways to encourage more people to check out therapy. The websites are only going to get better, and I can’t wait to see how they evolve.
Jeff Guenther, LPC, is a therapist in Portland, OR. He has been in private practice since 2005. Jeff is the creator and owner of Portland Therapy Center, a highly ranked therapist directory. Jeff, and his team, have launched a new progressive therapist directory, TherapyDen.