If you just have a vague sense that you need help, that's OK. But you'll be more likely to find a good fit if you can get a bit more specific, because therapy is not one-size-fits-all and individual therapists tend to specialize in certain conditions and treatment modalities. Do you need help quitting smoking? Suspect that you're depressed? Want to work through a phobia?
While you can't officially diagnose yourself with a disorder, you probably have some inkling about what might be going on. Dr. Forand suggests perusing this list of psychological issues and clicking on one (or more) that seems most pertinent. When you click through, you'll be taken to a list of evidence-based treatment options, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, which tends to be the best option for depression and generalized anxiety; exposure therapy, which is ideal for overcoming a specific phobia; and cognitive processing therapy, which helps people with post-traumatic stress disorder.
The goal: When you start reaching out to potential therapists, you should be able to say something like, "I'm seeking help with depression. Do you treat depression, and if so, how?"
Along the same lines, you may want to ask how long the provider has been treating this issue and what kind of success they've had with similar patients in the past. It's also perfectly reasonable (and smart) to ask about a therapist's education and training. There are many types of therapists—psychologists, social workers, nurse practitioners, etc.—and there are some distinctions: Psychologists have been through a doctoral program, so they have the most training among the non-MDs, says Dr. Forand. If you think you might need medication, ask if the therapist works with a psychiatrist (a medical doctor) or psychiatric nurse practitioner who can prescribe.