We’ve all been there. We’ve all felt overwhelmed, confused, thinking we could benefit from seeing a therapist. But only some of us make it through the door and get the help we need. Why is that? Looking for a therapist can be an arduous process, especially for anyone struggling with his or her mental health. Most people consider starting therapy because one or more aspect of life feels challenging or overwhelming. But when the process to find a therapist is also overwhelming, it can bring up our resistance and deflate our momentum for better self-care. Let me just say, I feel you. I thought about therapy for years before finally taking the plunge and after I did I never looked back. When I think about what got me there it was a combination of timing and having the right resources to make my search manageable.
Searching for a therapist can feel like online dating—you scout profile after profile on the web only to find yourself lost in a sea of individual narratives and portraits, no closer to finding what you’re looking for. The whole process can feel like one massive burden, which is why I find it helpful to break down any big task into manageable parts. When looking for a therapist there are a few things you can do to help maximize and streamline your search. Some of these suggestions may feel obvious but the truth is just because something is obvious doesn’t mean it’s without challenge!
1. Check in with yourself.
When looking for a therapist it’s a good idea to begin by getting a sense of what it is you want out of your therapy. What do you want to work on? Is there a particular type of therapy you want to try: individual, couples, or group? Are there certain qualities you want your therapist to embody? Do you have a gender preference, or any preference, for that matter?
There are just as many types of therapists as there are people, so you want to choose someone whose personality and presence makes you feel comfortable. I suggest taking time to imagine the kind of therapist you want to work with. Write down or sit with the traits that feel important to you, and traits that are deal breakers. Ideally what you are looking for is finding a therapist that puts you at ease.
2. Consider your therapy budget.
Therapy is expensive. While I believe it is one of the best investments we can make in our self, there are real financial barriers that can make it hard to do so. Depending on the community you live in, therapy can range from $80-$200 per session. The price can be a deterrent for many, but I recommend being honest with yourself before exclaiming, “I can’t afford therapy!” Look at your overall spending and see where you can make adjustments. Saving could be as simple as bringing lunches to work and making coffee at home. It is a choice, like everything else, and you must weigh the financial commitment you are willing to make.
Is there a university in your area? Many universities have master and doctoral level counseling programs, and may also have recommendations for low fee clinics. Students doing field placement work and gaining hours toward licensure conduct therapy at these clinics. This is an excellent option for someone who needs low fee therapy. Students are highly trained to conduct therapy and work under the supervision of a licensed therapist.
If you plan to use your insurance for therapy it is important to first find out what type of reimbursement, if any, your insurance company offers. They may or may not require that you work with a therapist in their network. If it is a requirement to see someone “in network,” ask for a list of providers and begin looking them up online. Some insurance companies will provide reimbursement for therapy and your therapist can provide you with a “superbill” each month to submit to your insurance.
3. Ask people you trust for recommendations.
Asking people you trust for recommendations is a great place to start. This could be a friend, family member, colleague or other health professional. If someone you trust makes a referral, this can act as a basic prescreening process. If you have a friend or family member who is a therapist, they would also be a good person to ask as well. Therapists tend to have reputable colleagues who can refer you too.
If your peers can’t make direct referrals, don’t be shy to ask a friend who goes to therapy if they can request a list of referrals from their therapist to assist you in your search.
4. Utilize the web.
The Internet is a great resource for reading about and finding local therapists. Psychology Today and Good Therapy have a comprehensive listing of therapists and allows you to search based on several different factors. To be listed in those databases, therapists must prove that they have an advanced degree and an up-to-date professional license. You can read profiles or click through to individual therapist websites. Yelp is also an up and coming way to search for therapists. That’s right, it’s not just a platform to find the best ramen in town but also a helpful search engine to find a solid therapist. We use Yelp to find hairdressers, acupuncturists, yoga studios, doctors and more—it only makes sense to use it for therapy searches, too!
5. Interview therapists.
Once you narrowed down your list of potentials (at least three names), start making calls. Most therapists offer a free 15-20 minute phone consultation. Prepare yourself for the phone consultation by thinking about what you want to get out of it.
You might ask the following:
- How would you describe your style of therapy?
- What do you charge per session?
- What insurance plans do you take? (if applicable)
- Do you provide a sliding pay scale?
- How often will we meet?
- How does therapy work?
Pay attention to how you feel on the phone. Do you feel comfortable talking with him or her? Do they sound clear and confident while answering your questions? Is their style of communication relatable? If yes, go ahead and book an intake session at the end of your phone call. Feel free to do this with more than one therapist if you like the idea of “shopping around.”
6. I think I found my person! What can I expect next out of therapy?
Your first session with your therapist will cover a lot of material. You will be asked to share what brought you into therapy, parts of your personal and family history, and the current symptoms you are experiencing. Your therapist will (obviously) ask you personal questions and, depending on your relationship to vulnerability, this may feel challenging. This is normal and to be expected. Your therapist should never rush your process. Your pace and comfort level must be respected.
There’s no hard-and-fast rule about how quickly you’ll determine whether you and your therapist are a good match, but it’s common to have a gut feeling within the first couple sessions. While I believe we should trust our instincts, I also believe we should check them before we act. This is because our instinct is always right: If you’re doubting whether or not you like your therapist, it’s worthwhile to consider why. If the reason you don’t like your therapist is something you find you don’t like about people in general, be sure to examine this.
A person’s relationship with their therapist frequently mirrors their relationships outside the therapy office. We often unconsciously recreate dynamics from other relationships with our therapist giving us the opportunity to process negative feelings and work through maladaptive patterns in a safe space. A good therapeutic relationship can be a corrective experience: We are accepted for who we are, encouraged to look inward and connect with our true natures, and supported in growing into our real selves.
Research continues to show that the most effective therapists build strong therapeutic relationships with their clients and have highly developed interpersonal skills including warmth, acceptance, empathy, and the ability to accurately identify how a client is feeling. With that in mind, I suggest you give a lot weight to how you feel in the room with your therapist and what the quality of your relationship feels like. And remember, we get out of therapy what we put into it—it is not a passive process. While your therapist is a facilitator in your healing, you are actually the one who needs to do the work!
My hope is that after reading this article you feel better equipped with tools for an effective therapist search. I hope you find your therapeutic experience to rewarding and life altering, in the best way possible. Happy therapist hunting!