How to Find a Therapist That's Right for You

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Finding a therapist is not always an easy task. With all the different mental health providers to choose from, it can be a confusing, time-consuming, and frustrating process.

Armed with a little bit of information, you can start psychotherapy with someone who is just right for you.

Know What You Are Looking For

Before you start looking for a therapist, the first step is figuring out what you want and need. Make sure to jot down notes so that you can communicate your needs effectively when you start your search.

Before you begin, research and think about each of the factors listed below.

Your Needs

Consider where you are in the process of seeking treatment. Think about what it is that you want and need right at this moment in terms of support.

If you are in crisis, don't wait. Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. If you are in the United States, you can call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.

If you are not in a crisis but have never seen a mental health provider before, you will need to first see someone for a full assessment to understand your diagnosis and develop a clear treatment plan.

If you have already had a diagnosis, you may be thinking about finding someone to do long-term psychotherapy with. If you already have a long-term therapist, you might decide you'd like to see a different therapist to do some short-term work on a specific issue. If that's the case, talk to your current therapist about your needs. They may even have a colleague who does the work you're hoping to undertake.

Location and Availability

Make sure that the therapist you're considering has availability that matches your schedule. Also, consider where the therapist's office is located in relation to where you live.

Scheduling and location may be more important than you think. Remember: therapy only works if you are able to consistently keep your appointments.

  • How far are you willing to travel?
  • Do you need a therapist who is accessible by public transportation?
  • Are you willing to travel a greater distance for a therapist who has special expertise or is an especially good match personality-wise?
  • Is convenience more important than other factors?
  • Are you looking for virtual therapy?

Therapist Payment

Psychotherapists can accept different payment options, so it is important to know how and how much you would like to pay. If you have health insurance, start by calling your insurance company and inquiring about your mental health benefits.

Questions to Ask Your Insurance Provider

  • Do you cover outpatient treatment?
  • How many sessions are covered?
  • Will I have a copayment?
  • What are your out-of-network benefits for mental health?

If your insurance only covers certain therapists, the insurance company will be able to provide you with a list of approved providers.

Some therapists only accept patients who are paying out-of-pocket. In this case, most will provide a receipt that you may be able to submit to your insurance company for reimbursement. You can inquire about whether they will consider a lower fee if the cost is above your means.

Type and Level of Expertise

Another factor to consider is what type and level of expertise you are looking for in a therapist. Think about the problems you need help with. There may be therapists who specialize in these concerns.

Even if you aren't sure exactly what you want to work on (and this is something a therapist can help you figure out), try to have a general idea of your goals for therapy.

You should know, though, that expertise can often be related to higher costs of service. Although this is not always the case, you should expect to pay more if you are only willing to work with a therapist of very high-level expertise.

When considering the level of expertise, remember that there are a wide variety of types of mental health providers with different types of training. More training does not necessarily mean that a therapist is more skillful, but consider whether you have a preference, and learn more about the types of mental health providers available.

Therapist Orientation

Different therapists come from different schools of thought about how therapy works and what methods produce the best outcomes. These schools of thought are called "orientations."

There are many orientations and some therapists subscribe to more than one.

For example, a therapist with a cognitive-behavioral orientation believes that thoughts and behaviors are tied to symptoms. They conduct therapy aimed at changing problematic behaviors and ways of thinking directly (usually through homework and in-session exercises).

In contrast, a therapist with a psychodynamic orientation believes that symptoms are related to processes outside of a client's awareness which will come to light through interactions with the therapist.

Think a little about what might be most comfortable or the best match for you, and be sure to ask any potential therapist about their orientation and how they would describe their approach to therapy.

Start Your Search

Once you have a good idea about what you are looking for, it is time to find a therapist. In addition to your insurance company, you can ask for referrals from friends, family, your primary care physician, or other treatment providers.

The Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies and the American Psychological Association offer excellent online resources to help you find a therapist.

You can start the initial contact via email and, then once you find out if they have any appointments, set up a call. When you talk with potential therapists, have your prepared list of questions and notes on hand. Try to ask all of the questions, even if you are feeling intimidated.

Questions to be sure to ask include fee payment, scheduling, training, expertise, treatment orientation, and experience in the area you would like to work on.

Therapist "Shopping"

Therapist "shopping" is a perfectly acceptable practice. Don't get discouraged. It can take time to find the therapist who is right for you, and it may take a few sessions to feel right. You need to think about your needs. You'll likely need to talk to several potential candidates on the phone or through email to see if they meet your needs. You may decide to meet with several possible therapists before you find the best fit.

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