How To Find a Therapist: Your Comprehensive Guide

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Making the decision to seek therapy is a big step. It can be difficult to know where to start or who to turn to for help, and these days, it can feel as intimidating as finding your life partner when searching for an inclusive, affordable therapist who works well with your needs and mental health goals. 

Thankfully, there are tons of resources out there to guide us in this unique, individualized process. Whether you’re just starting your search or feeling stuck trying to make an adjustment in your mental health care plan, we’ve compiled a comprehensive guide to finding a therapist.

What is therapy and how does it work?

Therapy is a process of exploring your thoughts and feelings with a licensed mental health professional. A great therapist can help you gain valuable insights, provide support and guidance when you are facing challenges, help you confront and heal trauma, and give you the tools to create a life you love. 

Therapy generally takes place on a weekly basis, but the frequency may vary depending on your needs. Therapists are bound by confidentiality laws, which means that what you discuss in therapy will remain private. 

Many people think of therapy as a way to deal with negative life events or mental health challenges. While therapy can be helpful in those situations, it can also be a positive force in your life even when things are going well. 

You may approach therapy as preventative care, or as crisis care, and it’s important to evaluate those needs when seeking a therapist. 

Do you want someone who will laugh at your jokes and recommend you podcasts? Are you looking for a no-funny-business practitioner who will set you on the right track? A little bit of both? You will need to consider your level of need, the kind of therapist who will guide you through your goals, and what kind of methods will get you there. 

It’s a lot, and all of the possibilities can seem overwhelming, so let’s break it down a little more. 

How to know if you need therapy

While many would argue that almost everybody could benefit from therapy of some kind, there are certainly a few questions you might ask yourself if you’re seeking specific care for a mental health condition. If you're not sure whether therapy is the right next step for you, here are a few questions to get you started:

  • Do you find yourself struggling to cope with day-to-day life? 
  • Are you regularly overwhelmed by stress or anxiety? 
  • Do you find it hard to concentrate or focus on tasks? 
  • Are you drinking or using drugs more than usual? 
  • Do you feel like you're constantly on edge, or that you're just not yourself? 
  • Do you have a personal goal you want to achieve, but find yourself getting in the way of making progress?

If any of these questions or concerns ring true for you, therapy may be a good option. Therapy can provide vital support during especially difficult times (like, say, a global pandemic) and can help you to develop healthier coping skills. It can also be a space to explore your thoughts and feelings and to gain a better understanding of yourself.

Ultimately, therapy is about taking care of yourself and finding ways to live a happier, healthier life. You deserve a therapist who can lead you to care, safety, and progress.

Different types of therapists 

If you're considering therapy, you may be wondering what kind of therapist is right for you. If you’re just starting on your therapy journey, you may be asking “wait, there are different kinds of therapists?” 

We’re not telling you to search for a therapist by their astrological sign or Enneagram type, but rather by their level of expertise. 

Are you looking for a diagnosis? General mental health upkeep? A provider who can guide you through a specific event, challenge, or condition? 

The first step is to understand the different types of therapists and what they specialize in. Here are some of the most common types of mental healthcare providers:

Psychiatrists 

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who can prescribe medication and provide cognitive behavioral therapy — or what is known as “talk therapy.”  Many times, psychiatrists will work in collaboration with a therapist or counselor to provide you with medication.

Psychologists 

Psychologists have a doctoral degree in psychology and can provide various forms of therapy therapy. While psychologists do similar work to therapists and counselors, they may also do more research and teaching in the field.

Licensed clinical social workers 

Social workers have a master's degree in social work and can provide therapy and case management. Social workers may also specialize in helping families or working with other legal systems to take care of their clients.

Marriage and family therapists 

Marriage and family therapists have a master's degree in counseling or a related field and can provide therapy to couples and families.

Counselors or therapists

Therapists have a bachelor's or master's degree in counseling and can provide a multitude of therapeutic modalities. Therapists or counselors are usually the most common care providers when starting your mental healthcare journey and may work in tandem with any of the above professionals to get you the support you need.

Different kinds of therapy

Similarly, there are therapists that specialize in specific modalities, identities, diagnoses, and more.

For example, if you're an LGBTQ+ person of faith,  you may want to seek out a therapist who specializes in LGBTQ+ issues and has context on your faith tradition. If you're struggling with addiction, you may want to seek out a therapist who specializes in addiction counseling. The important thing is to find a therapist who understands your needs and who you feel comfortable talking to.

Beyond identity, you may also want to consider what kind of therapy would be most beneficial for your needs. It’s okay to not know the best approach when you’re first seeking care, but this (long but not comprehensive) list can give you some insights into how a therapist may provide care.

Cognitive behavioral therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most common type of therapy and is often called “talk therapy.” CBT is used to explore the relationship between a person’s behaviors, thoughts, and feelings, working to uncover harmful or unhelpful thought patterns. The therapist will discuss these thoughts with their client and may use some exercises to work through these thoughts and feelings.

People who experience anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, eating disorder, schizophrenia, or trauma-related disorders may benefit from CBT.

Dialectical behavior therapy

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is similar to CBT but often incorporates more action steps. DBT focuses on regulating emotions, being mindful, and accepting uncomfortable thoughts. A therapist might use DBT to help a person work through change with tools, practices, and exercises. 

DBT has been known to help those suffering from eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance abuse, or mood disorders. 

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR)

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR) is a technique that therapists primarily use to treat people with PTSD or anxiety disorders. It involves recalling a traumatic event while performing specific eye movements, which distract the client from the traumatic memory and helps reprocess their responses. 

Exposure therapy

A form of CBT, exposure therapy helps with treatment of fear and anxiety disorders by safely introducing anxiety triggers and putting healing methods into practice.

Therapists might use exposure therapy to help treat obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), PTSD, or phobias.

 

Interpersonal therapy

Interpersonal therapy includes therapists evaluating a person’s social interactions to notice and cope with negative patterns by working with others. Interpersonal therapy includes approaches like family therapy, couples therapy, or group therapy. These settings can help with a number of challenges or conditions and help a person see that they are not alone, offering an opportunity to support each other or heal together.

Creative arts therapy

Art therapies aim to engage clients through modes of creativity like art, dance, music, or poetry. This allows expression through a different medium and can improve cognitive function, emotional strength, self-esteem, and conflict resolution. 

These are only a handful of the most popular therapy modalities. A full list can be found via Psychology Today

Where to find  the right therapist for you

Now that you may have identified what you're looking for in a therapy experience, it's time to start your search. If you have health insurance, you might begin by calling your insurance company and ask for a list of in-network providers.

Once you have a list of names, you can research them online, check out their qualifications (education, licensure, etc.) and see if they could be a right fit for you. 

In addition, if you have a good relationship with your doctor or primary care provider, asking them for recommendations can be helpful. They know your experiences and can help pinpoint specialists that can support you. This is also helpful if you'll be paying for therapy through insurance.

If you don’t have insurance or are looking for a more detailed approach to finding a therapist, there are a number of free resources you can utilize. We have listed a few below!

Psychology Today

Psychology Today provides the largest known therapy directory online. You can refine your search with a number of specifics, such as zip code, insurance, area of specialty, race, gender, religion, and more. 

Inclusive Therapists

Inclusive Therapists is the place to be for those with marginalized identities who face systemic challenges like microaggressions, prejudice, language, or financial barriers. This resource aims to make finding a therapist a simple and safe process, centering the needs of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ individuals, as well as honoring the full neurodiversity spectrum and people of all disability backgrounds.

Inclusive Therapists hand-matches people with therapists to provide identity-affirming and culturally-responsive care.

Mental Health Match

Mental Health Match has a matching tool that helps people efficiently find therapists they can trust, while maintaining privacy and confidentiality. The service asks clients five sets of questions to help find the right therapist in their zip code. 

Therapy Den

Created by mental healthcare providers, Therapy Den aims to make the process of finding a therapist easier for everyone involved. Therapy Den allows therapists to list and market themselves, engaging with new clients in a supportive and safe environment. The site is broken down into individual, group, family, couples, teen, and youth therapists, as well as medication management providers. 

Open Path Collective

Open Path Collective is a nationwide nonprofit supporting a network of mental health professionals providing in-office and online mental healthcare at a steeply reduced rate

Clients can search their directory of therapists, refining their search by modality, race and ethnicity, language, and more. Open Path specifically serves clients who lack health insurance or whose health insurance doesn’t provide adequate mental health benefits, offering a choice in affordable care. 

Questions to ask when interviewing potential therapists

Once you've found a few therapists that seem like a good fit, it's time to set up an appointment for a consultation. This is a chance for you to meet the therapist and ask any questions you have, and for the therapist to get to know you and see if their treatment approaches would be beneficial for you. 

The decision to see a therapist is a very personal one, and it's important to find someone you feel comfortable with.

Here are some questions to keep in mind when you're interviewing potential therapists:

  • What is your experience with treating my specific issue?
  • What is your treatment approach?
  • Do you have any methods that you use to help your clients relax and feel comfortable?
  • What are your thoughts on medication?
  • What are your rates and do you offer sliding scale options?
  • What are your availability and cancellation policies?
  • How long do you usually see clients?

Asking these questions will help you get a better sense of whether or not a therapist is a good fit for you. Trust your gut, seek the opinions of those who care about you, and remember that if it doesn't feel like the right fit, there is still a therapist out there for you. 

How to pay for therapy

One of the most common concerns people have when starting therapy is how they will pay for it. The cost of therapy can range from $50 to $250 per session, depending on the therapist's training and experience.

There are a few different ways to pay for therapy, including using private insurance, sliding-scale fees, or paying out-of-pocket.

If you have private insurance, your therapist may be able to work with your insurance company to get some or all of the cost of therapy covered.

If you don't have insurance, if your insurance doesn't cover therapy, or if your therapist doesn’t accept insurance, you may be able to find a therapist who offers sliding-scale fees. This means that the therapist charges a lower rate based on your income.

Finally, there are a number of organizations that provide low-cost or free therapy, such as community mental health centers and university counseling clinics.

Don't let the cost of therapy keep you from getting the help you need. With a little research, you should be able to find a therapist who fits both your needs and your budget.

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