how to mental health therapy tips

how to find a therapist

One of the most common requests I get for blog posts is a resource for how to go about finding a therapist. Especially after sharing how I took a break from seeing mine, more and more people have come to me asking where to start. Because it’s the new year, and because I think everyone should have one, I want to share some tips for finding a therapist in 2017. To be super clear, I am *not* a therapist, nor am I in the mental or medical health field. I’m just passionate about therapy and have been through this process myself.

One thing I want to note before getting started is that I don’t spend a lot of time talking about insurance here. If you have insurance, check out your provider’s website before getting started with these steps so that you know what your co-pay will be, and so you can become familiar with what your in- and out-of-network options look like.

What To Know About Therapy is a fantastic resource for a lot of reasons, but I recommend it here for education on the different things therapy can do for you. Pages like The Elements of Good Therapy, Signs of Healthy Therapy, and especially Warning Signs of Questionable Therapy can be helpful before beginning your search. Finding a therapist is not like finding a general practitioner. You may see your GP a couple of times a year, and as long as they can get you through your yearly physical and help diagnose your strep throat, most doctors are probably fine. The same cannot be said for your therapist. A therapist is someone you are going to become exceptionally open with, maybe more than anyone in your life, so it’s important to find the right one. That can be sort of vague — like when you were dating for the first time and not sure what to look for in a partner. That’s what can help you determine — what kind of therapy and therapist would be a good match for you? There’s so much great information on this site, so I recommend spending time going down the therapy rabbit hole!

One thing worth mentioning: a person does not have to have mental illness to see a therapist. There are many types of therapy and many reasons to see a therapist, none of which is necessarily related to having a diagnosed mental illness.

Finding Your Therapist Match

My preferred site for actually searching for a therapist is Psychology Today. Think of it as a dating site where you’re reading profiles for your potential match, only that match is a therapist and not a partner. Like a dating site, it can be overwhelming going through everyone with an account, so use the filters to narrow down what you think you might be looking for in a therapist. Would you feel more comfortable discussing intimate details of your life with a woman or man? Does your comfort level change if they are near you in age, near your parents in age, or near your grandparents in age?

Personal Note: I once saw a therapist who had worked for 911 when the service opened (so, uh, not close to me in age). She was great for talking through many of my issues, but didn’t have any context for what a blog or podcast was, so I spent too much of my time explaining what I did and not enough working through my issues. My current therapist (whom I adore) knows about and listens to podcasts, but doesn’t know who Lena Dunham is. She’s perfect for me because she’s just plugged in enough without being caught up in the same bubble of information that I’m already in.

Okay, back to Psychology Today. In addition to age and gender, you can search by your own age bracket, issues you’re dealing with, faith, language, treatment type, and, of course, insurance. Once you’ve filtered your results, feel free to judge a book by its cover and begin opening tabs of therapists who simply look like they might be a good fit.

Similar to a dating site, each therapist fills in their profile with a bio, their specialties and interests, etc. Specialties can be a good place to see where a therapist really shines. For instance, if one of your issues is with disordered eating or your relationship, you can see if a particular therapist has more than average experience working with them (you can find these in green in the right sidebar). Just because someone doesn’t specialize in your issue, or has different specialties than you’re looking for, shouldn’t disqualify them. You can also look under Issues and Client Focus to see if those topics ring a bell for you.

Next, take a look at their bio. What is your personal reaction to how they speak and the words they use? Look for phrases that resonate with you in a comforting way, for instance, “safe environment” “meaningful relationships” “authentic self” “collaborative approach.” You may find that some therapists talk about things like goals, while others focus more on self-compassion. It’s all about finding someone who clicks with own needs, both on a personal level and an experience level.

Lastly, you’ll want to look at the Finances and Insurance sections. If you find someone who takes your insurance or has an appointment fee you can afford, that is wonderful! If you’re tight on funds, it’s a good idea to look for Sliding Scale Available under Finances. However, if the therapist you’re interested in doesn’t take your insurance and doesn’t have sliding scale options, it can still be worth it to send them an email to explain your situation. They may be able to work with you depending on their current client base or may refer you to someone they know who does provide sliding scale options. Getting a referral can be great because they’ve been sort of vetted by this person you already liked (think matchmaking!).

Reaching Out

One thing that is definitely different now than when I was first searching for therapists is the prevalence of an Email Me button! In my opinion, people struggling with anxiety should have to make as few phone calls as possible. Emailing a few therapists makes this initial contact so much easier (y’all don’t even understand how embarrassing my first call with my therapist was — let’s just say I was expecting a voicemail but she answered her phone!). The Email Me button is located in the Psychology Today profile (on the left), so you don’t even have to track down their contact information.

Knowing what to write can still be pretty nerve-wracking, so I’ll get you started:

Hi ,

I’m reaching out today because I am seeking a therapist who can help me through some things I am struggling with. Your bio resonated with me, and I’d like to see about setting up an appointment in the next couple of weeks. A little about my situation:

Explain your situation in as little detail (think bullet points) as you can, as you don’t need to provide too much info in this email. Finish off by letting them know what your insurance and/or financial situation is and how they can reach you. That’s it! They should get back to you pretty quickly about setting up a consultation, which is often free or a lower cost than their usual appointments so you can both see if it’s a fit. They may also respond letting you know that they aren’t taking on new clients right now. Don’t take this as a rejection! That’s one area where finding a therapist is not at all like a dating profile. 😉 If more than one responds, it can be a good idea to set up a few consultations so you can get a feel for what different therapists are like. Again, this is not like choosing a regular doctor whom you only see once or twice a year, so you really want to click with the right person.

There is so much more that I wanted to include in this, but I hope it’s a helpful stepping stone for you or someone you love to seek support through therapy. I hope that in 2017 we can all feel less alone, and I think therapy is a great way to realize this while also bettering ourselves and our relationships. Also, feel free to reach out to me if you’ve got questions about my experience or about finding a therapist of your own. Even if I can’t answer your question myself, I can probably direct you to a resource that can!

P.S. Check out my depression tracker if you’re looking for more ways to stay on top of your mental health in 2017!

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