Thinking about starting therapy but overwhelmed by the process of finding a therapist? You’re not alone. There are a lot of reasons that people don’t seek treatment. This post will discuss how to find a therapist and things to consider during your search.
Should I go to therapy? How do I know when it’s “time?”
The shortest answer is therapy can be appropriate at any time, as long as you want to be there. It is extremely common to seek therapy when we’re struggling with severe or minor difficulties. Some clinics are specialized for certain clientele, but therapists at a general clinic are usually happy to meet with any client or point you in the direction that would be most helpful.
Okay, I want to do it. How do I find a therapist?
Thank goodness for the internet, which is a great place to start! A lot of therapists and clinics have a website or profile page on a medical database. Start by searching for “mental health therapists…” + your zip code or “near me.” From here, there are several strategies you can use to narrow down your results:
- Try being more specific. What do you need therapy for (like anxiety or depression)? What type of therapy are you looking for (e.g., cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness)?
- Use a therapy-finder from a reputable directory, such as the American Psychological Association’s Psychologist Locator.
- Ask your primary care provider and/or friends and family for their recommendations, if you feel comfortable doing so.
I know how to Google, but what should I be looking for in a therapist?
Usually when people ask how to find a therapist, they’re actually asking: “What am I searching for? There are so many options!”
Here are some common considerations for finding a therapist:
- Personal preferences — We all have preferences, especially when it comes to our healthcare providers. For example, it’s not uncommon for women clientele to prefer women therapists. Previous research has shown that these preferences are important to consider when choosing a therapist. If you aren’t able to find the therapist of your choice, therapy with an alternative provider can still work just as effectively.
- Presenting problems and treatment goals — Most clinics and therapists have a website you can read through, which can give you a decent idea of what their typical clientele look like. Look for a therapist’s specialties, sometimes labeled as “Practice Areas” and “Treatment Methods,” while you’re searching.
- A “practice area” refers to a therapist’s area of expertise, such as trauma or social anxiety. If you’re unsure of which practice area to look for, ask yourself “What do I want help with?”. If you don’t know, try looking at this list of common reasons for going to therapy to see if you can relate to one or more of these issues. If you’re still unsure, try calling a therapist or clinic and explaining your current situation to see if it would be a good fit.
- Some people may know which type of therapy they want, such as cognitive behavioral therapy. Sometimes, this information is listed under “Treatment Methods.” If you don’t know which type of therapy may work best for you or if you encounter some terms you’re unfamiliar with, try not to get intimidated. A quick online search (try the Division 12 Psychological Treatments website) can provide you with an explanation, or your therapist can discuss it with you during your first session or over the phone while you’re scheduling your appointment.
- Cost — If cost is a factor for you, check which insurance clinics/therapists take when conducting your search. If this information is not available online, give the clinic or therapist a call. If there are insurance or cost issues, you can either call to ask about out-of-pocket expenses or keep searching for lower cost clinics. In addition, many clinics and organizations offer information and interactive exercises online to ensure that patients who can’t afford counseling still have access to helpful resources.
Okay, I found a therapist online. What should I do next?
- Call the clinic. Ask about availability, the cost of sessions, which insurance they accept, and any additional questions you may have (e.g., what the first session will be like and how long treatment usually lasts). If you believe this clinic/therapist will meet your needs, schedule your first session. Note: if there is a free consultation option, take advantage of this! Use it to gauge your feelings on the therapist/clinic.
- Before your first session, prepare any questions you may have for your therapist.
But what if…
- …I get put on a waitlist? Ask the clinic how long they think you’ll be on the waitlist. This information will help you determine if you should start looking for an alternative therapist.
- …I don’t like the therapist after meeting with them? This happens sometimes, and that’s okay! While first therapy sessions can be uncomfortable, it’s important that you are honest with yourself about why you felt uneasy. If it’s because the therapist isn’t a good fit, you can let them know and move on to another therapist.
Finding a therapist can be overwhelming, but there are resources out there to help you get started. Taking a step towards investing in your mental health is difficult, but you can do it!
If you have any other questions about finding a therapist, feel free to leave a reply below the post!
If you need immediate help, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services National Hotline (1-800-662-4357) or search Help for Mental Illness.
References & Additional Resources:
American Psychological Association (2021). “How Do I Find a Good Therapist?” Clinical Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.
American Psychological Association (2021). “What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?” Clinical Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.
DeGrossa, B. (2021). “The Top 8 Therapist Directories (Pros, Cons, And Costs To List Your Practice).” CounselingWise
Goodman, F. R. (2021). “Understanding and Treating Social Anxiety: Informational Brochures and Interactive Exercises.” Goodman Emotion & Resilience Laboratory, University of South Florida.
Guenther, J. (2018). “A Beginners Guide to Therapy. Part 2: What to Ask in the Consult.” TherapyDen.
Indiana University Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Research and Training Clinic, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences.
National Institute of Mental Health Resource Center (2021). “Taking Control of Your Mental Health: Tips for Talking With Your Health Care Provider.” National Institute of Mental Health.
National Institute of Mental Health Resource Center (2021). “Help for Mental Illness.” National Institute of Mental Health.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Nietzel, M. T. (2021). “Almost Half of Americans Don’t Seek Professional Help for Mental Disorders.” Forbes Magazine.
Pikus, C. F., & Heavey, C. L. (1996). Client preferences for therapist gender. Journal of College Student Psychotherapy, 10, 35-43.
Psychologist Locator, American Psychological Association.
Swift, J. K., Callahan, J. L., Cooper, M., & Parkin, S. R. (2018). The impact of accommodating client preference in psychotherapy: A meta-analysis. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 74, 1924-1937.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
Vandergriendt, C. (2020). “Why Therapy? The Most Common Reasons to See a Therapist.” Healthline.
Edited by Evan Leake and Kat Munley