Wellness Basics: Finding a Therapist

Finding a therapist pre-2020 was difficult and, for many, finding one now feels almost impossible. Factors include geographical limitations, accessibility of telehealth options, insurance coverage and overall cost, and goodness of fit for your concerns. That is why Andrea Muraskin at NPR create a step-by-step guide to finding a therapist. The full story can be read at https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2023/07/02/1185661348/start-therapy-find-therapist-how-to, below is an abbreviated version of her recommendations.

Step 1: Figure out what you need help with: There are lots of reasons to consider seeing a therapist. Maybe you feel depressed, or unlike yourself. Maybe you’re feeling burnt out or under pressure with family obligations. Knowing this helps you seek out a therapist who matches your goals.

Step 2: Assess your financial resources: Therapy can be expensive – or not, depending on where you go for care or whom you see. Know your coverage options and budget before deciding where to look for a therapist. If you have health insurance, your insurer will typically provide a directory of covered therapists on their website. However, bear in mind that payment often works differently for mental health providers than medical doctors. Instead of a copay, many therapists will ask for the full payment at the time of your appointment. Then it’s up to you to submit your receipts to your health insurer for reimbursement.

Free and low-cost therapy: Some county mental health departments and non-profit organizations like Mental Health America provide free and low-cost therapy for people on Medicaid. Some health centers that receive funding from the federal government also offer low-cost or free mental health care. Find federally-funded health centers in your zip code using this searchable directory. If you are employed, another free option worth exploring is if your workplace offers an EAP, or employee assistance program. EAPs are time-limited, typically five to six sessions. Cooper partners with Carebridge for this, more info at https://wellness.cooperhealth.org/carebridge/. Finally, many local universities offer free or sliding scale services with their mental health trainees. These include Temple, Drexel, and La Salle among others.

Step 3: Do some searching – and understand credentials: Now that you know the lay of the land cost-wise, start hunting. The directory at psychologytoday.com and goodtherapy.org are useful for learning about the therapists in your area and targeting your search. Many share bios, photos or short videos about themselves. You can search by issue, like “depression,” “addiction” or “marriage counseling,” or by type of therapy. You can also search by age, gender, ethnicity, language, sexuality, and insurance accepted.

Step 4: Assess if they’re a fit for you, personally and culturally: While it can be meaningful to work with a therapist from a similar background, Nguyen recommends prioritizing matching goals over race or ethnic group in your search – especially because the demand for therapy is so high right now.

Step 5: Reach out, and persist: It can be a struggle to find a provider with availability because therapists have been overwhelmed with demand since the pandemic. If you feel comfortable asking around your social circle, you might get some valuable recommendations. And if you have friends or relatives who work in mental health, consider telling them you’re looking. They might be able to reach out to their professional network, or point you to a resource you hadn’t considered. It’s an irony of the system that at a time when you need help, dogged effort might be required to find it. And when we are feeling distressed and overwhelmed, we don’t have the energy. It can actually be a great idea to ask for help finding help, she says. If you have a trusted friend who’s able to make some phone calls for you, even just to find out, you know, this clinician doesn’t have any availability, that can be a reasonable way to go. And if you are a friend or family member of somebody who’s really struggling, and if that’s something that you’re willing to offer to do, that may be really, really helpful to someone.

Step 6: Interview a prospective therapist: There’s a limit to how much you can learn about a person online or second-hand. Some therapists offer brief consultations for free, typically about 15 minutes. You’ll probably want to know about their past experience and expertise, and their experience dealing with the kinds of issues you’re facing. Questions can be open ended, like ‘Can you tell me about your experience working with adult ADHD?’ You may also ask questions about length of therapy, or number of sessions, if you can expect to see gains after a certain amount of time, what might therapy look like, and so on.

Step 7: Try at least three to five sessions: After a first appointment, if you think you might be able to work with this therapist, give it three to five sessions to see if the fit is right. Some discomfort is normal, especially if this is your first time in therapy. But early on you can kind of tell, is this a person that I can slowly let into my life? Do I feel like I can be honest with myself and be honest with them?