Conversations about mental health and advice for finding a therapist have become increasingly common in recent years, with more and more adults in the United States seeking mental health treatment. Contrary to popular belief, therapy isn’t only for those experiencing mental health issues. Working with a mental health professional can help with relationship problems, difficult life transitions, and even everyday stresses. Above all else, therapy provides a safe space to express your feelings, be vulnerable, and navigate stressful situations.
But finding the right therapist can be challenging, especially if you’re a first-time patient. Even if you already know what type of therapy you’d prefer, it can be hard to access therapy. With a nationwide shortage of psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers throughout the United States, many people with mental health issues don’t receive any professional help. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, only about 37% of people with anxiety disorders receive treatment.
Fortunately, there are ways to make this process easier. Here’s a step-by-step guide on finding a therapist near you.
Figure out what you want to get out of therapy.
Before starting your search for a new therapist, take some time to figure out what mental health issues you want to tackle. Are you looking for guidance during a significant life change, or are you struggling with feelings of anxiety?
If you think you could be struggling with a particular mental illness, the first step is to read up on mental health issues to gain a general idea of what you might be dealing with. If you’re not sure how to get started, the American Psychiatric Association, Anxiety and Depression Association of America, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness offer online resources.
If you’ve attended therapy before, ask yourself what you liked about your therapy sessions—and what you didn’t. Taking the time to figure out your personal preferences, requirements, and expectations going into therapy can help guide your search.
Which type of therapy is right for you?
Every type of therapy is different, and what happens during your therapy sessions can vary significantly depending on the kind of treatment. Doing your homework on different types of treatment can help you determine which types of therapy you’re open to and which you’d prefer to avoid.
Some common types of psychotherapy, or talk therapy, include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is the most research-backed treatment for a wide range of conditions, including anxiety, depression, ADHD, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and bipolar disorder. CBT focuses on identifying, challenging, and replacing negative thinking and behavioral patterns with more realistic ones. For anxiety disorders, CBT also typically involves ”exposure,” in which patients gradually expose themselves to feared objects or situations.
- Dialectical-behavioral therapy (DBT): DBT combines CBT with other therapeutic approaches to address issues like suicidal and self-harm behaviors, borderline personality disorder, eating disorders, emotional disorders, and substance use problems.
- Psychodynamic psychotherapy: Psychodynamic psychotherapy, or its even more in-depth variant psychoanalysis, helps patients define problems and understand how their past experiences may influence current behaviors and feelings. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), psychodynamic therapy effectively treats mental health issues ranging from depression and anxiety to panic and stress-related ailments.
- General counseling: If you’re struggling with everyday stresses, experiencing relationship problems, or not feeling like yourself, a licensed professional counselor (LPC) can help. Counseling typically doesn’t focus on treating severe mental health issues but instead helps patients develop problem-solving skills to live a more fulfilled life. Licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFTs) focus on treating couples and families through couples counseling and family therapy, while counselors typically provide individual therapy sessions.
What kind of therapist should you see?
There are several kinds of professionals that are licensed to provide psychotherapy services, including:
- Psychiatrists: Psychiatrists are typically the most costly practitioners to visit. Psychiatrists are licensed medical doctors that handle medication management, diagnose mental health issues, and provide psychotherapy services.
- Psychologists: Psychologists hold a doctoral degree, typically a Ph.D. or PsyD. They’re trained to treat and diagnose specific mental illnesses using a combination of different approaches, such as CBT and psychodynamic therapy. While a clinical psychologist tends to focus on treating more severe mental illnesses and providing diagnoses, a counseling psychologist treats healthier patients. However, these distinctions are not that important most of the time.
- Counselors, clinicians, and therapists: These master’s degree-level mental health professionals are trained to evaluate a person’s mental well-being and different approaches based on specific training programs. They operate under various titles—including family therapists, licensed professional counselors, and family counselors—depending on the treatment setting.
- Social workers: Like counselors, licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs) evaluate a person’s mental well-being and use different approaches based on training programs. Social workers are also trained in case management and advocacy services. Many social workers work in community-related settings, while others maintain a private practice.
Other Important Considerations
Along with different types of therapy and specialists, make sure to consider your preferences and requirements when searching for a therapist. To help guide your search, ask yourself the following questions:
How much does therapy cost?
Before starting therapy, make sure to determine your price range and whether potential therapists take your insurance. While some insurance companies offer mental healthcare coverage, many therapists don’t accept health insurance. To get coverage for therapists who don’t accept insurance, you’ll need to have out-of-network benefits, which typically involve paying a deductible and then receiving a partial reimbursement from your plan.
Therapy is expensive in the United States—a therapy session can cost $150 or more. Fortunately, there are ways to make treatment more affordable. Licensed mental health providers will help you navigate the out-of-network reimbursement process if they don’t take your insurance. Some therapists use an income-based sliding fee scale for uninsured patients to reduce out-of-pocket costs, while others offer group therapy at more affordable rates. Interns at community health centers often provide free or low-cost mental health services. Alternatively, check out social work programs at your local university for affordable treatment options.
What about medication?
Most therapists aren’t licensed to prescribe medication. If you’re interested in medication management, you’ll usually need to meet with a psychiatrist, family doctor, nurse practitioner, or OBGYN for prescription medications, such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication.
If you’re meeting with a therapist, your doctor should communicate with your mental health provider to ensure you’re getting the most effective treatment. If you think you could benefit from medication, mention it to your therapist—they’ll be able to direct you to a doctor with authority to prescribe medication.
Do you have any personal preferences?
Many patients prefer to work with mental health professionals who share an aspect of their identities, such as age, gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, or religious affiliation. Filtering your search results based on preferences can help you create a shortlist of potential therapists to schedule consultations with.
Even if your mental health issues aren’t directly related to your identity, choosing a therapist you can connect to and resonate with can help you feel more comfortable during treatment. According to the APA, forming a more productive therapeutic relationship can ultimately boost the outcomes of your treatment.
Do you prefer online therapy or traditional therapy?
Online therapy, or teletherapy, is the online delivery of professional mental health services via video visits, text messages, phone calls, or live chat. If you live in a remote or rural area, don’t have a car, or have a hectic schedule, online therapy eliminates the obstacles of making it to the therapist’s office by enabling patients to access treatment from the comfort of their own home.
The mental health professionals at the Therapy Group of DC are available according to your schedule and can help you navigate any mental health issues you might have. Starting treatment is easy, and you won’t have to wait for weeks to schedule your first session. If you don’t feel like a particular therapist is a good match, it’s easy to find a new therapist.
Finding a Therapist Near You
Now that you know what you want to get out of your treatment, you can start searching for a therapist who matches your preferences and requirements. While Google might seem like the go-to option for finding a local therapist, sorting through endless pages of results can feel overwhelming. Here are some resources to help jumpstart your search.
- Ask for recommendations and referrals. If you have close friends or family members who have attended therapy in the past, consider asking them for a recommendation. Alternatively, your primary care doctor, pediatrician, or family practitioner can provide a referral to a mental health professional in your local area.
- Use your employer’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP). If your employer offers an EAP, take advantage of their over-the-phone or in-person counseling services. EAPs can refer employees to professional therapists for longer-term treatment.
- Search your insurance company’s database. If your health insurance plan offers mental health benefits, use your insurance company’s therapist database to search for mental health professionals in your local area.
- Use your school’s resources. If you’re a student, alum, or faculty member, use the drop-down menu at the top of the page on your university’s website to search for counseling services. If you’re a parent, many elementary and secondary schools have guidance or counseling offices. School counselors can provide you with names of local counselors who specialize in treating younger children and adolescents.
- Use an online therapist directory. Online therapy directors such as the American Psychological Association, Psychology Today, and the American Counseling Association can help you filter your search criteria for local therapists by specialty, location, and credentials.
- Use an online therapy platform. Online platforms like the Therapy Group of DC connect patients to the best therapists based on their personal preferences and requirements. Online platforms typically provide a member profile on each therapist’s education, specialty, and credentials, and allow prospective patients to schedule appointments.
Schedule initial consultations with potential therapists.
No matter how much research you do, you won’t know if you’ve found the right fit until you schedule an initial consultation. When you’ve narrowed down your list of potential therapists, and you’d like more information, you can request an informational phone call before your first appointment.
Your short initial phone consultation allows you to learn more about potential therapists, get a ”feel” for working with them, and ask any questions you might have. If you’re struggling with a particular issue, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), ask potential therapists how they’ve treated patients with similar problems, as well as how they plan to move forward with your treatment plan. Similarly, if you’re searching for a professional with years of experience in a particular kind of therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy for depression, ask how long their training lasted.
After your consultation and first few sessions, ask yourself how you felt. Do you feel like you trust and respect this person? Do they feel like a good fit personality-wise? Did they offer genuine and direct answers to your questions? Did you notice any red flags? Consider your initial consultation and first few sessions as a trial run—if you don’t feel like you’ve found a good therapist, you have no obligation to keep seeing them.
Choosing the Right Therapist
Finding the right therapist takes time—and it’s perfectly acceptable to meet with a few therapists before finding a good fit. While you don’t necessarily need to choose a therapist you’d be friends with, it’s imperative to pick someone you feel you can be open and honest with.
If this is the first time you’re seeing a psychotherapist, be prepared to feel a bit uncomfortable. Therapy can be challenging, especially during the first few sessions, and when you begin to work on the big things that cause you to struggle. It’s normal to feel strong emotions while working through complicated issues, and vulnerability is a necessary step toward healing. If you have any questions or concerns during this process, it’s essential to be open and honest with your therapist.
When you’re ready to start your search, reach out to a licensed therapist through the Therapy Group of DC. Whether you’re interested in working with an online therapist or traditional therapist, we’ll help you find the right fit for your mental health needs. With data-driven treatments and confidential, personalized access to caring experts in DC, we’re here to listen, provide support, and help you realize your strengths.