How to Find an Online Therapist that Understands You
With the uncertainty and anxiety surrounding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many people who might not have previously felt a need for mental healthcare are now finding themselves unsure of how to cope with stress, isolation, and other mental health issues. Between the new realities of working from home, parenting, and at-home learning, more and more people turn to therapy for strength and emotional support.
The search for a new healthcare provider—especially a search for a new mental healthcare provider—can feel overwhelming. Over the past several months, the United States’ mental healthcare landscape has seen substantial changes, including a shift in face-to-face mental health therapy to online sessions.
With more and more therapists offering HIPAA-compliant mental health services, therapy is more accessible—and affordable—than ever. Whether you’re looking to transition from in-person therapy or try therapy for the first time, here’s how to find an online therapist that understands you.
If you’re new to therapy, don’t feel intimidated.
The first step to finding a therapist that understands you is to ask yourself what you want to get out of your therapy sessions. Before starting your search, there are several important factors to consider, including:
Are you seeking help for a specific issue?
Are you looking to develop healthier coping skills to deal with everyday stresses, or do you think you might be struggling with a mental illness?
If it’s the latter, take the time to research your symptoms and gain a general idea of what you might be experiencing. If you’re unsure where to start, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and the National Alliance on Mental Illness offer helpful online mental health resources.
For example, if you’re struggling with insomnia and feelings of sadness, searching for a therapist specializing in depression can help you find a good fit. On the other hand, if you’re having a hard time coping with relationship problems such as infidelity, consider searching for an online counselor with years of experience in marriage counseling or couples counseling. Filtering your search to include therapists who have experience treating patients in similar situations can help you find the best therapist for your specific needs.
If you’re having suicidal thoughts or need immediate mental healthcare, visit the nearest emergency room or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
What types of therapy do you want to explore?
Researching different types of therapy can help you determine what interventions you’re open to and what you’d like to avoid. Some common types of psychotherapy, or talk therapy, include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT focuses on exploring the relationships between an individual’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. During CBT, your psychotherapist will work with you to identify problematic thinking and behavioral patterns and how they may cause self-destructive behaviors and beliefs. CBT is effective in treating schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), ADHD, difficult transitions, and other mental health conditions.
- Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT): DBT is heavily based on CBT with one major caveat—it emphasizes validation or accepting negative thoughts and feelings, instead of struggling with them. By coming to terms with negative thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, patients can set specific goals for recovery.
- Interpersonal therapy (IPT): IPT focuses on relationships to improve an individual’s interpersonal skills. In IPT, your psychotherapist will help you evaluate social interactions, recognize problematic patterns, and learn strategies to interact positively with others and form healthy relationships. IPT is effective in treating relationship issues, eating disorders, anxiety disorders, and mood disorders, including postpartum mood disorders, postpartum depression, and bipolar disorder.
- Psychodynamic therapy: Psychodynamic therapy is a short-term treatment that aims to resolve problematic behavioral and thinking patterns rooted in past experiences. Psychoanalysis typically involves open-ended questions and free associations to identify unconscious ways of thinking and behaving. Psychodynamic therapy is effective in treating depression, anxiety disorders, and other mental health concerns.
If you’re interested in a specific type of treatment, make sure to mention this to your psychotherapist during your first session.
What type of therapist is right for you?
In addition to different types of therapy, there are also different kinds of mental health specialists who can provide psychotherapy services, including:
- Psychologists hold a doctorate, typically a Ph.D. or PsyD, and are trained to make diagnoses and provide individual and group therapy. A clinical psychologist’s training emphasizes treating individuals with severe mental health conditions, whereas a counseling psychologist’s training emphasizes the struggles of less severe mental illness. However, these distinctions are typically not important when seeking treatment for either.
- Psychiatrists are licensed medical doctors that prescribe medication and diagnose and treat mental illness. Some psychiatrists provide psychotherapy or counseling services.
- Counselors, clinicians, and therapists are masters-level specialists that operate under a variety of titles—including mental health counselor, licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT), and licensed professional counselor (LPC)—depending on the treatment setting and specific training. Counselors and therapists may specialize in specific treatment modalities, such as family therapy or couples therapy.
- Social workers have a master’s degree in social work. They’re trained to make diagnoses, provide individual and group counseling, and provide case management and advocacy services. Licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs) typically work in a hospital or community-related setting. However, some maintain private practices.
What’s your price range?
As with similar medical treatments, therapy is costly in the United States, but affordability should never prevent you from accessing the care you need. Many insurance companies cover the costs of mental health and substance abuse treatment, which typically includes in-person psychotherapy sessions. If you work with a mental health provider in their office, your insurance plan might cover most or all of the fees, depending on whether your plan offers mental health benefits, and the therapist accepts your insurance.
To determine your insurance coverage for teletherapy, contact your insurance company for additional information. Otherwise, it’s important to prioritize affordability during your search for an online therapist.
Fortunately, some mental health providers offer sliding-scale payment options for patients without insurance. The Therapy Group of DC created a lower fee practice in DC, the Capital Therapy Project when affordability is key.
What’s your availability?
Online therapy allows you to access mental health support whenever you want, regardless of your physical location. Because teletherapy takes less time away from your workday and eliminates the hassle of driving to and from appointments, it’s an excellent option for patients with busy schedules.
If you have a hectic schedule, consider searching for a therapist that offers weekend and evening openings; however, because of their popularity, these tend to be in short supply. Make sure to choose a time where you can set up a private space—away from family members—with a reliable Internet connection. Minimizing background noise and creating a safe environment for your online therapy sessions can help you mimic traditional face-to-face therapy and make the most out of live sessions.
Do you have any preferences?
Finding a therapist that understands you requires taking the time to ask yourself what kind of therapist you can resonate with and relate to. Many patients choose a therapist with a shared aspect of their identities, such as gender, age group, race/ethnicity, or religious affiliation.
Additionally, many LGBTQ patients prefer a professional therapist who is also a part of the LGBTQ community or who has extensive experience treating LGBTQ patients. Some LGBTQ therapists also offer pride counseling.
Even if your mental health concerns aren’t directly related to your identity, choosing a therapist you feel comfortable with can help deepen your therapeutic relationship, according to the American Psychological Association. If you don’t have any preferences, that’s OK too.
Finding an Online Therapist
After deciding what you want to get out of your therapy experience, it’s time to start searching for an online therapist. To start your search for a therapist, try the following resources.
- Ask friends and family members for recommendations. If any of your close friends or family members have attended therapy, consider reaching out to them for a recommendation. Even if you don’t plan on working with the same therapist, their mental healthcare provider may be able to give you a referral to an online therapist.
- Ask another trusted professional for a referral. Although you don’t need a referral to start mental health treatment, asking another trusted professional, such as your primary care physician, nurse practitioner, or OBGYN, can help you jumpstart your search.
- Use an online counseling directory. Online directors like the American Psychological Association, the American Counseling Association, WithTherapy, and Psychology Today allow prospective patients to search for new therapists by specialty, credentials, and location.
- Use your school’s resources. If you’re a college student, alum, or faculty member, check whether your university offers online counseling services. If you’re a parent, contact your children’s guidance or counseling office to ask about teen counseling and mental health services for adolescents.
- Use an online therapy platform. Online therapy platforms like the Therapy Group of DC connect prospective patients to professional therapists based on their preferences, requirements, availability, and mental health concerns. Additionally, many therapy services offer a secure video platform to ensure confidentiality during online therapy sessions.
Reach out to potential therapists to schedule sessions.
After creating a shortlist of potential therapists, the next step is to schedule initial sessions with them. Start with the therapist you’re most interested in and keep the others as backups if it doesn’t work out for some reason with your top choice. Scheduling the first session with potential therapists enables you to learn more about the therapist, ask any questions you might have, and get a “feel” for working with them.
Some mental health providers offer sessions at no cost; however, top therapists rarely do this since their schedules are so busy, and they are in-demand. Alternatively, some online therapy programs offer free trials, which allow new clients to assess the ease of use of an online platform and decide which platform has the best user experience before making a commitment. Some online therapy platforms help match new clients to therapists using a questionnaire to assess compatibility, meaning you can skip the consultation and make an appointment. This system also makes it easier to switch therapists if you don’t find a great fit.
After your initial session – or the first few sessions – ask yourself the following questions to determine whether you’ve found a good fit.
Is the therapist licensed?
Therapists and psychotherapists are not legally protected words in many states, meaning anyone can claim to be a therapist and offer mental health services that may appear to be therapy. It’s not always easy to determine if you’re receiving evidence-based treatment from a licensed therapist.
All mental health professionals must be licensed by the state that they practice in. Licensure laws protect patients by ensuring only those who are trained and qualified to practice psychotherapy receive a license. Licensing also ensures you have a resource to turn to if you experience problems with your treatment. Before signing up for any online therapy service, take the time to find out who you’re working with, if he, she, or they are licensed to practice in your state, and the license number.
Is the site or app secure?
Psychotherapy provides a safe, confidential space for you to express your feelings and share deeply personal thoughts, stories, and emotions. In other words, what you say in your therapist’s office—or during your online therapy sessions—stays there.
The online therapy site, mobile app, or therapy platform you use should, at a minimum, be HIPAA-compliant and offers a secure login process to verify your identity and your therapist’s identity. For more information on compliance, visit the United States Health and Human Services guide on telehealth discretion during the coronavirus.
How did you feel during the call?
During your video call, did you feel comfortable talking to your therapist? Did you feel like the therapist was a good listener? Did you feel like you could be open and honest with them?
A good therapist will offer compassion and empathy, provide a safe space for you to express your feelings, and act as an active listener during your therapy sessions. At the end of the day, you should feel like your therapist is someone you trust and respect.
How do you know if you’ve found the right therapist?
If you’re not sure whether you’ve found the right fit after your first appointment, keep in mind that you might need to try a few sessions before you start feeling comfortable. If you’re transitioning from in-person therapy, expect some discomfort and awkwardness at first. Even if you find the best therapist, online counseling sessions will feel different from office visits and in-person sessions.
If you don’t feel comfortable after a few sessions, it doesn’t mean online therapy isn’t right for you—it just means that the therapist isn’t a good match. It’s completely normal to meet with different people before finding the best fit for your specific needs. Ultimately, the goal is to form a long-term therapeutic alliance with your online therapist.
This is a challenging time for everyone. If you’re considering online therapy, it can help to remind yourself that you’re not alone.
As you work towards bettering your life, your therapist can help you in many ways. They can help you identify current stressors, heal old traumas, make decisions about medication and treatment, and set specific goals. Although finding an online therapist that understands you can be challenging, it’s crucial to prioritize your specific needs and preferences to get the most out of your treatment.
When you’re ready to start online therapy, reach out to a licensed therapist through the Therapy Group of DC. Our real-time intelligent system will help you find an online therapist and therapy appointment time that works for you. One of the professional therapists at the Therapy Group of DC will help you regain strength, develop healthy coping skills, and start your journey toward personal growth and wellness.