Whether you’re navigating life curveballs, mental health concerns, or could just use someone objective to talk to, deciding to try therapy is an excellent step in supporting your emotional wellbeing. But the next challenge is actually finding a therapist that’s a good fit—and that can feel like an overwhelming ask.
Thankfully, there are ways to “shop” for a therapist without getting so discouraged you quit your search all together. You can find ways to make the search process enjoyable, while also keeping certain considerations in mind to make sure you’re finding a therapist that’s a good fit for you and your psychological needs. In order to get the full benefit out of the therapeutic process, it’s important to put your mental health in the right hands. Read more below to find out how.
There are many different types of therapeutic approaches. During treatment, psychologists will generally draw on a few different theories of psychotherapy to help them understand their patients and to help them develop solutions. During your own search, you can ask a potential therapist about their modality of choice and if they think it will be helpful to you before your first appointment.
Psychodynamic therapy is also commonly known as “talking therapy,” and it improves people’s quality of life by helping them gain a better understanding of how they think and feel. It’s based on the idea that talking about our problems helps us to learn and develop the skills necessary to address them. Studies have shown that PDT can be effective for depression, social anxiety, social phobia, and panic disorder, anorexia nervosa, chronic pain, borderline personality disorder, and psychopathological issues in children. Psychodynamic therapy is usually closer to what people generally think of when they imagine traditional therapy.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy(Cognitive-behavioral therapy), on the other hand, is another type of talk therapy that is more structured within a limited number of sessions. As opposed to PDT, which focuses on the past, CBT focuses on present thoughts and beliefs. In this type of therapy, people learn to identify unhealthy behavior patterns and the negative, unrealistic thoughts that drive them. CBT can then help you to identify, challenge, and change these beliefs. Studies have shown CBT to be effective in treating those with depression, panic disorder, and various other health conditions.
Many people find their therapists through the referrals of friends or family. If you feel comfortable talking about your search, it’s okay to ask around—but be aware that not everyone may want to share their therapist with you. In fact, some therapists have policies against seeing people who are close to one another. If that’s the case, you can always ask the therapist to refer you to one of their colleagues.
Of course, the internet can be another great option for your therapist search. For instance, you can start by looking for local mental health organizations that list practitioners in your area, or, if you have insurance, you can use your insurance’s database to find a therapist there, too. It’s also a good idea to try to cross-reference any names you find in other directories, to check if they have personal websites, and google them to see if there are other sources of additional information about them online.
To start, compile a list of three to five potential therapists that you might like to speak to, and then call or email them to get in touch.
Here’s what to know right off the bat: many therapists don’t take insurance directly, meaning they are “out-of-network.” But, depending on your plan, you may get your insurance to at least cover part of the cost. In most cases, your therapist will send you the bill and it will be your job to follow through with what is called the reimbursement process with your insurance.
To find out what kind of coverage your plan providers, call the number on the back of your insurance card. If they will reimburse you for a portion of your therapy bill, you will then be responsible for mailing = your therapy receipts every month with a special insurance form in order to get a check back in the mail after the paperwork is processed.
You might also want to ask your primary care provider for a therapy referral. Typically, therapists that have been vetted by your doctor have a better chance of being in your network.
A therapy consultation is a no-commitment way for you and a new therapist to get to know one another, an appointment that is usually free or offered at a reduced rate. Even if future sessions will be held in-person, this consultation may be done over the phone or virtually. It also may be shorter than a standard visit.
The consultation is your chance to get a feel for the therapist’s approach, as well as an opportunity for you to ask questions about their training and practice. In turn, the therapist will ask you questions about your mental health concerns, your background, and your goals for therapy. Afterwards, you can use the information you gather during the consultation to determine how you feel about the potential therapist and to get a sense if their expertise is a good fit for your condition.
Finding a therapist that is the right fit for you can be a process. You may find you have a good dynamic with the first therapist you meet with, or it may take several tries before you discover a therapist that works for you. Because therapy involves conversation, it’s not just credentials that are important.
In addition to discussing logistics like appointment times, location, and fee, you’ll want to ask about the therapist’s outlook and background. You can also ask them if they have experience with patients of your specific demographic or community. And you might also just get a gut feeling that the two of you “click.”
Still stumped? Here are a few quick questions you can ask when you initially call or email a potential therapist:
Therapists understand that they won’t be the right fit for everyone. It can feel like a setback, but switching therapists can actually be a step in the right direction—it can help clarify what you’re ultimately looking for. Just like in any profession, the quality of therapy can vary, so it’s important to view the initial appointments as a chance to get to know a potential therapist, and not a binding agreement.
Therapists should offer a safe place where you can feel comfortable and safe sharing intimate details of your thoughts and life. If something doesn’t feel quite right, or you just feel like you’re not on the same wavelength, that’s fine—therapists are people are too, and we don’t always connect with everyone we meet. Ultimately, it’s important to trust what’s right for you, and not worry about hurting anyone’s feelings in the process.
Finding a therapist isn’t an easy task. But if you put in the effort during the searching phase, chances are the work you are capable of doing together will make the quest worthwhile. Take your time, be gentle with yourself, and don’t get discouraged if you encounter setbacks. With the right mindset, enough patience, and a little trial and error, we think you’ll find the therapist that’s just right for you.
Sources: 1. Different approaches to psychotherapy. (2009). American Psychological Association. 2. Harvard Health. (2011, August 1). Types of psychotherapy. 3. American Psychological Association. (2010, January 25). Psychodynamic psychotherapy brings lasting benefits through self-knowledge. 4. Fonagy P. (2015). The effectiveness of psychodynamic psychotherapies: An update. World psychiatry : official journal of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA), 14(2), 137–150 5. Gatta, M. (2019). Effectiveness of Brief Psychodynamic Therapy With Children and Adolescents: An Outcome Study. Frontiers 6. Cognitive behavioral therapy. (2019, March 16). Mayo Clinic.