A Therapist’s Tips on Finding a Therapist
The original version of this post can be found here: bridgetkiley.medium.com
I’ve heard the above question asked A LOT. I’ve even asked the same question myself when finding a therapist (spoiler: I also make my living as a therapist). In this post, I’ll break down some of the considerations for when you’re looking for a therapist!
What to consider when considering therapy…
First, consider that you’re really brave. Seeking out a therapist can be overwhelming, and there is a lot to consider. It’s also super vulnerable (shout-out to Brené Brown who reinforces that being vulnerable is powerful and leads to us living whole-hearted lives).
Since I’m a therapist myself, I’ve been on both sides of the room. It can be daunting to consider therapy. I really respect and honor every person who takes that first step to open up and seek therapy.
Especially in the year of the pandemic (2020+), there’s a surge in the need for seeking support, as well as building skills and tools for managing mental health. In this post, I’ll offer some considerations that help sort through the questions: What do I consider when seeking a therapist? and how do I find a therapist that’s right for me?
1. Setting intentions
I’ve heard many, many people tell me they reached out to a bunch of “random strangers” they found on the internet by searching their location and the word ‘therapist.’ Those people often didn’t hear back after reaching out. Or they were told the clinician wasn’t taking new clients. Or the clinician didn’t match with their insurance and charged a cost they couldn’t front! Setting intentions is a key piece of starting out in any endeavor. Before you go searching on the internet: find a trusted friend, a blank sheet of paper, or the audio note on your phone to establish some intentions. Ask yourself: what areas of my life are hard to talk about? What are my goals for where I would like to grow? Where do I need support? And what filters do I need to put in my search to really find someone who is a good fit for me (more on this below)?
2. What to consider in a therapist
An important piece in the therapy space is feeling that the therapist creates a ‘container’ so to speak where you feel held and supported. Especially if you hold any marginalized identities, having a therapist with an anti-oppression lens is important. Are you un-insured and paying out of pocket, so you need a more affordable hourly rate? Are you seeking a couples therapist? Do you want an LGBTQ+ affirming or identified therapist? Are you a person of color wanting to be seen by a clinician with a shared ethnicity or race? Would like support from a sex therapist?
Here are some links for you to explore some therapist directories that might be helpful to start exploring in your search:
General Therapy Directory: Therapy Den Reduced-cost Therapy Service Directory: Open Path Collective Resources for Couples: Esther Perel’s Resources to help educate and heal / Resources for Couples: The Gottman Institute Sex Therapy Directory: aasect LGBTQ Therapist Network and Directory: National queer and trans therapists of color network Anti-Diet Providers: HAES/Health at Every Size/ Intuitive Eating Providers on Christy Harrison’s website
Black women and girls: The Loveland Foundation has a Therapy Fund you can apply to for therapy funding support if you are identify as a Black femme
Quick tip for my friends who don’t live in the United States: I’ve heard better help is a resource for finding a therapist you can connect with!
There are so many more specifics you could be looking for in a clinician. And Clinicians can have specific approaches and modalities they use (i.e. how they were trained!). No one approach fits all, and it depends on what you’re looking for. If you would like a quick and dirty breakdown of some therapeutic approaches: the lived experience counsellor Sonny Jane has a nice highlight on their instagram breaking down styles (linked here!) which highlights EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing), DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy), ACT (Acceptance Commitment Therapy), EFT (Emotion-Focused Therapy), IFS (Internal Family Systems), Narrative therapy, and Somatic Experiencing…. Can you tell there are a lot of acronyms when it comes to therapeutic approaches?! And it’s a lot of terms that might not mean much to you. Yet when you do meet with a therapist, you can ask them to break down their style.
Another quick tip in the search for a therapist: instead of just searching for individual therapists, you can search Counseling Practices in your area. Especially if you live near a city, there are communities of therapists who all work in one counseling center. When you reach out to the general Counseling Practice, the coordinator at the center who fields inquiries can help let you know which providers are available and what insurance/payment options they take.
3. Costs and payments
The cost and how much you are paying for therapy is a MAJOR consideration. Sorting out insurance and costs is the big pre-therapy hurdle. Remember: don’t be too shy to ask for help in figuring this out! This piece might take a little bit more work, unfortunately.
If you have a health insurance plan, you can check to see if you have outpatient mental health services that are covered. If so, you will see your co-pay amount (co-pays are growing, so sometimes therapy even if covered by insurance will have a co-pay of $30–45 — if you’re lucky this will be on the lower end). For each therapist that responds noting they’re available, they should communicate with you about payment and/or insurance when you’re planning to set up a first appointment. You can check to see if the therapist is set up to accept the insurance that you are enrolled in (for example, if you have Harvard Pilgrim insurance you would ask: “Do you take Harvard Pilgrim?”).
If the therapist does not accept insurance, some will provide a receipt called a ‘super bill’ which is basically a health plan receipt that some insurances will accept from you as the client to submit as a claim. This means you could be submitting the receipt and receiving a reimbursement after making the payment (note it can take a while to be reimbursed, yet this is something to check — You have to read, call or email your healthcare service to ask if you can submit your insurance claims for reimbursement — never hurts to double check).
If you don’t have insurance, you may be in the lucky position to pay out-of-pocket, which means you pay your therapist directly. Yet, therapy can be hundreds of dollars per session and certainly if you’re seeing your therapist every week, the cost is prohibitive! Some options are to search through directories like the Open Path Collective for therapists who have set affordable costs if you join as an open path member. Also, some therapists will do a sliding scale if you are paying out of pocket. Remember, the process of finding a therapist includes the art of asking (s/o Amanda Palmer)
4. Your first therapy session
OK, so imagine you have done it, you’ve found a therapist to have the first session with. There are a number of things therapists can ask in the initial sessions, and every therapist has different styles: just like with first dates, even though there might be different personalities, you are both getting a sense of each other. Feel welcome to be discerning and honest! Unlike first dates (hopefully), you’re paying for the time.
Some questions that might come up in the first session:
Your “why” — Why are you seeking therapy? are you considering therapy after having seen a therapist before? If so, what was that like for you?
Past experiences — In your lifetime, or in your known family history, have there been experiences that have felt especially traumatic or difficult for you *note, having a marginalized identity, and experiencing the impact of systemic oppression, and macro/microaggressions is trauma* — What might you want to speak about eventually?
It can feel overwhelming to speak about significant life experiences. Know that your therapist wants to hear what feels comfortable for you to speak about, at a time that feels comfortable for you. If it doesn’t feel this way for you, you could give this feedback OR you could try a different therapist if there are red flags.
Overall, you and your therapist can collaboratively discuss — what goals would you like to achieve through therapy? How did it feel for you to talk together for an initial session?
If you don’t feel like you have a flushed out answer to the above questions — that is not a problem! It’s brave to take the step to begin therapy, and therapy is also a space where you can refine the answers to these questions. It’s a place to be vulnerable. It’s a place to ask questions.
Having a space where you feel seen, heard and validated, which is just for YOU, is all the reason you need to be in therapy.
As a final plug, I link to more resources on this site, such as if you want to hear actual couples and people being vulnerable in real-time therapy sessions, check out Esther Perel’s podcast “Where Should We Begin”