Finding the right therapist can be an intimidating task. You may be wondering where to begin, where to look, or what to look for. You may fear that you won’t know who is or isn’t a good fit for you and your particular needs. I’ve been there; I have had to navigate this process both personally and professionally, helping me become uniquely qualified to help others.
As a counselor working at an outpatient mental health clinic near Union Square in New York City, part of my job was to talk on the phone with individuals calling in to our treatment center to request a therapist.
I worked closely with people like you – grappling with questions about therapy while trying to maneuver the systems of insurance, availability, and understanding therapy. On top of the logistics, individuals reaching out for therapy are often experiencing distress. Symptoms of anxiety or depression can feel crippling before adding the overwhelming nature of infinite options, unclear instructions, and mystifying distinctions.
After nearly ten months at the clinic, absorbing individual accounts of confusion, frustration, and concern, I decided to launch MyWellbeing with my fellow social worker and counselor, Lauren Knapp. Our goal at MyWellbeing is to guide individuals through their search for a therapist.
Through this experience, I have come to believe in five important first steps for finding the right therapist. I am excited to share these steps with you today.
You are your most important resource. Investing in yourself, especially through something as powerful as therapy, has the potential to drastically return its investment in the quality of your relationships with others and, perhaps even more importantly, the quality of your relationship with yourself.
Take a look at your budget. What can you afford to invest in therapy? Social stigma tempts us to undervalue our self-care. Be honest with what you can afford to allocate for your personal growth and have courage to invest in yourself.
One way to better understand where to begin is to research what a therapy session costs on average in your city. For example, in New York City, an average therapy session costs between $200-$300 out-of-pocket. This range will vary by location. Informing your expectations will help you frame your budgeting.
If your budget is tight, there are still options. Some therapy is covered by insurance. I recommend calling your insurance company to learn the specifics of your plan and coverage. Calling your insurance provider is free, private, and will not affect your rates. Knowing what to ask can feel confusing and overwhelming. Below are two suggestions of where to start.
Ask your insurance provider:
In many cases, even if your budget is tight, it is worthwhile to consider a therapist who works outside of insurance. Sometimes, after your reimbursement, your per-session rate is close to what your co-pay would have been. Other times, the therapist will work with you to set an affordable rate that aligns with your budget. If a therapist feels in line with your needs and perspective, that is most important. Before writing off a therapist because of fee, reach out to the therapist in mind and explain your circumstances. You may be surprised.
Consistency is key in developing a healing relationship in therapy. Most therapists will encourage you to come to therapy once per week. Some therapists, namely therapists with psychoanalytic training, may encourage you to come more than once per week. This empowers you to dig deeper into your thought patterns to reach new realizations. Other therapists may be willing and able to work with you on a biweekly basis, either for budget or scheduling reasons. Most therapists will be very interested in meeting you where you are. When in doubt, ask.
Beyond frequency, therapists often vary in what time of day they see their clients. Think about when your schedule allows you to engage in therapy and include this information in your outreach to therapists. Do you work 9-5? Would you prefer to start your day with therapy or see your therapist after work? Do you work evenings, prioritizing daytime hours for therapy?
A small note: often, as evening hours tend to be the most in-demand, seeing a therapist during daytime hours or during a lunch break may present a more affordable rate. If budget is your biggest concern, this is one way to make it work.
Deciphering which type of therapy you are looking for can sometimes feel an insurmountable task.
Various types of therapy exist for various reasons. You may have heard of cognitive behavioral therapy, psychodynamic therapy, mindfulness, or psychoanalysis. These are four among many types of therapy.
To distill what type of therapy might be best for you, begin by thinking about your goals. What brings you to therapy? What would you like to work on?
For example, if you are working through frequent panic attacks, the best treatment style for you may look different than for someone working through challenging relationship dynamics.
As you put to words what you would most like to gain from therapy, you can then engage in brief research on those topics, and learn which type of therapy might be best. Google is a great place to start. Good Therapy also offers an extensive list and brief explanations of different types of therapy. If this list is anxiety-inducing, start with what brings you to therapy. If you identify with working through frequent panic attacks, try reading more about what treatment style works best for panic. You may also narrow down your therapist search by looking for therapists who have specific training in that area.
A good therapist’s training may not limit the kind of obstacles they can help you with, but will influence the way in which the therapist structures the session and the therapeutic dynamic. For example, on two different ends of the spectrum are short-term, concrete, goal-oriented therapy and long-term, insight-oriented, relationship building therapy. Reflect on your expectations of therapy, what kind of help you are most looking for, and read more about the experiences of others to get a better feeling for which end of the spectrum you prefer to work on. This will help guide your therapist search. Don’t be afraid to express your goals with your potential therapist to see if you have found a good fit.
You may also be flirting with starting e-therapy, or therapy implemented through technology, like video or text therapy. This is another way to potentially make therapy more affordable or more accessible, as it comes directly to your electronic device. That said, a majority of the healing that therapy enables occurs through the in-person dynamic between therapist and client. If you are able, I encourage you to pursue in-person treatment first. If e-therapy feels safest or most do-able for you, it is important to at least take that first step in providing yourself regular check-ins and care.
The most common connection to a good therapist is word of mouth. Do you have friends, family members, or colleagues who are working with a therapist? They may be willing to recommend their therapist to you, or their therapist may have a trusted colleague they can refer you to. Do you have personal or professional connections who may be familiar with the field, who may be able to help you with your search?
If you do not feel you have these connections yet, not to worry. Resources exist to guide you in your search. These resources vary by location.
Rapport is responsible for over seventy percent of a therapeutic relationship’s success. Accordingly, the process of finding the right therapist can sometimes feel like dating. You may need to go on a few first dates before you find someone who you would like to see a second time, despite each therapist seeming like a puzzle-piece-fit on paper.
Be patient with yourself and with the process. This relationship may grow to be an important part of your personal journey. It is worth the time and effort required to find a good fit.
You may be wondering how you can prepare for your first visit or whether there are specific questions you can ask. This often depends highly on you and your needs; however, here are a few questions you can start with:
If you find yourself face-to-face with someone who is not a good fit, trust your gut instinct. Therapists understand the importance of fit and will understand if you move on to find someone better suited to you and your needs.
If you are not sure, try again. Often, therapists are open to meeting for a few sessions to feel out the dynamic and its potential.
If you have found your fit, congratulations. Therapy is an incredibly healing space. I hope you keep in touch and consider sharing your story.
All in all, thank you for your reading attention today. I hope these guidelines prove helpful for you in your search for a therapist.
Alyssa Petersel, Co-Founder and CEO of My Wellbeing and author of Somehow I Am Different, graduated from Northwestern University in 2013 with dual BA degrees in psychology and international studies, graduated summa cum laude from New York University in May 2017 with her Master's in Social Work, and graduated from The Writer's Institute non-fiction program at CUNY Graduate Center in May 2017. A native New Yorker, Alyssa now lives in Brooklyn and enjoys running, coffee, community, and social justice.