How To Find A Good Therapist

Depressed? Anxious? Fearful? A therapist can help you sort it all out. Here's how to find the right one.

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In early July, about 39 percent of adults in the U.S. reported symptoms of anxiety or depression compared to about 11 percent in the first half of 2019. This is not surprising. Between parenting and working at home, dealing with great unknowns like whether you will send your kids back to school, and avoiding a deadly virus that has impacted millions the mental toll is to be expected. Even for those not suffering from clinical depression or anxiety, the impacts are still very real. For everyone, a professional therapist can help.

The key to having success in therapy is to find the right therapist, one who you can trust, communicate well with, and fosters the kind of relaxed environment that you need to turn inward. Of course, finding that environment on Zoom is pretty freaking tough. But teletherapy still works and it can work well if you find the right therapist. Here’s your guide to doing just that.

How to Find a Therapist

Finding Therapists Through Insurance Providers

Get a list of covered therapists in your area from your insurance provider. They’ll provide contact info, but inevitably some of it will be out of date. You can try calling at random, though it’s best to do research online before reaching out.

  • Pros: This can be a good option if you’re worried about finding a therapist covered under your plan.
  • Cons: It requires a lot of effort and manual research.

The Psychology Today Therapist Directory

Using this searchable directory, you can narrow down options based on inputs like your insurance plan, location, and what types of issues you’re dealing with.

  • Pros: The directory has lots of options to narrow down potential matches, including what gender or faith you would like your therapist to have.
  • Cons: It doesn’t include all therapists in your area, and you may have to do your own research to confirm the therapists are as legit as they seem.

Specialty Organizations for Therapy

Seek out specialized organizations to find a therapist for any specific needs you have — for instance, if you want a Black or queer therapist. Examples include Therapy for Black Girls and the National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network.

  • Pros: If you want a very specific type of therapist, specialized directories will help you find one easily.
  • Cons: First, you have to find an organization that fits your niche needs, if one exists at all.

Therapy Recommendations from Friends

If you don’t mind sharing a therapist with a friend, ask for recommendations.

  • Pros: Skip the search and get right to a session for easy and fast help.
  • Cons: Your therapy and personal life will be intertwined, and you may feel awkward dishing about drama with the friend who referred you.

Search Local Universities

If you think you need medication, you’ll need to see a psychiatrist, though it can be harder to find one with availability. Try going through a nearby university’s psychiatry department and asking if they have outpatient openings.

  • Pros: Going right to a psychiatrist means you can get the medication you need faster.
  • Cons: Psychiatrists usually want their clients to combine therapy and meds, so you may also need to find a therapist if your psychiatrist doesn’t have time for regular sessions.

The Costs of Therapy

Cost is probably the biggest hurdle to therapy. Therapy can be costly and it’s something that isn’t usually covered by insurance. Each session will run you, on average, $80-$150 in less crowded areas and $100-$250 in larger cities, according to a comprehensive therapy payment guide from Zencare. Some insurance companies will only pay for a certain number of sessions and none of them will cover your appointments until you’ve hit your deductible, according to Northwestern Mutual. Only certain therapists will be within your network, and your insurance company won’t cover those who are outside of it, though you may have out-of-network benefits.

Like all investments, you can negotiate the price. Some therapists offer sliding scales if you’re struggling with payment. Another option is to set up a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) through your employer. An FSA is an account you put money into to pay for medical expenses. The benefit of an FSA is that you don’t have to pay taxes on the money you put into the account, though the amount is capped at $2,650 per year and you must spend all of it. If you’re still not able to afford one-on-one sessions, group therapy can be a cheaper option.

Shopping Around for a Therapist

Once you find a few choices, give one a try. It may take trial and error to find a therapist you feel comfortable with. “Like dating, there is a bit of a fit to it,” says Jessica Gold, a psychiatrist at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. It’s important to get that fit right. “If you don’t have a good therapeutic relationship, you’re going to have much less success in therapy,” she adds.

Some therapists offer consultation calls, though these are more about figuring out logistics than giving you a sense for fit, Gold says. In person, the first session is often all you need to determine if you click. On a video call, it can take longer. You’ll miss out on little physical cues that make communication easier. Give it at least two sessions before you bail, Gold says, especially because the first is usually a Q&A. And if you do decide to move on, don’t worry about offending your ex-therapist. They want you to find the right fit as much as you do.

How to Get Over Teletherapy Awkwardness

Finding a fit with a therapist is awkward with teletherapy. “It’s a different way of trying to get to know a person,” Gold says. If you’ve done face-to-face therapy before, it may feel especially odd. But we’ve all gotten used to Zoom over the past several months, so just make sure you come prepared like you would to a work meeting. This means:

  • Jot some notes down beforehand. Come with notes about topics you want to discuss that week. Staring blankly at each other over Zoom will get you nowhere.
  • Confirm you have a good internet connection. Lengthy delays, fuzzy video quality, and audio going in and out can make video therapy a chore. No one wants to repeat an emotional rant because their audio went out.
  • Find a quiet space. If you’re trying to keep your voice down so your wife doesn’t hear you talking about relationship troubles or you’re interrupted every five minutes by your kids, you’re not going to be able to connect with your therapist. Look for a therapist who can see you early in the morning or late at night if that’s the only time you can get alone.

How to Use a Therapy App

Let’s be clear: Apps can’t replace therapy. But that doesn’t mean they’re not helpful for some people. It all depends on where you are in your life and what you need from therapy. These are the pros and cons.

Benefits of Therapy Apps:

  • They’re a transition. Don’t have a therapist yet? It can take some time to find one with availability. In the meantime, try an app.
  • They help you open up. If you’ve never opened up about your emotions, mental health issues, or trauma before, text therapy apps can feel less intense and prepare you for meeting with a traditional therapist.
  • You can meet a new therapist quickly. Apps often match you to a therapist, and it’s quick and easy to pair with a new one if you don’t click with your first.
  • They’re cheap. Well, cheap in comparison to traditional therapy. For example, BetterHelp charges between $40-$70 per week.

Pitfalls of Therapy Apps:

  • The therapists are often inexperienced. Many apps hire less experienced or qualified therapists.
  • Sessions aren’t as regular. Therapy apps don’t force you to keep a weekly or biweekly schedule, which is necessary for addressing many mental health disorders.
  • Not all types of therapy are compatible. Some types of therapy, such as trauma therapy, are too sensitive to be done over an app.
  • They’re not there for you in an emergency. If you have a mental health crisis, it’s best to have a therapist nearby who can help out.

Three Therapy Apps to Get Started

  • BetterHelp: This popular app allows you to text, call, or video call your therapist an unlimited number of times per week. This is a great option if you don’t want to be locked into a set schedule or feel like you’re going to need lots of communication.
  • TalkSpace: Message your therapist anytime you want, though they will only respond one to two times per day and during business hours. There are several different plans, some of which include video calls. TalkSpace has resources specifically for dealing with COVID-19 worries, including a 16-day program to address your coronavirus anxiety, with special pricing.
  • LARKR: For the traditionalists, this app is the most like normal therapy. You will schedule video sessions with a therapist, usually twice a month. You also have unlimited messaging to your therapist and journaling tech. Work with a professional in a different time zone to schedule sessions at any hour of the day.

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