Choosing a therapist is an important decision and an essential first step to better well-being. Whoever you choose will be with you for a significant part of your mental health journey, and the right therapist will help you tailor a treatment plan that fits your individual needs and goals.
People go to therapy for many reasons such as stress, family and relationship troubles, mental illnesses, or substance abuse problems. There are no one-size-fits-all treatments, and different therapists typically specialize in different things.
There are a few key factors to look for: cost, specialty, credibility, scheduling, and personality.
Costs and Insurance
Money and insurance coverage are often hangups for people looking to go into therapy, but they don’t need to be. One of the first questions many people have when seeking treatment is, “Can I use insurance to pay for my addiction treatment?”
The first step is to call your insurance provider to find out if mental health and addiction treatment are covered by your plan. They can tell you what your coverage is and which therapists in your area are in your network. They can also let you know about any copays, deductibles, or other out-of-pocket costs you can expect.
Some insurance providers will only cover a portion of treatments or may cover a limited amount of sessions, so be sure to ask about this to avoid being blindsided by medical bills.
After you receive a list of in-network therapists, begin calling their offices. Use this opportunity to ask them about the cost of each session and double-check that they are in-network with your insurance before scheduling.
If you don’t have insurance, don’t give up! Many therapists are willing to work with patients and may have recommendations. Some other options include:
- sliding-scale therapists
- online therapy services
- student counselors in training
- community clinics
If you are a university student, many colleges will offer some sort of counseling or therapy services at no cost to students.
Specialty and Credibility
Just like with people, every therapist and therapy approach is different. There are many different types of therapy and treatment programs, so it’s important to research what is right for you. For example, someone who specializes in relationship counseling probably won’t be the most helpful therapist for someone struggling with substance use.
Once you’ve got your list of in-network or available therapists, start researching each of them to see what you can find out. A well-built therapist’s website or online therapy directory should have their degrees, accreditations, and certifications listed online, but you may have to call and ask.
You should also use this time to find out about their individual therapy styles. Therapists can cover everything from evidence-based treatment to more holistic approaches, so try to have an idea in mind of what you’re looking for.
Do you need therapy to help recover from a traumatic event? Someone who specializes in eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) might be right for you. Are you struggling with gender dysmorphia? A therapist who primarily works with the LGBT community may be able to help.
Scheduling an Appointment
Scheduling your first appointment with a therapist can feel intimidating. It’s important to consider factors like travel time, needing to request off of work, or childcare.
Some therapists offer appointments during lunch hours or after 5:00 pm to accommodate work schedules. These tend to fill up quickly though, so be prepared to be put on a waitlist if you need one of these spots.
Therapy is an important endeavor. Even if you find that your perfect therapist is a little inconvenient for your schedule or out of the way, it might be worth making those changes to your lifestyle.
If you can’t find a local therapist that works for you, online therapy services may be your best fit. Fortunately, online therapy has been shown to be just as effective as traditional therapy. There is a wide range of apps and platforms with qualified therapists who can fit your schedule and talk via video chat, phone calls, and even texting.
Personality and Comfort Level
Your first session with your new potential therapist is an important one since this is when you can evaluate how it actually feels to work with them. Do they feel welcoming? Do they make you feel comfortable? It’s perfectly normal to be nervous when starting a new therapy journey, but a good therapist will know this and help to put your mind at ease.
Pay attention to how you feel when you’re with your therapist. They should be easy to talk to and help the conversation flow in a natural but productive way. They should never seem judgmental, and they should share their plans for your treatment once they form them.
A good therapist will be kind but not try to be a personal friend. They should convey messages of hope and positivity for your treatment while still providing you with realistic goals and “homework” for your own self-improvement.
They may not be working out if they:
- explicitly tell you what to do or what not to do
- don’t explain their methods or plan of treatment
- talk about themselves frequently
While a therapist may seem perfect on paper, it’s important to also trust your gut. If you don’t feel comfortable in your therapy setting, it’s perfectly okay to restart your search and try a new therapist. It may take two or three sessions before you know for sure if you want to stick with a particular therapist. Keep in mind that a good therapist will be a guide to a healthier mindset, not a quick fix to all of your problems.
Knowing that you need outside help and doing the work to find the perfect therapist are essential and noble first steps in your mental health journey. Once you find the right therapist, you can relax knowing that you’re on your way to a better life.