Finding a new counselor can be overwhelming and confusing. So many choices! Too many therapist-y words! Here are my tips for shopping around.
Maybe you’re just getting started looking for a therapist or you’ve already been working with someone but it’s not the right fit. It’s time for you to find someone you’ll enjoy working with, who can help you with your mental health, and hopefully help you on your way to dealing better with the challenges in your life.*A note about “right” fit: Your relationship with your therapist (i.e. not romantically speaking, but the way you two work together on the issues you bring up, the synergy in the room, feeling comfortable in the therapist’s office) is probably one of the most important parts of seeing a counselor. If you don’t feel comfortable working with that person, you’re probably not going to trust sharing a bunch of personal stuff, so the counseling work–your inner self work–isn’t going to go as far. You’re paying a therapist for their expertise and *hopefully* are willing to figure your shit out, so make sure that person is someone you want to work with!
**Another note about lingo: I’m using the words therapist and counselor interchangeably to both mean mental health professional.
Narrow down your options and shop:
1. Figure out where to shop: word of mouth and online.
- Word of mouth: Getting referrals via word of mouth can be great…but sometimes folks may offer names without knowing if they’re the right fit for you. If you get names from people, check out if they have a website and read more about them. Some folks may not have an online presence. If they don’t that’s not a bad thing, but see if you can get their contact info and have a consultation call to learn more about them.
- If you look online, check out Psychology Today, which offers the ability to narrow down a search by location, insurance, etc. GoodTherapy.org also has listings for therapists and Open Path Psychotherapy Collective lists therapists who offer lower fee and sliding scale spots in their practices.
2. Check out a therapist’s credentials. If you’re looking for a legit mental health professional, make sure they have at least a master’s degree in Counseling, Social Work, or Psychology. Credentialing isn’t the same for every state, so look into their continuing education and training. A license is something mental health professionals get that’s issued by the state. It’s a more stringent credential than a certification or registration, so make sure your therapist is licensed. If you have any questions about these things, please ask your counselor! They’ll probably talk your ear off about all the extra nerdy stuff they’ve done to get good at their jobs.
3. Decide if you’re going to use insurance or not. Call the number on the back of your insurance card and ask what it would cost to go to a therapist “in-network” (i.e. someone on your insurance company’s roster of providers) or “out-of-network” (i.e. a person who isn’t on the roster but provides that same service). Sometimes it doesn’t matter if you do in or out of network if your deductible is really high. If you have to pay in a certain amount before your therapy sessions are covered or you have a Health Savings Account, it might not make much of a difference who you see.
***A word on paying for therapy. Counseling isn’t exactly cheap, but it costs a hell of a lot less than spinning your wheels in buying a bunch of “magic bullets” that aren’t going to work in the long run (e.g. diets, booze, drugs, clothes, vacations). Your investment in yourself is long term. Your new clothes, the week of vacation, the high…they’re all temporary and only help you feel better for a short time. Figure out the cost of all that one-time stuff and use that money to go to counseling. When therapy is a priority and when it’s working, you probably won’t miss the short-lived things you once spent on.
4. Determine what issues you want to work on. Are you dealing with anxiety? Do you have a narcissistic partner or parent? Are you dealing with disordered eating? Do you feel like it’s hard to get motivated in life and want a push? Are you or someone you love dealing with alcohol or substance use? All of those issues are things that various therapists “niche” in (a niche is like a specialty). Look for someone who has training or expertise in that particular issue. Often times, they’ll be much more equipped to target your specific issue so you can get working on it right away.
***A note about insurance and niches: You might find that folks in a particular niche don’t take insurance or are out-of-network. There are lots of reasons why therapists do this, but one in particular is that sometimes the reimbursement rate from insurance companies isn’t very high. Think about it: if you needed an attorney that worked specifically with real estate law for newly married first-time home buyers, you’d probably want to pick someone with a lot of training and a good reputation. And you’d probably pay them for their expertise.
5. Choose any additional aspects of a therapist you want to see. For instance, if you feel more comfortable working with a Black female therapist who works with entrepreneurs, then do yourself a favor and look for them. There are some great folks out there! Want a counselor who identifies as or works specifically with LBGTQIA folks? Want a male, female, queer, or trans counselor? Particular faith orientation to therapy? These are all important considerations in therapy, so do a Google search or look on Psychology Today, and start narrowing down.
6. Read their content and see if you like the vibe. I’ve read waaaaay too many clinical sounding Psychology Today and website profiles. (That’s a problem therapists need to work on). Once you get through all the therapist-y words (or maybe they aren’t there–yay!), see how you feel about that person. Do they have good qualifications? Do they work on the issues you want to work on? Do they sound like someone who would be engaging and able to help you? If so, then……
7. Take them up on a phone consultation. If they don’t do phone or in-person consults, email them to see if that would be possible. It’s one thing to read about someone online and quite another to hear them talk or sit with them in the same room. See if you like the way they sound or what they have to say about therapy. The call is just as much about you interviewing them as them getting to see if you’re a good match.
8. Schedule a visit. Go into the visit knowing that you don’t have to schedule a second session if you don’t like the vibe. That said, I often recommend that folks stick with someone for at least 2-3 sessions before they decide to shop around. Remember, having a good fit with your therapist is important and it can take about that long to build rapport and know if things work. (If attachment issues are your thing and you tend to run away from relationships, you may want to stick with someone a little longer because chances are the tendency to run away could show up in therapy).
8. If things don’t work out, then it’s back to shopping. Decide what worked and what didn’t in your first go round and tweak your requirements from there.
Good luck shopping and I hope you find the right fit! If you have more questions about finding a therapist, comment below and I’ll do my best to answer!