Life gets hard, and sometimes it can feel overwhelming, lonely, or even pointless. But there’s someone who can help when it feels like things are falling apart: a therapist.
Whether it’s for depression, for anxiety, or just for the usual set of problems with family, work, relationships, internal struggles, and everything else, finding a therapist can help. But how do you find the right therapist for you?
If you’ve never been to therapy before, or even if you have, it can seem overwhelming to find a counselor that suits your needs when you’re already struggling. What’s the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist? Are PhDs, PsyDs, and MDs that different? How do I find a therapist near me? How do I find a therapist that takes my insurance?
First things first, though. Take a deep breath in, and then out, and now let’s break down how to find the right therapist for you.
Finding a qualified therapist is easy. Finding the right therapist might take a little time.
Remember, you’re the customer, and you can shop around. If it’s not a match, that’s not a reflection on you. But a little research up front can make all the difference.
You may want to find a therapist to help you cope with a mental illness like depression or an anxiety disorder, but a therapist can also be helpful during a break-up, a stressful time at work, or even just to help you navigate your goals.
Plus, seeing a therapist when things are “not that bad” can help prepare us for when life gets a little tough. In that way, therapy can often act as a type of preventative healthcare.
Research indicates that chronic stress can lead to the development of heart disease, and more than 75% of all physician office visits are due to stress-related ailments. Therapy can provide the tools needed to manage and alleviate some of this stress.
Once you know what you want to work on, it’s time to find someone who specializes in that area. There are as many types of therapists as there are reasons to go to therapy. Here is a breakdown of some of the common types of licensed therapists and counselors you’ll see when finding the best therapist for you:
Psychiatrists are medical doctors (MD or DO), who focus on the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. Psychiatrists are trained and qualified to assess both the mental and physical sides of psychological problems. They are also able to prescribe medication to their patients — this is one of the key differences between psychiatrists and psychologists.
A clinical psychologist will usually have either a PhD or a PsyD. They are trained in understanding the mind, behavior, and how the two correspond. One of the primary types of therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), is a cornerstone of the psychology practice. This type of “talk therapy” helps the psychologist investigate how their client may relate to the world, and how they can change that relationship for the better. A psychologist cannot prescribe medication, but they can refer patients to a psychiatrist who can.
You may see clinical social workers referred to a LCSWs. These social workers have a Master’s degree in social work and have been supervised for 3,000 hours of training. Many licensed clinical social workers can be found in community agencies, but there are some with private practices. While their specialty is part of the broader field of social work, licensed clinical social workers can help clients through issues with emotional and mental health in many areas.
Also called LMFTs, these types of therapists will examine and understand your behavior through the lens of social and relational contexts, as per their educational backgrounds and professional training. They have a master’s degree in either counseling or marriage and family therapy, and must pass their licensing exam in the state they practice in.
An LPC or LMHC has a minimum education requirement of a Master’s in Counseling, along with a great deal of training and state certification. Like LCSWs, psychologists, and psychiatrists, they are mental health professionals trained to help people understand their mental state and how to cope with mental and emotional problems.
When choosing a psychotherapist, remember that schooling and degrees don’t always dictate who will be the right choice. You want to have a supported and open relationship with your therapist, and many talented counselors choose different paths. Keep an open mind, as your relationship with that person and the areas they specialize in will make all the difference.
Bristling at the idea of asking friends and family for a therapist recommendation is normal, but maybe there are a few people in your life that you would feel comfortable asking. If they recommend their own therapist and that makes you uncomfortable, remember that you can always contact that practitioner for advice on who else they would recommend.
Most insurance providers can provide you with a list of practitioners. You can even ask them to search for a type of therapist within a distance range of your home or place of work. With that list, you can simply look them up. Most therapists have websites that you can review on your own to see if they feel like a match, or if they have experience in the areas important to you.
The internet has opened up many possibilities for finding a therapist. Looking for web-based therapy, text therapy, and other digital mental health resources is now an accessible option. You can even work with us. At Two Chairs, we take most of the stress of choosing a therapist out of the equation: you start with a simple consult before we match you with one a therapist best suited to your needs, goals, and preferences for care.
Universities not only have many practicing mental health counselors on staff, but also many students at various levels of training. Remember that time practicing does not always equal better therapy — it’s about who you connect with and feel comfortable with.
You can find databases of therapists on Psych Central, Psychology Today, and more. Sort by location, gender, issue, type of therapy, etc., and you can review profiles to see who might be a good match.
If you try all the resources above and you find some therapists and counselors who maybe aren’t the perfect fit because they don’t take your insurance or are far away, you can always ask those people for recommendations. They may know practitioners that fit the magical bill of “near me” and “takes my insurance.”
Reach out! Contact their office by phone or email to schedule a phone consultation. Or, if you’ve found a therapist through an online service like ours, follow the steps provided.
This is the best time to ask questions about payment, frequency of visits, if their office takes your insurance plan, their training, and talk generally about what you’d like to work on and how they would consider treating you.
We have several helpful blog posts about navigating insurance, written by our Care Coordination team.
Above all else, this is the time to get a feel for how you and the therapist would work together. Are they a good listener? Do you feel comfortable talking to them? Do you feel heard? You can ask them questions about their education, their experience dealing with issues similar to yours, and your goals for therapy. You should leave the conversation with a good feeling. Do not feel pressured to see a therapist you do not feel great about just because you had a phone consultation.
If you have financial concerns, some therapists will work on a sliding rate scale, or they may be able to recommend you to someone who can work within your constraints.
There is also a chance that the therapist you’ve chosen is not seeing new clients, so don’t be afraid to tell them why you chose them and see if they can recommend someone similar. It’s likely there are others in their practice or network that they can refer you to.
No matter what, therapy is a service. If for any reason you do not feel like the therapist you’ve chosen is right for you, you can discontinue seeing them. Any therapist who pressures you to stay with their practice is likely not acting in your best interest. You can be open with therapists on phone consultations and in person that you’re looking for the right fit. Good therapists will understand.
If your first call or visit isn’t a match, don’t feel discouraged. Keep reaching out, and you’ll find the right therapist to help you.
You have all the tools to start your search. To find the right therapist, you just need to do a little research.
Set aside some time for yourself to create a list of therapists who might be a match. We all have different parameters for what’s most important, and that’s OK. Maybe your top priority is someone who is near you, or maybe it’s more important that they have experience with a particular issue you’re dealing with.
No matter how you make your list, the next step is phone consultations. This is the time to ask questions, share your goals, and set up a plan.
There are many, many great therapists, and no matter which part of the alphabet soup they represent, the most important thing is feeling supported and heard in your therapy sessions. Making that first appointment can be a crucial step toward a happier and healthier life.
If you or someone you know is seeking mental health care, you can reach out to our Care Coordination team at [email protected] or by phone at 415.202.5159.
If you or someone you know is experiencing an emergency or crisis and needs immediate help, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. Additional resources can be found here.