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Build-a-Therapist: A Beginner's Guide to Shopping for a Therapist

I often find myself bringing up the topic of therapy in conversation with my peers. When I bring it up, it’s likely I’m talking about a personal experience I’ve had, and/or encouraging a friend to consider seeing a therapist. I haven’t always been this vocal about the subject — my comfort level in talking about therapy has drastically increased since I first started going. And what I’ve realized during that time is: I can’t afford to not talk about therapy.

Entering therapy has significantly transformed the quality of my life, and I believe it has the potential to do the same for others. I recognize that some people may never see a therapist in their lifetime, and that “regular” therapy is not everyone’s thing. The ever-present stigma surrounding therapy is a large contributor to what stops people from seeking help. In addition to stigma, another hurdle is that there’s so little chatter about the process of finding a therapist and people don’t know where to begin.

I know firsthand how daunting the task of looking for a therapist can be, and if I can help someone so it’s any less intimidating, then I want to. Over time, I’ve found myself emailing friends resources I’ve compiled that have helped me “shop for a new therapist,” and thought, why not publish something that people outside of my inner circle can use?  So here we are…

Ever built-a-bear? How about “built-a-therapist?” Upon shopping for a new therapist, I discovered Psychology Today. This website is a great place to start your search. It allows you to personalize your search to fit your preferences, whether it be the therapist’s gender, areas of specialty, languages spoken, the insurance they take, etc. Not sure what your preferences are? One approach you can take is to start by thinking about what you wouldn’t want. For example, for a while I didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of talking with male therapists, so I knew to look for females. I also felt funny about talking with therapists who were much older than me, so I narrowed down my search to look for therapists on the younger side.

Once you’ve selected some criteria, take a look at individual profiles. You’ll find the subjects they specialize in, what insurance they take, their educational background, as well as any additional certifications they have, the location of their practice and how to contact them. I recommend Googling them. Another thing to consider is whether or not you’re comfortable seeing someone who may live in your town, or go to your church, etc. I personally feel more comfortable seeing someone who is in no way connected to other parts of my life. That’s why it can be helpful to Google, Google, Google!

If you have health insurance, it’s important to understand your plan. Health insurance can be overwhelming and confusing! I recommend calling your insurance company (you can find the 800 or 888 number on the back of your card). Have your insurance card with you when you call, and ask for the behavioral health line. If you’re not sure, ask them if you have a copay or a deductible. They can explain what your plan entails and how much each session will cost. They can also tell you about deals, such as your plan covering the copay for the first few sessions. You can also ask them to send you a referral list with names and numbers of therapists covered in-network. Another idea is to call your primary care physician and ask them for referrals.

The next step is reaching out. I wish I could “high-five” every person who reaches out to a therapist. That shit is hard, and it is worth it. If calling might make you uneasy, email them. If you can’t find an email, one idea is to to call them after typical business hours, thereby increasing the likelihood you’ll reach their voicemail. In any case, here’s a template that can be used via email or phone:

Hi, my name is ________. I’m looking to see a therapist  for x, y and z [optional]. I was wondering if you’re taking new clients, and if I could talk to you to get more info. You can reach me by phone at _________ or email at ________. Thanks!

When you reach them, you may want to ask questions such as:

  • What insurance do you take?
  • How much do you charge per session?
  • What is your availability?
  • How long are the sessions?
  • What do the sessions typically look like?
  • How often could we meet?
  • If I were to want to see you before a scheduled appointment, would that be possible?
  • How soon could you see me?

I definitely recommend trying out a few therapists, if you can. Shop around! When you meet them, trust your instincts. You’ll know in your gut whether they have the potential to be a good fit for you or not. Finding a good fit is critical to your ability to be successful in therapy. A former therapist of mine once told me it’s OK to “judge therapists.” If you don’t “click” with a person for whatever reason, even if it’s “minor,” you don’t have to stay with them. You’ve got to find what’s best for you and there’s no shame in whatever that might be.

If you’re reading this, you’ve already taken the first step. You should be proud of yourself for making your mental health a priority and getting informed! Don’t get discouraged if it takes time to find the right fit or to work out the insurance. It will be worth it in the end. Investing in yourself is the most important investment you can make.

Feel free to drop a comment below and share how you’ve “built” your own therapist! And for a summary of what I just talked about, check out the visual below.

Getty image via isayildiz.