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Everything You Need to Know About Finding and Paying for a Therapist

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”  — Maya Angelou.

If you’ve ever been around me for more than 10 minutes, I have probably already told you what a powerful tool therapy is and how much I love my therapist. It has been the most transformative experience I’ve gone through in my life, and I am passionate about telling everyone they should go to therapy. However, I tell them in a nice, genuine way … not in an “OMG you need therapy” kind of way. It’s more like a “everyone could benefit from someone helping them navigate through life because it’s really messy” kind of way.

Though I wish I started 10 years ago, I have only been seeing a therapist regularly for over two years, and I’ve already been to three different therapists. I’m a huge advocate for “finding the right fit,” and it may take a while, but it’s been so worth it. Every two weeks to a month, I make my way to her fabulously serene office, unload all of my shit-storms I’ve waded through since the last time I saw her, and begin to unravel all of the messy thoughts and feelings to make more sense of it all. Life is tough, it’s messy and we all could use a little help “unraveling.”

So, how did I start? Though I’m so ridiculously proud of my inner child and all the resiliency she has built, I knew I needed help letting my guard down to trust people again. So many good, caring people wanted to be close to me, and I found every excuse in the book to shut them out. I almost didn’t realize I was doing this until I saw it affecting my relationship with my partner. I knew for my romantic relationship to blossom into something incredible and grow into the next step with him, I was going to have to face my insecurities, sort them out and leave them behind.

When I knew I needed help, I wasn’t even sure where to start. I didn’t know the difference between a therapist and psychologist, a social worker and LPC and psychiatrist from a counselor. I didn’t know if I should reach out to my insurance company or talk to my primary care doctor. Or should I call my employee assistance program (EAP) at my workplace? Should I look for an online therapist? And the most important question — how the hell was I going to pay for this?!

I hope this post gives you some of the information I was lacking and the best foundation for choosing the right type of therapist for your needs. Eventually, I stumbled into the right hands, but it would’ve taken a little less time and a lot less frustration if I knew what I am about to share below.

First things first: find out if you have insurance and what your coverage for mental health services looks like. This could be the biggest hurdle you might have to jump over. American health insurance, quite frankly, sucks. Even though I work in the health care industry and have seen huge improvements over the years, I will be the first person to tell you it sucks and it isn’t designed to work for you. But, let’s take a deeper dive into the details on how to navigate these treacherous and money-sucking waters.

1. If you have medical insurance:

Do you have medical insurance? Is it through your parents? Through your employer? Through Medicare/Medicaid? Pull that card out of your wallet (please keep it here if you don’t already) and call the customer service number on the back. This will be the quickest and simplest way to talk to someone about your specific plan coverage, co-payment and where the closest provider is located. If you have a website or an app to find providers, you can use that too, but be aware the payment listed can vary based on your deductible and various other factors.

No, this doesn’t make any sense. Yay, health care …

Another option is to seek out your insurance company’s covered providers and research them yourself through Psychology Today. Filter by your location and the insurance type you have. A few choices will pop up for you to review. You can also apply filters for specific types of therapy used and other things, like if the therapist is LGBTQIA+ friendly.

I have done this myself so I knew what kind of provider I was seeing, their mission, how they practice and their specialty. Personally, I chose a provider who was certified in eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). In my opinion, this is an excellent type of therapy for people with trauma and anxiety. I also like seeing a female therapist who is not religiously affiliated, which you can also filter through on Psychology Today, among other things.

2. If you have insurance and a primary care physician (PCP):

If you are dealing with past or recent trauma, anxiety, depression, substance abuse or other mental health issues that are affecting your daily life, consider talking with your PCP first. These doctors should know your history the best, so they will be able to guide you through this process of where to go next. Often, if you are experiencing symptoms that are interfering with your daily life, they may prescribe medication to help relieve some symptoms while you wait to see a therapist. Depending on your preferences, you may opt or opt out of taking medication. Either choice is OK! I highly recommend asking for a specialist or counselor to help keep you aware of how this medication may be affecting you as time goes on.

Note: If you do not have a PCP, an OB/GYN or other specialist you trust may be able to refer you to a mental health specialist or give you resources to a local mental health center. If none of these options are viable, keep reading as you may find another source that suits you best!

3. If you do not have insurance:

Hang in there with me. There are still services available for people without insurance coverage. Realistically, it will cost a lot more out of pocket and you could be waiting for up to a few months for an appointment. Like I said, I hate the American health care system, and at this point, you probably do, too. Your best option is to call your local mental health center (like NAMI, a local non-profit, a free clinic or mobile health center) and ask what services they provide for mental health. This may be extremely taxing on your mental and emotional wellness, but trust me, it will be worth it.

To start, just call one place per day and try not to get discouraged in this process. However, sometimes you may be looking at $80 to $150 per visit for an individual counseling session. If this is too much money, consider looking for group therapy sessions, support groups or an employee assistance program at your workplace, if you have one.

Another option I often recommend to folks is asking for a reduced rate. Most therapists and therapy groups also take clients on a sliding scale fee, meaning they will work with you to find a rate you can realistically afford with your financial status. Also, if you live near a college or university, call around to see if any student interns are taking clients. Most students are working on obtaining their clinical hours and take clients at a lower rate, and what they may lack in clinical experience, they are often very attentive and willing to help their communities.

If you are struggling with finding a therapist and navigating your insurance, please do not hesitate to reach out and contact me! I believe everyone deserves a therapist and will help you find the best fit for you.

Getty image by solarseven

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