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How to Find a Therapist

Finding the Right Therapist For You

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Updated April 30, 2010

If you've ever tried to find a therapist, you know that it is no easy task. With so many different types of providers to choose from, it can be confusing, time-consuming, and frustrating. But, armed with a little bit of information, you can start psychotherapy with someone who is just right for you.

Find a Therapist: Know What You Are Looking For

Before you even try to find a therapist, the first step is knowing exactly what you are looking for. Spend some time researching and thinking about each of the factors listed below. Make sure to jot down notes so that you can communicate your needs effectively when you start to actively search. Here are some factors to consider:

Your Needs
First, consider where you are in your process of seeking treatment and what you need right now. If you are seeking help because you are in a crisis (you are having thoughts of harming yourself or someone else, for example), disregard the rest of this list, and either call 911, go to the nearest emergency room, or call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (if you are in the United States.)

If you are not in a crisis but have never seen a mental health provider before, you will need to first see someone for a full assessment to understand your diagnosis and develop a clear treatment plan. If you have already had a diagnosis, maybe you are looking for someone who can do long-term psychotherapy. Or, maybe you already have a long-term therapist and just want to find a therapist for some short-term work on a very particular issue; if the latter, you should also talk to your current therapist about it if this.

Location and Availability
Make sure that the therapist has availability that matches with your schedule. Also consider his location. How far are you willing to travel? Do you need a therapist who is accessible by public transportation? Are you willing to travel farther for a therapist who has special expertise or is an especially good match personality wise? Or, is convenience of the utmost importance? Remember, therapy only works if you are able to make it to appointments consistently, so scheduling and location may be more important than you think.

Therapist Payment
Psychotherapists can accept different payment options, so it is important to know how and how much you would like to pay. If you have health insurance, start by calling your insurance company and inquiring about your mental health benefits. Do they cover outpatient treatment? Is there a co-payment involved? How many sessions are covered? If your insurance only covers certain therapists, the insurance company will be able to provide you with a list of approved providers.

Some therapists only accept patients who are paying out-of-pocket. In this case, most will provide a receipt so that you can submit it to your insurance company for reimbursement, if possible. You can inquire about whether they will consider a lower fee if the cost is above your means.

Type and Level of Expertise
Another factor to consider before you set out to find a therapist is what type and level of expertise you are looking for. Think about the problems you want help with. There may be therapists who specialize in these concerns. If you're not sure of exactly what you want to work on (and this is something a therapist can help you figure out), try to have a general idea of your goals for therapy. You should know, though, that expertise can often be related to higher costs of service. Although this is not always the case, you should expect to pay more if you are only wililng to work with a therapist of very high level experise.

When considering level of expertise, remember that there are a wide variety of types of mental health providers with different types of training. More training does not necessarily mean that a therapist is more skillful, but consider whether you have a preference, and learn more about the types of mental health providers available.

Therapist Orientation
Different therapists come from different schools of thought about how therapy works and what methods produce the best outcomes. These schools of thought are called "orientations." For example, someone with a cognitive-behavioral orientation believes that thoughts and behaviors are tied to symptoms, and will conduct therapy aimed at changing problematic behaviors and ways of thinking directly (usually through homework and in-session exercises). In contrast, someone with a psychodynamic orientation believes that symptoms are related to processes outside of the patient's awareness that come to light through interactions with the therapist.

There are many other orientations, and some therapists subscribe to more than one. Think a little about what might be most comfortable or the best match for you, and be sure to ask any potential therapist about their orientation and how they would describe their approach to therapy.

Start Your Search

Once you have a good idea about what you are looking for, it is time to find a therapist. In addition to your insurance company, you can ask for referrals from friends, family, your primary care physician, or other treatment providers. There are excellent online resources to help you find a therapist, including UCompare Healthcare Psychiatrist Search, the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, and the American Psychological Association.

When you call potential therapists, have your prepared list of questions/notes on hand. Try to ask all of the questions, even if you are feeling intimidated. Don't forget to ask about fee payment, scheduling, training, expertise and experience in the area you would like to work on, etc.

Therapist "Shopping"

It is important to remember that it does take time to find a therapist. You need to talk to several potential candidates on the phone and get a feel for whether they meet your needs. You may also need to meet with several therapists before you find the one that will work best for you. Many people don't know that therapist "shopping" is a perfectly acceptable practice. You must choose the therapist that is right for you.

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