Here’s a Step-By-Step Guide on How to Find a Therapist

We’ve all been (or currently are) in a place where we know we should see a therapist, but the idea of ​​even taking the step to find out how is too scary. Without overcomplicating things, I’ll walk you through what it might look like to find you the right therapist.

While there are many different websites and methods of finding an individual licensed professional, we must address what it may take to get us from “yeah I’ll probably see someone someday” to “I called them yesterday and set up my first appointment.” If you are reading this and think you have somewhere on the spectrum of this commitment, the first step to take is to check if you are in crisis. Before you continue with the step-by-step part, you need to make sure that you have immediate support if you need it.

If you have thoughts or intentions of harming yourself or others, this can be considered a crisis. Call or text the suicide hotline immediately: 9-8-8. If it seems like an emergency (you plan to harm yourself or others), contact 911. I realize this is a loaded statement. Not all emergencies require police contact, and even those with greater risk and concern regarding race, gender, or status. Your 911 dispatcher may have access to other types of crisis intervention specialists, so be sure to ask and be specific. For example, you could say “Do you have a mobile mental health crisis team you can send?”

These are the immediate options for anyone who needs immediate help. You can call the suicide hotline at any time, but there are other hotlines dedicated to different situations. Feel free to contact these hotlines if you feel they apply to you.

Suicide and Lifeline Crisis CALL OR TEXT 9-8-8
Spanish, deaf, and hard of hearing options are available
Live chat is available

National Sexual Assault Hotline CALL 800.656.SANA (4673)
Live chat is available

Substance Abuse Hotline CALL 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
Spanish options available

Domestic Violence Hotline CALL 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) o TEXT “START” to 88788
Live chat is available

Crisis Text Line TEXT “HOME” to 741741
WhatsApp is available
Live chat is available

Report Child Abuse CALL or TEXT 800-422-4453
Live chat is available

Follow the instructions the hotline gives you.

In Step-By-Step Guide for How to Find a Therapist

1. Find Your Insurance / Lower Your Budget

If You Have Insurance

This can be the most confusing and tedious step of the whole process, which is part of why many people (myself included) never get around to actually having their first session.

If you have insurance, you’ll want to check your card. It will have a number you can call to find out about your mental or behavioral health options. You can call and say something like, “I’m looking to start seeing a counselor [insert city] but I want to use my insurance. Can you help me find an in-network provider?” Alternatively, many insurance companies include apps where you can search for the type of care you want under your specific plan.

The second strategy is to search for individual therapists (see step 3), find a few you like, and ask if they take your insurance. If they do get insurance, they will likely have a website that lists what providers they work with. From there, you’ll need to contact your insurance to make sure your specific plan covers this particular therapist.

If You Don’t Have Insurance

If you don’t have insurance, you’ll want to figure out a budget. You can see therapists as often or as infrequently as you want (within reason), so it depends on your needs and financial situation. Usually people see a therapist once every 1-2 weeks, but it’s definitely fine to have just one session a month. Some therapists have sliding scales, which means they can work with you to figure out a payment option that best fits your needs.

In addition, you can search for free community resources. Often places like your local LGBT Center can connect you with free mental health services. Even your job may have an Employee Assistance Program, which usually gives you a set number of free sessions.

2. What Am I Struggling With? What is Important to Me?

While you and your therapist will ultimately work on different topics or concerns, it helps to know the reason for starting your journey of seeking mental health counseling. Are you always sad? Can’t get out of bed in the morning? Crippling anxiety? Numb? Being aware of what might happen will help in your search. Many therapists will list their specialties on their website. If there is something specific or big that you are concerned about, you can find it on their page.

Similarly, an important thing to note is whether they are LGBTQ+ and/or have expertise in working with these clients. Therapists will also list their areas of interest and experience on their website (or, if not, find out why) so you can filter them by exactly what you’re hoping to find. For example, if you’re trans and it’s important to you that your therapist fully understands your journey, you can look for people who specifically list trans/nonbinary identities and/or trans mental health on their website.

3. Search for Names

Now that you know your limits when it comes to insurance, finances, expertise, and identity, you can start searching google.

This part can also be overwhelming, but there are several websites and tools to help you navigate this search. The industry’s go-to is Psychology Today, a database with nearly every therapist listed by location, insurance, and expertise. If you take this approach, keep a running document of names, phone numbers, and emails that pique your interest.

Additionally, there are many great hubs for therapists based on identities and populations.

HIV Information, Hotline, and Warmline
anonymous alcoholics
Latinx Therapy
Therapy for Queer People of Color
Therapy for Black Girls
Therapy for Black Men
Asian Mental Health Collective
Color Network’s National Queer and Trans Therapist
Melanin and Mental Health
Inclusive Therapists

4. Send Some Emails! Call Some People!

Now that you have a running list of therapists you’ve collected from websites and databases, it’s time to make contact. This step can be scary, so think of ways to support yourself during this time. You can have a friend hold you accountable, or even help you make phone calls. Setting up an after care plan can also be helpful. For example, “after I’ve contacted a certain number of people, I’ll get coffee and pastries from my favorite shop.” Please take care of yourself and reward yourself along the way.

It’s helpful to have a miniscript or email template of what you want to say to minimize your own emotional and mental labor. When you call or email, just say you found their profile via [website] and want to talk to them about starting counseling for the first time. If you have any questions right away, you can ask those too.

5. Feel the Vibe

Once you begin contact, therapists often want to set up a consultation phone call or Zoom to see if you’re a good fit. Sometimes it has to do with insurance coverage and other times it may be a matter of expertise or availability of the therapist.

Hiring a therapist is a two-way street, so you’ll also want to feel their vibe while interacting with them. Every therapist is slightly different. Just like getting to know other people, you’ll want to address your feelings when talking to them. If the first therapist or session doesn’t match your needs, don’t give up! The first appointment for any therapist is one where you get to know each other; you want to give it some time.

After the first few sessions you don’t feel it, that’s okay. You can fire your therapist! No big deal! You can go back to your list and start over.

Each step of the “how to find a therapist” process can be stressful and overwhelming, so having a supportive friend can really help, especially if you’re at this last step and don’t know if the therapist you are seeing is a good match. Trying to find the right person can be very exhausting, give yourself some grace. Almost all licensed therapists will know how to do simple, brief counseling. If you feel stressed and overwhelmed, share with them everything you need and ask for what you need.

This process is, well, a process. I wish our health care system was set up so we didn’t have to rush, worry about payment or insurance, or spend time figuring out what kind of therapy works for you. When you are at a low point in your mental health, all steps are more difficult. Know that you are not alone in this journey. You can find the right therapist for you with a little patience and persistence. I wish you these same things as you continue your journey of self-healing!

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