How to find the right therapist

It never fails; in every social gathering in which I’m introduced to new people and I’m asked what I do, I then get pulled aside (sometimes more than once!) by a person who is “asking for a friend” how to find a therapist. And I give them the same spiel I’m going to write here. I love this question, because it shows that someone has identified a problem they see as bigger than themselves, and that they’re ready to get the help they need.

People seeking therapy are in one of three situations: 1) they have insurance they want to use; 2) they want to private pay, and can pay cash for therapy; and 3) they don’t have insurance, and don’t have much money. There are solutions for all three scenarios. First, ask your friends if they know of anyone. They often do.

Folks with insurance should call their insurer and ask about mental health benefits, then get transferred to someone who can help them find a practitioner in their zip code. Yes, you can do this online, but I find that this is often confusing and overwhelming. If you give the representative your zip code and a specialty you might need (such as AOD counseling or trauma therapy), they will provide you with a list they’ll usually email right off to you. Once you get that list, cross-reference it using, using the “Therapist Finder” tab as a resource. Therapist Finder is like a warehouse for therapists. Most of us (including myself) have a profile on there describing our specialties, background, how we work, what our fees are, and whether we’re taking new clients. Profiles often have photos, and you can get a flavor for what kind of clinician they are. Look for specialties such as “domestic abuse” or “narcissistic abuse.” You may be referred to private practice therapists or a group practice; there’s not much difference in quality except sometimes group practices won’t let you private pay or will charge you more for doing so.

Those of you with great insurance or significant means can really pick and choose. Many insurance companies with a PPO plan will let you go out of network and submit for reimbursement after you private pay for sessions. This can be a great deal, as you can choose exactly who you want to work with, and probably recoup at least half of that. Again, I’d suggest going to Psychology Today’s Therapist Finder to search for therapist’s specialties or those located near you. You can also do a simple Google search with “therapists near me abuse specialist” or something similar. It’s important to note that some people private pay to retain absolute privacy regarding their psychotherapy. Insurance companies don’t always but can access your records at any time, including psychotherapy notes.

Clients who will need a significantly reduced fee due to lack of means, do not despair. There are many wonderful community clinics and nonprofits that serve the underserved, and do it well. Google search “community mental health near me” and you should find some options. During the intake process, ask for a therapist who is experienced in abuse recovery.

Since the Affordable Care Act took effect, untold numbers of people are now able to access mental health that could not before. It’s changed the mental healthcare landscape considerably. While more people have access to care, due to the increasing demand for services and not enough mental health clinicians to go around, many group practices and insurance companies cap the amount of sessions you can have. You are less likely to experience this with private practice therapists, but they aren’t always accessible to everyone. Some therapists will slide their scale quite low; ask them. If you find someone you really want to work with and are highly motivated, many therapists offer a lower hardship fee to some clients. It doesn’t hurt to ask.

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of the right therapeutic fit. The therapeutic relationship is only healing if there is a solid alliance and compatibility between therapist and client, as well as the therapist having specialty training and understanding of the particular problem you’re seeking help for. Every therapist won’t fit every client; I myself tend toward a directive, highly engaged approach with my clients. I support them, challenge them, cheerlead them, assign homework, give feedback on how they affect others and the progress they’ve made, and provide them as many resources as I know. I see my role as both a mirror and a guide. However, this approach does not work for everyone, and I honor that.

Find someone you can work with, who can take this journey with you. You’re worth that.

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