5 key components to finding a therapist quickly and efficiently: tips from a Clinical Psychologist

You finally realize it’s time to find a therapist. For many people, this task is daunting; you need help, but have no idea where to begin. The following list includes key components to finding a therapist that can help you with your mental health needs, quickly and efficiently.

1.) What do you need?
First you should consider why you are seeking to begin therapy, and what you need right now. If you are seeking help because you are in a crisis situation (you are having thoughts of harming yourself or someone else, for example) 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, once you find a therapist, you will schedule an intake appointment with them for a full assessment to determine a diagnosis, if any, and develop a clear treatment plan should you decide to work together. If you are taking any medications be sure to bring these with you to your first appointment. You’ll also want to bring the contact information for past therapists (if any) and your primary care physician so that your new therapist can better coordinate your mental health care.

2.) How much can you afford 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? Is there a deductible? How many sessions are covered? If your insurance only covers certain therapists, the insurance company should be able to provide you with a list of approved providers. Most insurance companies will provide coverage for you to see therapists who are considered “Out of Network” but there will likely be a different co-payment associated with an Out of Network provider.

Many therapists accept different payment options, so it is important to determine what types of payment they accept during your first phone consultation. 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 should also ask whether they will consider a lower fee (often referred to as a “sliding scale” if their cost is above your means.

3.) What style of therapist is right for you?

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 “theoretical orientations.” For example, someone with a Cognitive-Behavioral (CBT) orientation believes that thoughts and behaviors are directly related to feelings and symptoms, and will conduct therapy aimed at changing problematic ways of thinking as a means to improving your symptoms (usually through in-session exercises and homework). 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 (i.e. the more “hands on approach” of CBT, or a more “process-oriented” approach of psychodynamic therapy.) Your first phone conversation with a potential therapist is a good time to ask about their theoretical orientation, and how they describe their approach to conducting therapy. Beware of therapists who describe themselves as “eclectic” and are unable or unwilling to clarify their style of working with patients. In my opinion, these therapists do not follow any one school of thought, and their approach to helping you may include a hodge-podge of treatments that ultimately, may prove to be unhelpful.

4.) When and where will the therapy take place?

Make sure that the therapist has office hours and availability that match your schedule. Many therapists work out of different offices, so be sure to ask about all of their locations. 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? Remember, therapy only works if you are able to make it to your appointments consistently and on time.

5.) Where can I find a variety of therapists?

Many people want to be able to read about, and see a photo of potential therapists before making phone calls. Using online search engines can help streamline this process. There are excellent online resources to help you find a therapist, including psychologytoday, the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, and the American Psychological Association.

You can also call professional schools of psychology to ask for recommendations of people trained or in training within their programs, as a way to make therapy more affordable. Bay area doctoral programs in psychology include The California School of Professional Psychology at Alliant International University, Argosy University, San Francisco Bay Campus, and The Wright Institute. Psychology interns are closely supervised by licensed psychologists, and are often very motivated and effective in providing psychotherapy.

Check with friends and family in your area- they will likely know of a therapist that has been helpful to someone they know.

Finding the right therapist for you can feel like a huge project, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Do not underestimate your intuition when talking to potential therapists on the phone. If you feel comfortable and relaxed, chances are you will be able to connect with them in person, and you’ll be on your way to improved mental health.


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