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How to Find a Therapist That’s Right for You

How to Find a Therapist That’s Right for You

Here’s how to narrow down your search

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Whether you’re struggling with the challenges of everyday life, have mental health concerns or just want to be a better version of yourself, you might be considering going to counseling or therapy. While finding a therapist may seem like a daunting task, here are some basic questions to ask and factors to consider that can help you narrow down your search and find the right therapist for you.

Should I go to therapy?

Should I go to therapy?

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Therapy can help with a wide variety of issues and situations. Therapy is beneficial if you’re experiencing depression, anxiety or other psychiatric disorders, according to UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital. But it can also help you talk about everyday struggles, process a life-changing event or address actions or habits that are harmful to yourself and others.

The difference between a therapist, psychologist and psychiatrist

The difference between a therapist, psychologist and psychiatrist

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When in need of therapy or counseling services, it’s important to understand what type of professional to look for. Three of the main designations you might encounter are therapist, psychologist and psychiatrist. Therapists can include a variety of professionals, including counselors and social workers. Therapists typically have master’s degrees and are licensed in their state to provide mental health services for individuals, couples, families and more. Psychologists have a doctoral degree in psychology and specialize in psychotherapy, or talk therapy. Psychiatrists are medical doctors, meaning they are able to not only diagnose mental disorders but also prescribe medication.

Determine your treatment goals ahead of time

Determine your treatment goals ahead of time

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One thing that will help you narrow down your search is honing in on your goals ahead of time. If you think some type of medication may help with your symptoms, you should choose a psychiatrist or other professional who can prescribe medications. If you think you’d do well with a larger support network, look for therapists who run support groups or group therapy sessions.

Where to find a therapist

Where to find a therapist

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It can be overwhelming to know where to start your search for a therapist or other kind of mental health professional. The best place to start is by getting a referral from your primary care doctor or other healthcare professional. You can also contact a national mental health organization like the National Alliance on Mental Illness for recommendations or use online professional directories, such as the American Psychological Association's locator tool.

Consult your insurance provider

Consult your insurance provider

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Your insurance company can also help you find mental health service providers that are covered by your plan. Your company’s website may have an online search tool, or you can call a representative directly.

Ask your friends and family

Ask your friends and family

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Another way to get a more personalized recommendation is asking someone you trust, such as a friend, family member or colleague. However, it’s important to remember that the person giving the recommendation might have different needs or goals than you do when it comes to choosing a therapist.

Use other local resources

Use other local resources

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Other local or community organizations may also be able to help. A faith organization you are involved with may be able to offer suggestions. The American Psychological Association also recommends contacting the psychology department at your local university or college.

Consider therapists who specialize in what matters to you

Consider therapists who specialize in what matters to you

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Many mental health professionals specialize in dealing with certain issues or certain groups of people. There are marriage therapists and couples counselors as well as people who work with children or teens. Other therapists might focus on addiction, eating disorders, trauma and more. There are also therapists who are equipped to provide counseling for people from specific communities, such as people from a specific religious background or who are LGBTQ+.

What to ask a therapist

What to ask a therapist

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There are a few key questions you can use to help you vet a potential therapist, psychiatrist or psychologist. These include: Are you a licensed mental health provider? What are your areas of expertise? What experience do you have helping people with my specific concerns or goals? What type of treatments do you use? What is your approach to therapy?

Ask about their credentials

Ask about their credentials

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When looking into a therapist's qualifications, you are likely to see quite a few different acronyms and jumbles of letters. While you can certainly decode those on your own, it’s also perfectly appropriate to ask your potential provider about their education, training, experience and license. Some licenses are national, such as NCC, or national certified counselor, while others, like LPC, licensed professional counselor, are licensed at the state level.

Request a free consultation

Request a free consultation

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Before you commit to seeing a therapist, ask for a free consultation. Some therapists will do a consultation for free in person, while others will talk to you over the phone to make sure it’s a good fit.

Consider hours and location

Consider hours and location

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You want to make it as easy as possible for you to see your therapist, so when considering your options, factor in where a therapist is located, what their hours are and if they will see you in an emergency. Also see whether they offer virtual or phone visits along with in-person appointments.

How to know what it will cost

How to know what it will cost

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Cost is a major factor that will also determine who you choose as your therapist. If you have private health insurance, Medicare or Medicaid, make sure it will cover therapy from this provider. Ask about any fees or out-of-pocket costs as well as the charge for missed sessions. If you are not covered by an insurance plan, ask about their rates and if they operate on a sliding scale, meaning the amount you pay depends on your income.

Know what’s covered by your insurance

Know what’s covered by your insurance

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If mental health services are covered, you should also find out how you may obtain these benefits and what limitations on the use of benefits may apply. For example, your plan could limit the number of sessions you can attend.

Trust your feelings

Trust your feelings

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Even if you’ve done your research and you’ve found a therapist that seems to check all your boxes on paper, it’s still important to trust your own feelings. You don’t need a concrete reason to change therapists. If you don’t feel heard or respected or simply feel uncomfortable or that something is “off,” that’s enough to make a switch.

Determine what factors would make you feel comfortable

Determine what factors would make you feel comfortable

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When looking for a therapist, consider what type of person you think you’d feel comfortable talking to. Your preferences are valid and can make a difference in your relationship with your therapist. For example, some people might feel more at ease or understood by someone older while others prefer someone about the same age as them. You might prefer someone of the same gender, ethnic group or religion as you. Also consider their personality — some people respond better to a more serious demeanor while others appreciate a sense of humor in their therapist.

Try a therapy app

Try a therapy app

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There are also apps that offer online therapy, such as BetterHelp or TalkSpace, which match you with a licensed, accredited therapist for phone or virtual appointments. Some insurance plans or employers will cover the app’s subscription fee, making it an affordable, convenient option.

Use short-term resources

Use short-term resources

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While you wait for your appointment, Mental Health America recommends utilizing short-term mental health resources. For short-term counseling, consider resources like apps, help lines or your workplace’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP). If you’re in crisis, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK to speak with a trained crisis counselor 24/7. You can also text “HOME” to 741-741 to connect with a counselor at the Crisis Text Line.

Continue to shop around

Continue to shop around

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Like with other purchases or commitments, you should shop around to find the best therapist for you. TherapyDen recommends calling or setting up consultations with three to five therapists you think could be a good match. If those don’t work out, move on to a new bunch. Comparing multiple options can help you be confident in your decision when you do finally find a therapist with whom you feel comfortable.

How do I know if therapy is working?

How do I know if therapy is working?

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Therapy isn’t an instant fix. However, it is possible to track your progress. According to the American Psychological Association, when you begin going to appointments, you and your therapist should work together to establish clear goals that will help you work toward what you want to achieve. You can also ask at what point you should expect to see results or what your progress might look like. Even after addressing a particular concern, you might find it helpful to continue talking with your therapist about your everyday life or new issues that arise, such as how to have a better relationship with your children.

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