It can be difficult to know where to start when seeking a new therapist. Many times people find a new therapist by getting a referral from a family member or friend, reaching out to their community of faith, or by searching online. This blog post will highlight different tips and things to consider when “shopping” for a potential therapist.
The Depths of the Internet
If searching online, there are a few sites to help steer you in the right direction. Psychology Today is a great place to narrow your search for a therapist by location, specialty, personal attributes (sexual orientation, age, language), insurance coverage and treatment orientation (how a therapist works). You can also target professional agencies, such as the American Psychological Association or American Counseling Association, to access their directory of providers.
Picking a type of provider
All of the acronyms for providers can be mind numbing. What is the difference between LCSW, PsyD, PhD and LPC? Knowing different options for mental health providers can be helpful at the onset. Often there is a misunderstanding about which providers prescribe and which do not. Psychologists are rarely able to prescribe medications, except in certain states where legislation has passed to allow it (Louisiana, Illinois, New Mexico). Generally, prescribers trained in psychiatric issues and medications are psychiatrists and psychiatric nurse practitioners. Click here to find out more about the different types of mental health providers.
If you are going to a therapist for a specific problem, finding a specialist may be the best place to start. For instance, for someone struggling with severe anxiety anytime they leave their home, finding a mental health provider that specializes in anxiety disorders would be the best option. However, if you are going to a therapist for general life stressors and changes, seeking a generalist is definitely appropriate. Don’t worry too much about making this determination on your own. Therapists must abide by their ethical code and if they are not trained in the area you are seeking, they will provide you referrals to someone who can.
Another good thing to consider is location. While you may be willing to drive a long distance for a specialist, you likely don’t want to set yourself up for a extended commute to appointments. You don’t want therapy to end up feeling like a chore due to its distance or traffic-filled travel. There are plenty of things in life to feel stressed about, this doesn't need to be one of them.
Insurance is something that many people inquire about when seeking a therapist. Many private practice clinicians, myself included, are out of network providers. This means that you pay the therapist’s fee directly and later the therapist provides an invoice to for you to submit to your insurance company for reimbursement. Always call your insurance provider to find out more about your specific insurance plan, how much you will be reimbursed and what your deductible is. This will ensure that you know in advance how much you will be paying out of pocket. If you don’t want to use an out of network provider, try contacting your insurance company to help your search for in network providers.
The costs of therapy vary based on where you live, as well as the credentials and years of experience of the person you are meeting with. In the Denver area, meeting with a clinical psychologist typically will cost around $90-$200 per session. Many times there is sticker shock about the price of therapy. While the point is definitely not to go broke, consider how much money we spend on different areas of our lives and health. It is important to consider what value we ascribe to living a rich, meaningful life. However, if finances are a concern, look for therapists that offer sliding scale fees. This means they are open to “sliding” their fee lower due to financial need. Many times people are unaware that fees can change with therapists over time. It is possible to start with a therapist at a low fee due to financial concern and renegotiate to a higher fee when feeling more financially secure (or vice versa). Bring these issues up with your therapist!
Don’t hesitate to “interview” a potential therapist. Many therapists offer a free phone consultation or initial session to discuss current issues and learn more about the process. View this as a space where you can explore and ask questions of your therapist. Where did you get your training? Have you ever worked with [these issues] before? What do you specialize in? How often will we meet? Are you licensed or being supervised? What times do you offer during the week? How will we know if I am making progress/ready to end therapy? This is part of the process and most therapists are happy to answer any questions you may have about their professional work or practice.
Fit is one of the most important aspects of picking a new therapist. If you don’t feel comfortable and trusting with someone, it will be very difficult to open up and benefit from therapy. That being said, I suggest taking a few sessions to see if there is a good fit, unless there are major red flags at the first session. Giving yourself a few sessions will help ensure you don’t rule someone out before having enough time to get comfortable in the therapy process.
Finally, trust your gut. If you have an instant reaction to a therapist or provider, there are plenty of fish in the sea. Truly, there are an overwhelming amount of mental health practitioners to choose from. Listen to your instincts and make a few more calls. Sometimes you can't rush a good thing. Good luck on your search!