How to Find a Therapist, Step by Step
Finding a therapist can be a confusing, frustrating process. Here’s how to do it.
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I found my first therapist through a recommendation from a meditation teacher — who, himself, had been recommended to me by my then-girlfriend. My then-girlfriend had heard about the meditation teacher from another meditation teacher who had been recommended to her by a friend.
This points to how hard it can be not only to find a therapist, but to find one who you actually vibe with.
The number of people seeking therapy has skyrocketed during the pandemic. Surveys suggest that something like two-thirds of therapists have no capacity for new clients. Over one-third of Americans live in areas lacking mental health professionals.
You know you’re ready for therapy — or you think you might be. But you’re wondering, how do I find a therapist? Here are some steps to finding one who can help you.
Before I get into it, I want to you to know I appreciate your self-awareness and courage.
Capitalist society puts a ton of pressure on us to be “tough,” not complain, handle things on our own, “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps.” Asking for help is considered weak — especially for those socialized as men.
Asking for help takes strength. It requires vulnerability — “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure,” as professor and social worker Brené Brown puts it.
What’s weak is avoiding uncertainty, risk, and sharing about your emotions. Which is okay — there’s nothing shameful or wrong about being “weak.” It’s just that by even entertaining going to therapy, you’re tapping into your power and confidence, even if it doesn’t feel that way.
Now, on to the steps…
1. Get clear about a few things
In my rough draft of this post, I started with “Get clear about why you’re seeking therapy.” But then I deleted that.
It doesn’t really matter why you want help. You know (or at least think) you do. Maybe it’s clear: You’re struggling with communication in your relationship or feeling depressed after a big loss or trying to stop drinking so often. Or maybe it’s not clear — you just need to talk to someone about what’s been going through your head.
Still, here are some things to get clear about:
- Is there a particular skill you want to learn (communication skills, calming anxiety, mindfulness meditation, etc.)?
- Do you prefer any particular identities? (Man, woman, non-binary, person of color, LGBTQIA+, sex-positive, etc.)
- Do you have health insurance? If so, how much “out-of-network” costs does it cover (more on this later)?
- Are you open to teletherapy (video chat)?
- How often do you want to see a therapist? (Depending on your level of distress, it might be weekly, every other week, or even less often.)
2. Ask friends for referrals
As my journey shows, getting a recommendation from someone you know can bear therapeutic fruit.
The reason is that the relationship between client and therapist has been shown through research to be the most important component of successful therapy. So, if a friend — especially a close one — has vibed with a therapist, there’s a better chance that you will too.
If you’re friends with a therapist or even have a therapist acquaintance, even better. Many therapists are part of referral networks (listservs, Facebook groups, etc.). Ask the therapists you know to ask around for other therapists with openings.
3. If that doesn’t work, use databases
The most popular therapist database is Psychology Today. You can use the search function right in the middle of the homepage, starting with your city or ZIP code. Then you can filter by what health insurances they take, what “issues” they focus on helping with, and more.
The reason the search starts with your location is important. Due to current (as of this writing) laws, you can only see therapists who are licensed in the state in which you live.
Some therapists are licensed in multiple states, but many will likely be licensed in the one state they live and work in. This means you that, if you live in California, you can’t see a therapist who isn’t licensed to provide therapy in California — even if they are the perfect fit for you.
4. Avoid BetterHelp, TalkSpace, and other venture capitalist-funded online therapy companies
This isn’t exactly a step and more of an ax to grind. Therapy apps like BetterHelp and TalkSpace are ostensibly trying to do a good thing: use technology to improve access to mental health care. But like many tech companies, they’re struggling to balance that mission with the bottom line of their investors.
BetterHelp has been caught selling user data to Facebook and elsewhere, including age, gender identity, sexual orientation, and even how recently a person had suicidal thoughts.
But the worst thing about these apps is that they pay therapists peanuts — reportedly about $30 a session. These apps are clearly trying to be Amazon or “like Uber but for mental health,” lowering wages for workers and destroying entire industries in the process.
If you’re struggling to pay the bills right now, I recommend Open Path Collective. You pay a $59 lifetime membership fee, and then the therapists in their database offer sessions for between $30 and $60 (and between $30 and $80 for couples or family therapy). There are many therapists in the collective who offer online therapy, if that’s what you’re looking for.
5. Reach out to set up an initial phone/video call with multiple therapists
Try to find multiple therapists who seem to fit what you’re looking for. Trust your gut when reading their websites and database profiles.
It’s like dating. If something about their story or what they’re offering resonates with you, that’s a sign they might be the one. If something seems off or intimidates you, that’s a sign they might not be.
Each therapist will be different, but after you contact them (either email or phone), they’ll likely want to set up an initial short call (15 minutes or so). This call should be free. If they charge for it, find another therapist.
During this initial call, they’ll ask questions about what you’re looking for help with and whether you have insurance. Consider asking them questions too:
- What did you do before you became a therapist? (Something in their story might resonate with your life experience.)
- Why did you become a therapist?
- What type of therapy do you use? (They might something like “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy,” which you can pop in Google to learn more.)
- How often will I be able to see you? (You might be looking for therapy every week, every other week, or even less often.)
Again, go with your gut. Whoever you choose could very likely end up deeply shaping the trajectory of your life.
Hi, I’m Jeremy, a therapist and writer. Subscribe to my weekly email to get posts like this straight to your inbox here.
To work with me in individual therapy, join one of my therapy groups, or hire me to teach wellness skills to your organization, get in touch.