It wasn’t long ago that going to therapy meant you were sentenced to a life of secrecy and shame. Those who sought treatment were treated like pariahs and kept as a family secret. But times are changing. Thanks to social media and wider social acceptance, our culture is embracing what we knew all along: people have problems and want to do something about them.
The cultural transformation has led to a dramatic spike in people seeking therapy and professional help. It’s no longer taboo to dish about the breakthrough you had in therapy over brunch with your friends. But finding the right therapist still feels like a mystery. It’s like another form of dating; you’ve got to kiss a few frogs to find the best fit.
But if you’re short on time or patience, courting a bevy of medical professionals feels like one more thing to add to your workload or high level of anxiety. So let’s take some of the guesswork out of finding the right therapist for you. We can’t promise you’ll love the first person you sit down with, but we can help you in your search with tried and true advice.
Understand your options as a patient
Another thing we can add to the list of things they never taught us in school: healthcare benefits.
Depending on your insurance options, your visits to a therapist could be partially or completely covered by your insurance provider. Alternatively, they could not be covered at all. The best way to determine where you land is to check with your provider and/or summary of benefits.
What’s a 'summary of benefits'?
Typically, your summary of benefits (SOB) is going to include, but is not limited to:
An overview of what’s covered in your plan
An explanation of what’s not covered and/or the limits on coverage
Information on costs you might have to pay — like deductibles, coinsurance, and copayments
Coverage examples, including how coverage works in the case of a pregnancy or a minor injury
Information about where to go online to review and print copies of complete health plan documents
Where to find a list of network providers
Where to find prescription drug coverage information
And note that it’s just a summary. You have full healthcare benefit paperwork to reference for every detail (aka, for the whole enchilada). But if you’re not keen on browsing through the fine print, you also have the option to speak to your HR manager or contact a representative from your healthcare provider (United Healthcare, BCBS, etc.). Once you determine your benefits, you’ll be able to see who is in-network, meaning you can see which therapists accept your insurance, if they accept insurance at all.
The first session you have with a new therapist is less about diving into childhood trauma and more about learning your goals and why you decided to seek professional help in the first place.
This appointment is called the intake session, and it’s a time for both you and your prospective therapist to determine if it’s going to be a good fit.
If you haven’t been to therapy before or in a long time, the idea of articulating why you’re in therapy can feel like a task itself. But here are prompts to help guide your thoughts, and you can share your answers with your therapist.
What do you want to change about your life?
Where or how do you want to grow as an individual?
Is there a specific life event (divorce, break-up, job loss, trauma) that you’re wanting to unpack and evolve past?
Do you want to learn breathing exercises because you’re prone to anxiety attacks?
It’s important to remember that there is never a “stupid” or “silly” reason to attend therapy. While some people will seek professional help to deal with life’s most overwhelming moments, like the loss of a parent, millions seek a therapist because they simply need an unbiased sounding board to counsel them. (To break the fourth wall: I once saw a therapist after graduating college because I wanted to feel more like an adult. We worked on my identity transition from ‘college student’ to ‘real-life adult’).
Taylor Counseling Group illustrates the impact of goal-setting with, “Therapy is only effective if you take charge and understand your part. Your counselor cannot fix you — only you can. Setting goals for therapy is accepting responsibility for your life and taking active steps to make a change.”
When you understand your goals, you’ll be able to focus your search. For example, if you suspect you have anxiety, you may consider searching for a therapist who specializes in anxiety or even anxiety faced by BIPOC women specifically. You have unique needs, and there is a therapist ready to help you.
We have no issues going to our friends when we need a good recommendation for a restaurant or outsourced help, so we don’t need to hesitate for therapist requests. If you know a friend or family member who grew from their experience with a therapist, it’s OK to ask for a reference or learn how they found their therapist.
It doesn’t need to be awkward or something you stamper over. It can be as simple as, “Hey, I’ve seen a tremendous amount of growth in you since you began therapy. I would love to find that same peace in my life. How did you find your therapist?”
You can also find recommendations and reviews online. Psychology Today and Better Help are the most popular sites for the casual browser. You can filter therapists by zip code, insurance, specialty and focus, and pay. It even has a portal to help you send emails to therapists to inquire about availability without leaving the site.
In the age of social media and apps, you’re not limited to in-person therapists. Telehealth is now a preferred choice for millions, in part because of the pandemic. Very Well Mind shared, “After the onset of the pandemic early in 2020, 85% of the members reported seeing over 75% of their caseload via teletherapy.” And while telehealth gives you the opportunity to Zoom with a therapist, you also have the chance to text with a therapist too, with options like Talkspace.
Trust your intuition
Beyond every piece of tactical advice, you have to feel comfortable with your therapist. After all, you’re going to divulge intimate details about your life, and as with any relationship, trust must be a foundational component for success.
For some, trusting the gut may not come easy. If you’re unsure about where your intuition is leading you, observe your physical reactions. For example, do you always curl up and shrink yourself when speaking to your therapist? Perhaps you’ve noticed that you leave feeling just as confused or worse than when you came in at the beginning of a session. Do you notice your body temperature rise when talking to your therapist, even about smaller issues? While the topics themselves can cause physical reactions, it could also be a sign that it’s not a match with your therapist.
Here are the positive signs that you’ve found the right therapist:
You trust your therapist with confidential information
You feel seen, heard, and validated during a session
They are your advocate and want the best for you
You notice a change in yourself and your behavior
You feel like you’re closer to your goals