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How to Find a Therapist: Step-by-Step Guide

How to find a therapist that can support your mental health journey? Keep reading for a step-by-step guide that will help you find the right therapist to accompany you on your path of healing and growth.

How to Find a Therapist

Taking a step towards prioritizing your mental health requires intention, courage, and access. Whether you have already worked with a therapist and are in the market for a new one or are trying to figure out how to find a therapist for the first time, finding the right therapist is significant to your mental health journey.

Common questions I get from people are, "How to find the right therapist?" or "How to find a good therapist?" The therapeutic relationship between the therapist and the client creates the foundation for healing and progress. 

In this step-by-step guide, I will walk you through finding a therapist and provide practical tips to help you make an informed decision.

Different Types of Mental Health Professionals

1. Psychiatrist: A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who undergoes extensive education and training in the field of psychiatry, specializing in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental health disorders. Their training also equips them with a comprehensive understanding of prescribing medication and may incorporate medication management as part of their treatment plan. While they are trained in providing therapy, their primary focus tends to be on medication management.

2. Psychologist: Many people ask, "What is the difference between a therapist vs psychologist?" The term therapist is a broad term that includes various professionals that provide therapy services. A psychologist is a mental health professional typically with a doctoral degree (Ph.D. or Psy.D.) in psychology. Unlike a psychiatrist, psychologists do not prescribe medication, and their primary focus tends to be counseling and psychological assessments.

3.Licensed Clinical Social Worker: A LCSW is a professional with a master’s degree in social work, although some professionals hold a doctorate in social work (DSW) for those seeking leadership positions, policy development, or academic roles. Social workers provide counseling and support services to individuals and/or families utilizing various therapeutic approaches, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, Family Therapy, or other evidence-based modalities. 

They do not prescribe medication or medication management services. Their primary focus is understanding how social, cultural, and environmental factors influence mental health and well-being and help their clients navigate overwhelming systems. 

4. Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC): A LPC typically has a master’s degree in counseling or a related field and are required to meet specific state requirements. They provide individual, group, and/or family therapy and are similar to LCSWs, utilizing various evidence-based therapeutic approaches to address specific mental health concerns.

5. Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT): MFTs have master’s degrees in marriage and family therapy. They specialize in working with individuals, couples, and families to help address issues within the context of relationships.

Profession

degree

Scope of practice

medication

approach

Psychiatrist

Medical Degree (MD or DO) + Residency in Psychiatry

Diagnosis and treating mental illness + prescribing medication 

Yes

Focuses on biological and medical aspects of mental health

Psychologist 

Doctoral Degree (Ph.D. or PsyD ) in Psychology

Diagnosing and treating mental illness + psychological assessments

No

Focuses on assessments and evidence-based therapy

LCSW

Master's degree in Social Work + post graduation Clinical experience  

Assessing, diagnosing, and treating mental health conditions + advocacy 

No

Focuses on social, cultural, and environmental factors that influence metal health

LPC

Master's Degree in Counseling or related field + Clinician experience 

Assessing, diagnosing, and treating mental health conditions 

No

Focuses on talk therapy 

MFT

Master's Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy 

Assessing, diagnosing, and treating mental health conditions + couples and families 

No

Focuses on relationship and family dynamics 

Common Types of Mental Health Therapy

Several therapeutic modalities are used in therapy. Each modality comes with its principles and techniques, and the choice of intervention depends on the client's needs and goals. Some of the most common types of intervention include:

1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

CBT focuses on the connection between your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. You learn to identify and challenge unhelpful thoughts that contribute to problematic behaviors, and with structured techniques, you learn to develop healthier thought patterns and coping strategies.

Situation: You grew up in a dysfunctional family and have deeply ingrained unhelpful beliefs about yourself. 


Unhelpful Thought: "I am broken and beyond repair. Nothing in my life will ever change." (deeply ingrained thought due to your upbringing) 

Unhelpful Emotions: Despair and hopelessness (emotions due to the unhelpful thoughts)

Unhelpful Behavior to cope with the pain: Engaging in self-destructive habits like using substances. 


Balanced Alternative Thought: "I have been through many traumatic experiences, but that does not make me broken. That makes me resilient, and I do have the power to create positive changes in my life." (Balanced thoughts help shift the associated emotion and engage in healthier coping methods.)


2. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

DBT includes individual therapy, group skills training, phone coaching, and consultation sessions for therapists. DBT helps clients manage their intense emotions and engage in healthier coping methods. The client learns skills in four areas: Mindfulness, Distress Tolerance, Emotion Regulation, and Interpersonal effectiveness.

Situation: You grew up in a dysfunctional family and experience intense emotional dysregulation and find it challenging to maintain healthy relationships. To cope with your emotions, you engage in impulsive behaviors like using substances, impulsive shopping, or explosive rage.


Mindfulness Skills: Knowing the present moment and observing your emotional state (emotions, thoughts, and bodily sensations). 

 

Distress Tolerance: You learn to cope with your emotions without acting on them and engaging in skills like grounding exercises, distraction techniques, and self-soothing activities to temporarily shift your attention away from intense emotions.

 

Emotion Regulation: Learning to identify, label, understand and acknowledge your emotions. Learn healthy ways of regulating and coping with emotions. 


Interpersonal Effectiveness: Learning healthy communication skills to express your needs, identifying the importance of boundaries and practicing setting them, and seeking and maintaining supportive relationships.

3. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

ACT focuses on mindfulness and acceptance of one's thoughts and emotions rather than trying to suppress or control them. The client learns to identify their core values and commits to aligning with them despite their difficult thoughts or feelings.

The main goal is to develop a meaningful life by learning to accept things that are not in their control and focusing on actions that bring them closer to their goals.

Situation: You grew up in a dysfunctional family where you experienced emotional abuse and frequently watched your parents get into fights. As an adult, you struggle with forming and maintaining healthy relationships and anxiety. You find yourself repeating the unhealthy patterns you learned in your family. 


Acceptance: Acknowledging and accepting that you were raised in a dysfunctional family and your upbringing impacts your behavior and emotional states.


Cognitive Defusion: You work on identifying your unhelpful thoughts and beliefs that stem from your family, and, with the help of an ACT therapist, learn to defuse those thoughts by being able to observe them without letting them control your actions. 


Values Clarification: Identifying and clarifying core values separate from dysfunctional family dynamics. You explore what is important to you and pursue a value-based life. 


Committed Action: Living a value-based life requires taking action towards that life. You learn to set small goals and work towards the life you want for yourself, like going to therapy to work through family dysfunction, engaging in self-care, and developing healthier relationships. 


Mindfulness: Cultivating present-moment awareness to create awareness and compassion.

 

Psychological Flexibility: You learn to accept that you can't change your past but can choose how you respond to your future. 

4. Motivational Interviewing

MI is a collaborative and goal-oriented approach to help clients explore and resolve their ambivalence towards change. The therapist engages in reflective questioning and empathy to support the client's autonomy and motivate them to change.

5. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR primarily treats clients for trauma-related conditions. The therapist guides the client in recalling distressing experiences while engaging in bilateral stimulation like eye movements or taps to help reduce emotional intensity leading to symptom relief.

6. Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamic therapy explores your unconscious thoughts and emotions to understand how they influence behavior and mental health. The emphasis is on bringing awareness to unresolved childhood issues and conflicts to promote insight and self-reflection.

7. Narrative Therapy

Narrative therapy is a non-blaming approach focusing on the stories and meanings you attach to your experiences. A narrative therapist helps clients externalize their problems, explore different narratives, and create a more balanced story aligning with their goals and values.

This is not an exhaustive list. Many therapists are trained in different modalities, and some specialize in one or two. During the initial consultation appointment, ask your therapist what modality they practice and how it can benefit you.

How to Find a Therapist: Step-by-Step Guide

How to Find a Therapist Step 1:

Identify your mental health goals

Knowing your needs and what you hope to achieve through therapy can be incredibly helpful in narrowing down your search and finding a therapist that aligns with those needs. Ask yourself, 

  1. Why am I seeking therapy? What are some specific challenges I would like to address? 
  2. What are my expectations regarding the outcome of therapy? 
  3. What type of therapist would I like to work with? (consider age, gender, cultural background, direct, humorous, etc.)

Also, sometimes, you may not know what you need, which is completely okay. Many people don't understand their needs clearly before they start therapy. This is something you and your therapist can explore together.

The fact that you desire to talk to someone for support or seek self-growth is a goal in itself. Over time, as you continue therapy and with the help of your therapist, you will start gaining clarity around the area of focus.

Mental Health Goals:


1) Learn about setting and maintaining boundaries with family members
2)Addressing unresolved family trauma
3)Learning to build healthy relationship patterns
4)Developing a sense of self separate from my family
5)Learn healthy emotion regulation skills

How to Find a Therapist Step 2:

Determine your budget

  • Insurance coverage: If you have health insurance, call your provider to learn more about mental health coverage. Understanding your coverage is incredibly important when seeking therapy to avoid unnecessary financial strain.

If you have a list of therapists you want to work with, you can also check whether they accept your insurance, which will help determine your out-of-pocket cost. Questions to ask your insurance provider:

  • Does my insurance cover mental health services? If yes, ask about the type of coverage (Individual therapy, group sessions, couples therapy, psychiatric treatment, etc.)
  • Do I need a referral before I seek mental health services? 
  • Does my insurance have any limitations on mental health coverage? (Ask about the number of sessions allowed per year, telehealth services, co-payment per session, any exclusions for certain conditions, or any additional criteria for coverage.)
  • What would my estimated out-of-pocket cost be?
  •  How to find a therapist covered by my insurance? Where can I find a list of in-network therapists in my area?  If you find a therapist you want to work with but is outside-network, ask about coverage for out-of-network services/costs. 
  • Does my insurance provide any additional mental health resources? 
  • Budget: Create/update your budget based on your current financial situation and determine how much you use for therapy. Write down all your expenses and be realistic about how much you can allocate towards your mental health.
  • Sliding scale: Many therapists offer a sliding scale (reduce fee option) based on your income. Reach out to your choice of therapist and inquire about sliding scale options and the process for their practice. 
  • Employee Assistance Programs (EAP): If your employer purchased an EAP through their health care provider, you may have access to specific help. Many employees have access to short-term counseling that allows access to therapy through their Employee Assistance Program. To learn about EAP at your workplace, you can review your employee handbook, contact HR, call your insurance provider, search your employee portal, or speak to your supervisor. 
  • Non-profit organizations: Many community mental health centers offer affordable care. Google 'non-profit mental health services' with your location to explore resources for mental health. You can also contact your local health department for programs available in your community. Some additional examples of finding a cost-effective therapist:
  • Faith-based centers
  • Reach out to your university counseling center
  • Local support group

How to Find a Therapist Step 3:

Look for a therapist who can address your area of need

  • Research different therapeutic approaches: There are many different types of therapeutic interventions, and if you are new to therapy, you might not know which one is most suitable for you. While researching common kinds of approaches can help you learn more about different modalities in alignment with your needs, it is okay if you don’t know. You can ask the therapist about their approach during your initial consultation appointment and their rationale for utilizing it.
  • Utilize online directories: There are many different directories that can provide you with a list of therapists in your area. The most significant benefits of these directories are the ability to narrow down your search. Most directories offer filters that allow you to choose common specialties, service types, insurance they accept, age/gender/language, and kind of therapy.

The most common question people ask is how to find a therapist near me. The most common websites include: Online-therapy.comPsychology Today Find A TherapistSouth Asian TherapistSAMHINGood Therapy, Inclusive Therapists, Therapy for Queer People of Color.

  • Read Bio and seek recommendations: Once you have identified your mental health needs, determined your budget, and found a few therapists you are curious about, it is time to learn about each therapist.

You can start by reading the bio they provide on their website or directory to learn more about their approach and treatment philosophies. If available, it can also be helpful to read through reviews from previous clients (example, betterhelp reviews) to support your decision-making in finding a therapist that aligns with your goals. Finally, seek recommendations from trusted sources. These sources can include your friends, family, or doctor. 

How to Find a Therapist Step 4:

Schedule Consultation appointment  

Many therapists offer an initial consultation session to determine if they are the right fit for you, and these sessions are typically free. Some questions to ask to find the right therapist: 

  1. What is your general philosophy on therapy, your therapeutic approach (their familiarity with evidence-based treatments), and your specialty?
  2. Could you tell me more about your qualifications and training? 
  3. What is your experience in dealing with the specific issues I am facing? 
  4. How do you create therapy goals and track progress, and what would a typical session look like? 
  5. How do you handle confidentiality for regular sessions vs. crises/emergencies? (This is a good time to discuss how the therapist addresses any immediate support you may require outside of session time.)
  6. Do you accept insurance? If not, do you offer a sliding scale? 
  7. What are the charges for late cancellations or no-show fees?
  8. Do you have a waiting list? 
  9. Have you worked with clients from diverse backgrounds? 
  10. Have you been to therapy yourself? 
  11. Do you offer in-person or telehealth services? (This is a good time to talk about availability)

How to Find a Therapist Step 5:

Don't be afraid to shop around

How to find the right therapist for you? Don't be afraid to shop around. When finding the right therapist, it is okay to shop around until you find someone that meets your needs. As you ask questions and discuss your goals during the initial consultation appointment, you can assess your feelings about starting sessions with them.

Remember, finding the right therapist sometimes takes trial and error. It is okay to consider different options even after starting sessions with a therapist. As a client, you constantly assess the therapeutic relationship to ensure it continues to fit your needs. If you feel uncomfortable telling your therapist face-to-face about discontinuation, you can opt to email or text them instead.

Finally, Don’t be discouraged if the first few therapists you find don’t seem like a great fit.

First Therapy Session: What To Expect

Every therapist will have a different approach to the first session with their client. The first 1-2 sessions are usually the intake appointment. The therapist takes some time to introduce themselves and goes over intake paperwork, including signed consent forms, collecting your personal history, discussing confidentiality, and cancellation policy.

Once the paperwork is out of the way, you get an opportunity to talk about why you are seeking therapy and your mental health goals. The therapist might ask more questions to gain insight into your current concerns, symptoms, and issues you would like to address in therapy.

The therapist will then discuss the treatment plan and provide psychoeducation on the therapeutic techniques. The treatment plan includes diagnosis, proposed treatment, session frequency, and treatment goals. The overall aim is to create a supportive and safe environment to create a foundation of trust.

Additional FAQs

1) How do you know when to see a therapist?

You do not need to be in a crisis to seek therapy. You can start therapy at any time really. Often time people have a feeling that something isn't right and they need help because it may be interfering with their daily functioning. 

Other times, people have non-crisis moments where they are seeking self-growth or in the middle of a transition (job change, divorce, graduation, moving to a new city, etc.). So whether you are noticing challenges in your relationships or want to learn healthier ways of coping, reaching out to a professional doesn't hurt. 

If you are experiencing a mental health emergency, contact your doctor, go to the nearest emergency room, or dial 911. 

2) How to find a therapist in-person?

In the past few years, Teletherapy has become widely popular. Clients get to seek support within the comfort of their homes and schedule. However, some clients may continue to prefer in-person therapy over teletherapy.

In some cases, depending on what concern you are coming in with (trauma work or experiential therapies), your therapist might make recommendations for in-person therapy where you can receive direct support. In other cases, it comes down to your preference. If you struggle with technology or needed a dedicated therapeutic space, in-person can be a better fit. 

There are many ways to find an in-person therapist:

  • Google “In person therapist near me” or “In person therapy near me.” 
  • Visit the therapist's website or profile on their directory to see if they mention in-person sessions.
  • Call the counseling center and inquire about a therapist who provides in-person therapy.

3) How to find a therapist online?

Finding a therapist that offers teletherapy is similar to finding a therapist in person. Most therapist will mention their availability for online therapy on their bios or website. You can also choose to email or call them directly to ask if they provide teletherapy. Finally, search online directories that will allow you to filter your search for therapists that provide online therapy as an option.

Also, continue to check-in with your insurance provider if there are any changes to your teletherapy access.

4) How to find a therapist covered by my insurance?

Finding out if your insurance covers mental health services can be a huge money saver if you have health coverage. There are a few ways you can go about doing this, but the easiest way is to contact your insurance provider and ask them for a list of in-network mental health providers.

You can also log into your member portal and see if you have access to a search tool that allows you to find therapists in your area. Finally, if you know the therapist you want to work with, you can ask them if they accept your insurance. However, always contact and confirm with your insurance. 

5) How to find a therapist for depression?

Finding a therapist specializing in specific disorders can be beneficial for many reasons. Not only will they have the expertise and deeper knowledge of understanding and treating the specific disorder, but they can also provide a more tailored approach to your treatment. 

To find a therapist for depression (or if you are wondering how to find a therapist for anxiety), you can utilize an online directory to filter the reason you are seeking help, call your insurance for a list of therapists with experience in treating depression, or start by contacting your primary care doctor, who can provide referrals. You can also choose to call counseling centers to inquire about therapists who treat depression.

6) How to find a couples therapist? 

Finding the right couples therapist is essential to work toward a healthier relationship. Whether you are seeking couples therapy for relationship challenges or looking to improve communication, a skilled couples therapist can provide a neutral perspective, allowing both partners to express themselves in a safe space.

To find a couples therapist, utilize online directories to filter your search for a therapist that works specifically with couples and the reason you are seeking therapy. Like individual therapy, you can schedule an initial consultation session to assess compatibility between you and your partner.

7) How do I find a therapist near me? 

To find a therapist near you, contact your insurance provider and ask for a list of in-network therapists in your area. You can also use online directories to search for clinicians based on location and setting preferences.

Finally, ask for recommendations from other people who may have had positive experiences with their own therapist.

8) How to find a therapist for my child?

If you are in the market for a therapist for your child, consider contacting your insurance provider first. They will be able to provide you with a list of in-network therapists that specialize in child and adolescent mental health. You can also contact their pediatrician or school counselor/social worker for additional resources available. 

If you see a therapist, you can ask them to provide referrals you can contact.  Finally, utilizing online directories to filter the age range will allow you to access a list of therapists working with children. 

9) How to find a therapist for a therapist

If you are a therapist seeking therapy, start with professional networks within your mental health field. Many therapists are in consultation groups or work with trusted colleagues that can be an added resource for a starting point.

Finding the right therapist may require time and effort, but it is vital in improving your overall well-being. You deserve to have a therapist looking out for your mental health and the necessary expertise and knowledge to do so. 

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One Comment

  1. It really helped when you mentioned that we’d look for initial consultation sessions before choosing a therapist. I’m interested in finding a counselor to help me get through my last breakup. It was messy, and it devasted me, so I’ll start by taking notes of what to ask when meeting a therapist.

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