How to Find a Therapist

One of the best consequences of being open about my mental health struggles is that people have begun to ask me for advice on how to get help with maintaining their own mental wellbeing. I’ve now conveyed my thoughts about finding a therapist to several friends, and figured I may as well share those thoughts here. This assumes that (a) you are in the U.S. and (b) that you have health insurance that covers visits to therapists (if not, some therapists offer sliding scale charges, though they’re often quite a bit, and other low cost options do exist. I’ll update with links after searching for this information). In the interest of making this a communal resource, if you have anything to add or disagree with anything I’ve said below, please leave a comment!

In searching for a therapist, start on Psychology Today’s search website. Filter by your location, insurance type, and any other preferences you know you have. I often begin by searching for licensed clinical social workers (LICSW) because in my experience their focus feels broader, with an emphasis on societal factors outside of you as an individual…also they seem more compassionate. But my current therapist isn’t a LICSW, and also she’s someone I found out about by word of mouth, so ask your trusted friends for their recommendations but know also that personal preferences vary wildly. Then once you see the therapists’ profiles/websites, listen to your gut instinct on whether you’ll feel comfortable with them, and if yes, schedule a phone consultation (always free). Not everyone will get back to you, and insurance information on websites is often out of date. Make sure you know what in-network and out-of-network benefits you have to be able to ask pointed questions re: insurance.

On the phone, have a brief summary ready of why you’re looking for a therapist, and maybe think a bit about what you’re worried about in finding a good therapist. Have a couple of questions for them about their practice/values. For example, I always ask about whether they have experience interacting with racial and sexual minorities. A friend asks if they know what the “A” stands for in LGBTQIA–they only get the green light if they know it’s “asexual” and not “ally”. Pay attention to your instincts in gauging their responses, and see if you can discern from them what you want or don’t want. For example, I knew I wasn’t looking for a cognitive behavioral therapist–that felt too logical and goal-oriented for me, and so I paid attention to how much people would talk about feelings vs. logic in their descriptions of how they practice.

Then, be prepared to go to a bunch of first sessions. It’s like dating. Many of these may suck, and it’s tough–it takes work to rebuild yourself after you’ve been vulnerable with someone who doesn’t know what to do with that vulnerability. Look for the feeling of being safe, for someone who is kind, and will respond with compassion to the things you beat yourself up about. Schedule in some recovery time after these, don’t expect to be able to go straight back to work/life. Try not to be too guarded unless you know right away that they’re terrible, because it then might be tougher to get a feel for how they’ll respond when you’re unguarded. I’m pretty picky at this stage–if I don’t feel unambiguously good about them after a first session, I don’t go back. Resist the pressure when they ask if you want to schedule another appointment–a good therapist will not assume that the session was a good one, and will ask you first about how you felt.

Good luck!



4 thoughts on “How to Find a Therapist

  1. Hi Ambika. We are all different and I can’t recommend particular courses of action. However I can share my experience with you and it’s possible that doing so can be positive for us both. I have suffered low levels of depression since teenage years but I coped ok until the combined stress of of a disintegrating marriage and running a business simply crushed me in my early 40’s. I had a couple of episodes that led me to a spell in hospital and I was medicated for a while with antidepressant drugs. I had to give up my career for a while and I lost my home and business but I was fortunate to be left enough money from an aunt to basically take a break for a while and I did a series of meaningless jobs while I concentrated on getting myself better. The issue came when I tried to completely withdraw (over a period) from my medication. It proved much harder than I had anticipated and at first I failed and figured that I would be on them for ever. I started having various forms of psychotherapy but found them terribly expensive and not especially helpful. For a while |I stalled and felt that I was getting nowhere. I started cycling at around this time and I had been enjoying it but when I was down it was very hard to motivate myself. There was a ride that coincided with me realising that I had failed to come off the drugs and I didn’t want to go but in a zombie state I still knew that it would be best for me if I did. I rode the first 50k completely on auto pilot. My legs turned but I was barely ware of what I was doing. After that it became purely physical. I was able to take all my internalised feelings and concentrate soley on turning the pedals. This was such a relief from the pain that I had been experiencing. The ride was 200km and at the end of it I was exhausted. I experienced the high that excersise gives but I also got a huge boost from the pride of the achievement. It was a turning point for me. I was able, with the help of cycling, to withdraw from the drugs and build myself up. About two years later I started my business. I built a house and have an amazing partner. I don’t really get depression any longer although I am aware that it could always return. I think that in retrospect I relied too much on drugs and therapy and if I had not found the key (which for me was long distance cycling) I would have been caught in a never ending trap. My point is that if we can find the key it is possible to overcome mental illness. For me it had to come from myself and having done it myself i think that my recovery has been more sustained. Your work sounds super interesting. Hope that you are ok

  2. Thanks for this Ambika. I’m going to plug a therapist friend who is also great at helping people even start to articulate what they might want in a therapist. Her name is Rachel:

    Also adding a second vote to the point that “first dates” might be abysmal. Stick it out and don’t feel bad if the first, second, or fifth isn’t a good fit. There will be a good match out there.

  3. I liked how you mentioned that licensed therapists are known to be more compassionate. My wife and I are wanting to look for a family therapist and we were wondering who we should look for to help our family. I’ll be sure to look for a licensed therapist in our area that we could hire.

    1. I should clarify that I’m referring to licensed clinical social workers, as opposed to other types of therapist certifications. Anyone you see ought to be licensed in some way!

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