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Finding and talking with a professional can change your life. Plus, you’ll get to experience the blissful relief of finally crossing “find a therapist” off your to-do list.
8 tips for finding a therapist: In brief
Whatever your goal, here are some useful ways to find a therapist and select the one best suited to your treatment needs.
How to find a therapist
- Use an online directory.
- Try out an app or subscription.
- Ask people you know to recommend a therapist they like.
- Ask your primary care provider for a referral.
How to choose a therapist (once you’ve found a few)
- Think about what you want from therapy.
- Consider the diagnosis you have.
- Look closely at their credentials.
- Work out what type of personality you’d mesh with best.
- Figure out how therapy would fit into your routine.
- Work out what treatment style you’d prefer.
- Pick between virtual or in-person — there’s no right answer.
- Calculate the budget you’ll have available.
- Speak with your insurer to check coverage.
We aren’t gonna sugarcoat this: It may take some time and trial and error to find the right person, even if you do your research. But thanks to the power of the internet, it’s totally possible to find The One. Hopefully this roundup of tips and resources will make the search a little less exhausting.
1. Use an online directory
Online directories may be your go-to resource for looking for a therapist. Thanks to search filters, these sites make browsing a breeze. They also include bios for each professional, so you can get an idea of how they portray themselves and what treatment philosophies they ascribe to.
Our top recommendations:
- GoodTherapy. This directory lets you filter by sliding scale, in case you want to find a therapist at a certain price point.
- National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color. As the name says, this resource is meant to help people of color who are queer and trans find therapists with similar identities.
- Open Path Psychotherapy Collective. This is a national collective of therapists who charge sliding scale rates from $30 to $80 per session.
- American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists
- Association of LGBTQ+ Psychiatrists
- Therapy for Black Girls
- Therapy for Latinx
- Black Mental Health Alliance
- The National Asian American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association, a nonprofit focused on the mental health of the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.
- Search tools on Psych Central
For specific issues, there are specialized organizations that can also help you find a therapist to meet those needs. Here are some examples:
- National Center for PTSD
- National Eating Disorders Association
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America
2. Use an app or subscription
Apps aren’t just for keeping us entertained — they can also help us live our best lives! Therapy apps like BetterHelp and Talkspace charge a baseline monthly fee to match and connect you with a professional via chat or video (or even in person, when that’s a thing again).
We’ve done a complete online therapy apps review including pros and cons and which sites are best for you. Here’s a quick list of online sites and apps to explore:
3. Ask friends or family for recommendations
Even with all the tools technology has given us, nothing beats a personal rec. You can also ask your friends or family how they found their therapists or if their therapist knows anyone who has openings.
4. Ask your primary care provider for a referral
Because of the way healthcare is set up in the U.S., it’s often way easier to schedule an appointment with a doctor, than with a therapist. So, especially if you’re experiencing symptoms that need to be addressed ASAP, talking with a doctor might be the quickest way to get help.
Once you finally start calling around, you’ll want to be prepared to do a mini interview with each therapist over the phone. It can be a bit nerve-wracking, so here’s a checklist to keep you on track:
- Be prepared to open up about the issues you’re concerned with, because the therapist will almost definitely ask you.
- Make sure to ask them about availability. If you have a particular day or time in mind, ask them whether they have any set time slots that work for the both of you.
- Ask them about rates and insurance. Don’t sign up for anything until you know you can afford it.
- Ask what therapy styles they use. Keep a list of these so you can research them after the call to make sure you completely understand what to expect.
- Ask for a free consultation. Some therapists won’t offer this, but there’s no harm in asking or in finding someone who does.
1. Think about what you want to get out of therapy
Before starting your search, it’s important to have at least a rough idea of your therapy goals. Getting real about what’s moving you to seek therapy can help you narrow down your search, since most therapists specialize in certain areas.
You may want support for a diagnosis you already have, or you may be experiencing all kinds of #feels and not know what to make of them. Either way, you can do some preliminary research to get an idea of the styles of treatment that might suit you best.
But you don’t need a specific reason to seek therapy. Everyone can benefit from talking to a professional, especially when they’re well-matched.
2. Bear in mind which mental health condition you have
Just as mental health symptoms aren’t one-size-fits-all, it’s worth considering the type of therapist that’d be best for your own symptoms.
- If you have PTSD. You can visit accredited clinical social workers, psychologists, and certified mental health counselors – but they can’t prescribe medication. Psychiatrists and psychiatric nurses, however, can prescribe meds if you need them (see below). Make sure they have experience in treating PTSD.
- If you have depression. Accredited counselors, psychotherapists, and psychologists can administer therapy for depression. Experience with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or interpersonal therapy might be useful, as these are evidence-based approaches for managing depression.
- If you have a type of anxiety disorder. Psychologists, psychiatrists, clinical social workers, and psychiatric nurses can all provide talk therapy treatment for anxiety disorders. Make sure your therapist is a licensed professional with experience in treating anxiety. It may help if they have experience with exposure therapy.
These are just a few examples, but they show how important it is to make sure you put your trust (and hard-earned cash) in the right place for your condition.
3. Consider their credentials
When looking for a therapist, you’ll encounter A TON of different credentials. These initials after therapists’ names refer to the degrees they hold and the licenses they’ve been given to practice. Depending on the type of care you’re looking for, it may or may not matter what kind of credentials a therapist holds.
But credentials do matter when medication is involved — only a psychiatrist or psychiatric nurse practitioner can prescribe meds for you.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, these are the technical definitions for each type of mental health professional:
Counselors, clinicians, therapists
Most people who are looking for a talk therapist are looking for someone in this category.
These terms refer to master’s-level practitioners who are licensed by the state to evaluate a person’s mental health and teach therapeutic techniques. They may or may not be able to diagnose, based on the license laws of their states.
Some examples of credentials you’ll see next to their names are:
- LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor)
- LMFT (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist)
- LCADAC (Licensed Clinical Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor) Typically, these folks work only with people who have received a diagnosis of a substance use disorder.
These are licensed medical doctors, holding either an MD or a DO degree, who have completed psychiatric training. They’re the only mental health professionals who can prescribe medication. They can also diagnose conditions and provide therapy.
These folks have a doctoral degree in psychology — typically a PhD, PsyD, and rarely, EdD. They can make diagnoses and provide individual and group therapy. They are licensed by the states they practice in.
4. Think about what kind of person you’ll be most comfortable with
It’s not just OK to be picky when it comes to finding a therapist — it’s strongly encouraged! Getting help with your mental health isn’t like getting a broken leg treated. There must be an extra level of trust and mutual understanding for it to work.
Think about attributes like gender, age, sexual orientation, race, and ethnicity. Will it be easier for you to talk with someone close to your age, or do you tend to have more trust in the experience of older folks?
If you’re BIPOC, this is extra important. Having a therapist with an identity similar to yours means you can skip explaining a lot of things. They’ll get it based on personal experience, and that alone can help you feel like a weight has been taken off your shoulders.
We also created this guide specifically for help finding an anti-racist therapist.
5. Figure out what time of day you’ll be free
Time slots are another important factor to consider when searching. When will you be able to meet with this person? It won’t do any good to find a therapist you vibe with if they aren’t available when you are, so it’s best to be clear about this from the get-go.
6. Which treatment style(s) are you interested in?
You may not know the answer to this off the top of your head — and that’s OK! Broadly speaking, treatment styles are divided into two categories: evidence-based approaches and integrative and alternative medicine. It may be worth reading up the various styles before you choose a therapist.
7. Do you prefer virtual or in-person?
One huge benefit of technology is that it has made many services more accessible, including therapy. Even before the pandemic made teletherapy and telepsychiatry the norm, more and more folks had been opting to see their therapists via video. Or, if you have anxiety around interpersonal interactions, therapy via telephone could help you ease into it without the actual face-to-face.
According to a 2015 review, receiving care virtually is just as effective as doing so in person. Plus, a 2017 review found that virtual therapy was significantly more affordable than the traditional in-person setup.
But there’s a certain energy to in-person interactions that some people prefer. If you want the opportunity to see your therapist IRL once the pandemic is over, make sure to search for folks who would be easy to get to.
Think about how the location of their office lines up with your schedule. Will you be going directly from work to their office? If so, it might make the most sense to find someone based close to your office.
7. Get clear about your budget
This one’s no fun, but there’s no way around it.
Most therapy sessions in the United States cost between $100 and $200. And according to the American Psychological Association, many people have 15 to 20 sessions before they see improvement in symptoms. Be prepared for this to be an investment.
If cost is a big barrier to access for you, check out this article about how to find affordable therapy.
8. Check with your insurance
If insurance is a must for you, you’ll have to be even more diligent and rigorous in your search, because many therapists don’t accept insurance.
But don’t worry — it’s totally possible to find someone who does take your insurance. The online directories we mentioned above have filter options that make it easy to search by insurance provider.
Also, make sure to contact your insurance provider to see if there’s a limit on the number of therapy visits they’ll cover per month.
If you’re going with a therapist who doesn’t take your insurance, ask about any “sliding scale” options for lower costs. Some therapists who don’t take insurance may also offer payment options such as a combined “superbill” that can be submitted to your insurance company to get out-of-network reimbursement. It never hurts to ask.
But there are many resources, directories, and organizations that can help you find the therapist who’ll help you heal, grow, and find methods to get through the tough stuff.
Make sure to check your coverage from any insurance, workplace programs, and other resources before starting your search. Once you know what you’re working with, you can start looking into whether you’d like an online or in-person program and what your location could offer. Check out the resources above and also in your own community for any referrals.
Ultimately, finding the right therapist for you could take some time, but it’s worth the commitment. You’re worth the commitment.