Your Guide to Finding a Therapist

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Finding a therapist can feel like a full-time job. If the process of finding your therapist match has been touch and go at best and entirely overwhelming at worst, know that you’re not alone. I now work with an amazing therapist, but it took me two years of starts and stops to find her.

In this blog post, I’ll walk you through the steps of finding a therapist in the hopes that it makes your process smoother.

How to pay for therapy

Paying for therapy if you are insured

The United States already has one of the world’s most complex healthcare systems, and figuring out whether or not your insurance covers therapy adds another headache.

The easiest way to find out what is and isn’t covered is to check in directly with your insurance provider. You can log into your provider’s website or call the customer support line. Most insurers refer to therapy with terms such as outpatient behavioral health, mental health care, and behavioral health care.

Once you’ve found one of those terms in your insurance documents, you need to figure out how much your insurer, if anything, your insurer is willing to pay.

Terms to look out for

Your deductible: The amount you have to pay for healthcare services before your insurance will begin to contribute

Your co-pay or co-insurance: How much your insurer will contribute to your healthcare services once your deductible is met

My plan, for example, has a $500 deductible. My husband and I have to spend $500 of our own money on healthcare expenses before our insurance will kick in. Once we’ve shelled out our $500, our insurer will pay 90% of our therapy expenses.

In practice, this means I need to be prepared to pay-in-full for my therapy at the beginning of the year. By the end of the year, I’ll only pay a fraction of the cost.

Finding a therapist when you are not insured

You can still work with a therapist, even if you don’t have insurance. One option is to pay out of pocket. If that’s not financially feasible, look for community mental health centers near you. I’m based in Chicago, and we have multiple community mental health centers that offer free and low-cost mental health services to the uninsured.

Finding a therapist when you’re worried about cost

Therapy is an additional monthly expense, whether or not you’re insured. Here are some ways to make this investment more budget-friendly:

  • Seek out therapists that offer sliding scale pricing. Searching “sliding scale therapy + your city” is a good place to start. You can also make use of Open Path Collective,  a directory of therapists who offer sessions on a sliding scale.

  • Search for community therapy programs. Think about the communities you’re a part of, and see if there are therapy programs offered to or through that community. I mentioned earlier that Chicago has community mental health centers. When I was in college, I got free therapy through the student clinic at my university.

Finding the right type of therapist

Once you’ve figured out how to fit therapy into your budget, it’s time to start seeking out a therapist. The terminology gets really confusing, really quickly. Do you need a psychiatrist? A psychologist? A counselor? What kind of degree should they have. Let’s break it down:

  • A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who works in mental health. They go to med school, just like other doctors. Psychiatrists can diagnose mental health conditions and prescribe medicine. They have the training to conduct talk therapy, but many psychiatrists don’t include talk therapy in their practice. If you need medication, it’s likely that you’ll work with both a psychiatrist and another mental health practitioner.

  • (Pyscho)therapist - (Pyscho)therapist is a broad term, and there are many paths that can allow you to practice therapy. The common thread is that people practicing therapy will have at least a Masters degree. They also have to meet the licensure requirements of any state they practice in. Here’s a quick rundown of the acronyms you might see in your search for a therapist.

  • Psy. D - Doctor of Psychology.  Your therapist is officially a psychologist. They have a doctorate degree, but that doesn’t mean that they can prescribe medication.

  • LCSW - Licensed clinical social worker. Your therapist’s degree is likely in social work.

  • LMFT - Licensed marriage and family therapist. Your therapist likely studied marriage and family therapy.

  • LMHC - Licensed mental health counselor. Your therapist may have a degree in counseling or clinical mental health counseling.

  • LPC - Licensed professional counselor. Your therapist may have a degree in psychology or clinical mental health psychology.

At the end of the degree, what your therapist studied isn’t as important as the type of therapy they practice and how well you two hit it off.

Finding the type of therapy that works for you

There are countless therapy modalities. Each has its own benefits, drawbacks, and levels of effectiveness depending on your mental well-being needs. I’ll walk you through some of the more popular types of therapy:

  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT): ACT asks you to stop fighting your thoughts and emotions and to practice acceptance as a starting point. From that place of acceptance, you can change how you respond to difficult thoughts, emotions, and situations.

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This therapy helps you explore the relationship between your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. I’ve done CBT, and I still find myself using the tools I learned years later.

  • Eye Movement and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR): Most often used to work through trauma, EMDR uses the body to reprocess negative sensations and emotions.

  • Psychodynamic Therapy: This is the type of therapy often portrayed in media when someone is laying on a couch and talking about their childhood. Psychodynamic therapy helps you get to the root cause of what we’re thinking and feeling in the present moment.

Scheduling the frequency of your sessions

There are a number of factors that impact the how often you go to therapy, including your budget and your mental health needs. If budget allows, you may see your therapist weekly to start and then reduce the frequency of sessions over time.

Starting your therapist search

Now that you have an idea of how you’ll pay for therapy, the types of therapists you can work with, and the kinds of therapy available to you, it’s time to look for your therapist. I recommend that you get two tools handy: your insurance portal if you’re insured and Zocdoc.

I recommend Zocdoc because it’s free (!), and it allows you to filter based on your specific insurance policy, your location, therapist specialties, therapist gender, and desired availability.

As someone with anxiety and ADHD, I wanted a therapist who was well versed in both. Zocdoc made it easy for me to filter based on that criteria.

Once I chose a therapist, I double checked that my insurance portal also said that the therapist/therapy practice was in-network.

A note on tele-therapy

In a world where many of us attend therapy virtually, it may seem like you can work with a therapist in any location. In reality, you don’t necessarily need to find a therapist near you, but you do need to find a therapist licensed to practice in your state. Remember, licensure requirements vary slightly depending on where you live. Unless a therapist is licensed to practice in your state, you won’t be able to work with them. Zocdoc does all that filtering for you so you don’t fall in love with a therapist only to find out that you can’t work together.

Finding a therapist is an experiment

When I started writing this article, I was working with one therapist. As I return a few months later to finish and edit it, I’m a few weeks into working with a different therapist. I realized my first therapist wasn’t a fit for the type of care I needed. It doesn’t mean that she or I failed at respective roles in therapy. We just weren’t a match in this moment.

Like most things in life, finding a therapist is an experiment. Revisit this guide as many times as you need to in your therapist search. Celebrating you and your willingness to seek support!

Taylor Elyse Morrison

About the author

Taylor is the founder and author of Inner Workout. She's also an ICF-certified coach, a certified meditation + mindfulness practitioner, and was named one of Fortune's 10 Innovators Shaping the Future of Health.