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