How To Find The Therapist of Your Dreams
The #1 question friends or family ask me is usually, "How Do I Find A Therapist?" Finding the right fit can feel overwhelming, depressing, or downright scary! These simple steps will help you get your search started on the right foot.
We can spend months looking for the perfect car, outfit, or person to date. So spending a little time to find the right therapist shouldn’t be TOO hard, right? It doesn’t have to be, if you know what to expect. As a therapist, below are my top hacks for finding the therapist of your dreams with minimal annoyance and exhaustion. Don’t be intimidated - good things are waiting for you on the other side!
Insurance vs. out of pocket
The manner in which you will pay for therapy often dictates the method in which you will find your therapist. If you’re hoping to use your insurance, expect to make a few calls to find someone in your network (in network means that they are approved by your insurance and therefore you’ll get pre-negotiated preferential rates). Some specific tips about making calls and narrowing down your search follow below.
Most of the time you’ll pay a copay for each visit ranging from $10-$30 depending on your coverage, much like you would to see your doctor.
Tip: A “provider” is the term insurance companies use for medical professionals, like doctors and psychologists, who are providing you with medical treatment or care.
Tip: You can usually call the number on your insurance card and they’ll help you search in your area- but their search criteria are usually limited to gender, specialty, and degree. In-network therapists are often not accepting new clients, so keep in mind that it’s customary to call a few before getting a call back. Don’t be discouraged, there should be great therapists available. (I consider myself a pretty good therapist and I’m on two insurance panels - Anthem Blue Cross and Aetna. However, I typically have a 1-2 week waitlist for an initial appointment.) The more flexible you are with your schedule, the easier it can be.
FAQ: What is a “superbill”?
When a therapist offers to give you a superbill, it means that while they aren’t in network with your insurance, they will give you a receipt that you can present to your insurance company for partial reimbursement. You pay 100% of the bills up front (varying from $50 all the way up to $250+ depending on your region). The important thing to note here is that they onus is on you to get reimbursement, so it requires a little more of your time and effort (but it may be well worth it if you really want to see a particular therapist.)
When a therapist is already in your network, they bill your insurance company for you, so you only have to pay your copays during your visits, which is really convenient if having readily available cash is an issue.
If you’re paying in cash, you’re not limited to a particular list of therapist, so you can see whomever you want, provided its in your budget.
Tip: If paying in cash, its ok to ask the therapist if they have a cash rate. Many will offer a discount to out of pocket cash paying clients.
FAQ: What if I don’t have insurance and I also don’t have a big budget?
If you have limited means, have lost a job, or are just in a financial pinch for any reason, you can ask your preferred therapist if they have what is called a “sliding scale”. Basically that translates to “I’m strapped for cash, can you give me a little sympathy (and a lower rate)?” The qualifications for sliding scale vary from therapist to therapist - but typically you’ll be asked to provide some sort of proof of your financial limitations such as a summary of your income and expenses.
I’ve heard of therapists seeing very financially burdened people for free or for as low as $1-$5 a session, but more often I’ve seen a discounted rate offered from 20-40% off their customary fee.
Myth: Your therapist has to be your identical twin.
Good therapy doesn’t mean that your therapist is a carbon copy of you! Sometimes it’s helpful to have someone from another gender, cultural background, or faith background for another perspective.
Adjust expectations. Prioritize your must-haves and your nice-to-haves. Specifically wanting a mid-40’s, Jewish, vegan, Ivy-league educated mother of 2 for your therapist is great. Trying to also find that within a 5 min radius of your work, though, may not be realistic. Sometimes people get so attached to the details they limit their options too much before even meeting with someone. Pick your priorities. Make some calls and find out who you jive with.
Psychology Today is the most comprehensive search engine tool to look for a therapist locally. I always suggest starting with a Psychology Today search and then checking out that therapists website.
TIP: Most therapists still have pretty lame websites. (What can I say, highly relationship people are often not the best at technology or marketing. :::nervous laugh:::) A lame website doesn’t mean the therapist is lame, but it is something to take into consideration as it may reflect how modernized their practice is. If you’re looking for a state of the art therapist, it’s generally a good idea to consider that their website should look fairly modern and up to date as well. And if you’re looking for a more “seasoned” therapist, then feel free to email them on the @aol.com or @hotmail.com email address ;)
As you’re searching, a good rule of thumb to follow (just in general) is to TRUST YOUR GUT. A picture is worth a thousand words. If the therapist’s picture looks more like a mugshot than a headshot, or it looks like it was taken on a polaroid camera, that’s cool and all, but not professional and says something about the therapist. I personally would never meet with a therapist who didn’t have at least one picture of themselves on their website.
The three main questions to ask yourself after speaking or meeting with a therapist in person are:
Do I like this person?
Do I feel like this person hears and sees me (and my particular challenges and goals)?
Do I feel like I could eventually trust this person (and tell them my deepest, darkest, secrets)?
If you can answer yes to all 3, you’re off to a good start.
Overall strategy: It’s like dating.
Do you go on a date with every single person who asks you out? Of course not. So let’s be sure to make good use of your time.
Here’s another good rule of thumb. 5-3-2.
-When searching, narrow down to a list of 5-7 individuals with whom you may feel comfortable (and meet any financial and geographic limitations you may have)
-Speak with three over the phone if possible, even 10-15 minutes will do.
-Finally, Meet with 1 or 2 therapists in person. Therapists may even offer you a free consultation where you can meet them in person free of charge and you don’t pay for the session unless you agree you’ll move forward in working together.
Ultimately, research says that it isn’t a therapist’s training, or qualifications, or education, or how similar they are to their clients that makes them an effective therapist. The single most important characteristic in a good therapist is empathy. If you’re focused on that single characteristic, chances are you will have a really great experience with your therapist.
I know this is a lot, so if you have any questions, feel free to reach out!
To your health and delight,