Here’s a step-by-step guide to finding a therapist

We’ve all been (or are currently) in that place where we know we should see a therapist, but the thought of even taking the step to find out what it’s like is too scary. Without overcomplicating things, I’m going to walk us through what finding the right therapist might look like.

While there are many different websites and ways to find an individual licensed professional, we should find out what it might take to get us from “yeah, I should probably see someone sometime” to “I called them yesterday and made my first appointment”. If you’re reading this and think you’re somewhere on the engagement spectrum, the first step is to assess whether you’re in crisis. Before you can move on to the step-by-step section, you need to make sure that you have immediate support if you need it.

If you have thoughts or intentions to hurt yourself or others, it can be considered a crisis. Call or text the suicide hotline immediately: 9-8-8. If this feels like an emergency (you are going to hurt yourself or others), contact 911. I understand this is a loaded statement. Not all emergencies require contacting the police, and even those with greater risk and concern based on race, gender, or status. Your 911 dispatcher may have access to other types of crisis response specialists, so be sure to ask and be specific. For example, you could say “Do you have a mobile mental health crisis team you could send?”

These are immediate options for anyone who needs urgent help. You can contact the suicide hotline at any time, but there are other hotlines dedicated to different situations. Feel free to contact these hotlines if you think this applies to you.

Suicide and crisis service line CALL OR TEXT 9-8-8
Spanish, Deaf and Hard of Hearing options available
Live chat available

National Sexual Assault Hotline CALL 800.656.HOPE (4673)
Live chat available

Hotline for the use of substances CALL 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
Spanish options available

Domestic violence hotline CALL 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or TEXT “START” to 88788
Live chat available

Crisis text line TEXT “HOME” to 741741
WhatsApp available
Live chat available

Report child abuse CALL or TEXT 800-422-4453
Live chat available

Follow the hotline instructions.

Go to our step-by-step guide to finding a therapist

1. Find your insurance / make your budget

If you have insurance

This can be the most confusing and draining step of the entire process, which is part of why many people (myself included) never make it past their first session.

If you have insurance, you should look at your card. It has a number you can call to find out about your mental health or behavioral health options. You could call and say something like, “I want to start seeing a counselor [insert city] but I would like to use my insurance. Can you help me find an in-network provider?” Alternatively, many insurance companies have apps where you can search for the type of care you want based on your specific plan.

Another way is to search for individual therapists (see step 3), find some you like, and ask if they take your insurance. If they do take out insurance, they likely have a website that lists which providers they work with. From there, you’ll need to contact your insurance to make sure your plan covers this particular therapist.

If you don’t have insurance

If you don’t have insurance, you might want to figure out a budget. You can see therapists as often or as infrequently as you like (within the schedule), so it depends on your needs and financial situation. Usually people see a therapist once every 1-2 weeks, but it’s definitely good to have only one session a month. Some therapists have sliding scales, which means they can work with you to find the payment option that best suits both of your needs.

Additionally, you can search for free community resources. Often places like your local LGBT center can connect you to free mental health services. Even your job may have an employee assistance program that usually gives you a certain number of free sessions.

2. What am I struggling with? What is important to me?

Even if you and the Therapist end up dealing with different topics or concerns, it’s helpful to know what catalyst starts your journey to mental health counseling. Are you constantly sad? Can’t get out of bed in the morning? Paralyzing anxiety? Numb? Being aware of what’s going on can help you in your search. Many therapists list their specialties on their websites. If you are concerned about something specific or big, you can look it up on their site.

It is also important to consider whether they are LGBTQ+ and/or have expertise in working with this clientele. Therapists also list their interests and experiences on their website (or if they don’t, they’ll be curious as to why that is) so you can filter them by what you want to find. For example, if you’re trans and it’s important to your therapist to have a deep understanding of your journey, you can look for people who list trans/non-binary identities and/or trans mental health on their website.

3. Search for names

Now that you know your limits in terms of insurance, finances, expertise, and identity, you can start your Google search.

This part can also be overwhelming, but there are several websites and tools to help you navigate this search. An industry recommendation is Psychology Today, a database that lists nearly all therapists by location, insurance, and expertise. If you take this approach, keep a running document of names, phone numbers, and email addresses that pique your interest.

Additionally, there are many excellent focuses for therapists based on identities and populations.

HIV information, hotline and hotline
Alcoholics Anonymous
Latinx therapy
Therapy for people of color
Therapy for black girls
Therapy for black men
Asian Mental Health Collective
National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network
Melanin and mental health
Participatory therapists

4. Send an email! Call some people!

Now that you have a running list of therapists you’ve collected from websites and databases, it’s time to make contact. This phase can be scary, so find a way to support yourself during this time. You can ask a friend to hold you accountable or even help you make the call. Creating an aftercare plan can also be helpful. For example: “After I’ve contacted a certain number of people, I’ll go get coffee and pastries at my favorite store.” Take care of yourself and reward yourself along the way.

It’s helpful to have a mini script or email template of what you want to say to reduce your own emotional and mental work. When you call or email, just let them know you found their profile [website] and I would like to talk to them about starting counseling for the first time. If you have questions right away, you can also ask them.

5. Feel Out the Vibe

When you first contact them, therapists often want to do a consultation call or Zoom to see if you’re a good fit. Sometimes this is purely related to insurance coverage and other times it can be due to the therapist’s expertise or availability.

Getting a therapist is a two-way street, so you equally want to feel their vibe when you reach them. Every therapist is a little different. Like getting to know other people, you want to tune in to your emotions when you talk to them. If the first Therapist or session doesn’t meet your needs, don’t give up! The first meeting with each therapist is a reception where you get to know each other; you want to give it time.

After the first few sessions you won’t feel it, that’s okay. You can fire your therapist! No big deal! You can go back to your list and start over.

Each stage of “finding a therapist” can be stressful and exhausting, so having a support buddy can really help, especially if you’re in this last stage and don’t know if the therapist you’re seeing is there. good match. Finding the right person can be very difficult, give yourself grace. Almost all licensed therapists can provide simple, brief counseling. If you feel really stressed and anxious, share with them as much as you need and ask what you need.

This process is a process. I wish our health care system was built so that we didn’t have to jump through hoops, worry about copays or insurance, or spend time trying to figure out what kind of therapy is right for you. When your sanity is low, all the steps are much more difficult. Just know that you are not alone on this journey. You will find the right therapist for you with patience and persistence. I wish you both of these as you continue your journey of self-healing!

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