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How to find a therapist

If you have ever tried to find a therapist, it can be much less straightforward than finding a primary care doctor or a dentist. Hopefully one day this will change, but for now here are some things to be aware of and steps you can take to make it much easier.


1)        Think about what you need or what are your criteria for a therapist:

a.        Is the therapist for you? Your child? For you and your partner (a couples’

therapist) or your family (a family therapist)?

b.       What issue(s) are you seeking therapy for? You will want to find somebody who is

able to help.

c.        Do you want to see them in person? If so, you will need to look in the area local

to where you live or work.

d.       Would you prefer online? Or could you see someone online? If so, this expands

your options to therapists across your state. This is great for people in rural areas, if you

are trying to find a specialist, or if seeing someone online is more convenient. If using insurance, online sessions may even be free, whereas in-person would have a cost.

e.        Do you prefer someone who accepts your insurance, or do you need to find

someone who accepts your insurance? Could you afford to pay out-of-pocket for

therapy if needed?

f.          What is your ability to schedule? Can you be available during the day? After

school or in the evening? On the weekend?


2)        Once you know what you are looking for, go to www.psychologytoday.com and click “find a therapist”. Psychology Today is the most popular therapist directly and it’s estimated that 80% of therapists have profiles there. Psychology Today also provides much more information than any insurance directory, including photos and thorough descriptions of who people work with and how they help.

a.        On Psychology Today you can select your criteria, including location (zip code);

therapist gender; ages the therapist works with (i.e. children, teens, adults); type of

therapy offered (i.e. individual, couples’, family); issues you are looking for help with

(i.e. ADHD, anxiety, depression); insurance accepted; and more.


3)        If you want to use insurance, you can look in your insurance directory as well. You could look on Psychology Today first and get a few names, then cross-reference them on the insurance directory to ensure they participate. You could also do the opposite- find some people in the insurance directory, and then look them up on Psychology Today or Google to find out more.

a.        If you want to use insurance, it is your responsibility to know the details of your

plan:

          i.        Do you have a deductible (e.g. $3000) that must be paid by you before your

insurance begins paying anything for services? If so, what do they pay after that

(usually 80-90% and you pay the rest, called co-insurance). And does the

deductible apply to therapy? The best way to know would be to call the customer service number on your card.

1.        If you have a high deductible that is unlikely to get met, then it might

even make sense to see an out-of-network therapist (one who doesn’t accept

insurance), since you will be footing the cost anyway.

             ii.        Do you have a copay to see a provider, and if so, how much? Copays can

range anywhere from $10 to $80 a visit, depending on your plan.

           iii.       Do you pay the same for telehealth vs in-person visits? Some plans offer

telehealth for free, while a copay would apply to in-office visits.

                iv.        If you are using insurance as a criterion on Psychology Today, be sure to

use the correct insurance. For example…here is a tip that may apply only to the

Philadelphia area… Independence Blue Cross (a popular insurer in the area) typically uses a subcontractor for behavioral health services called Magellan. This

means that your medical benefits may be with Independence Blue Cross, but your

behavioral health benefits go through Magellan. In this case, you will need to

select Magellan as your insurance and not Blue Cross, Blue Shield, or Blue

Cross/Blue Shield. Then, if you want to cross-reference someone who looks to

accept your insurance, you will have to look in the Magellan provider directory

(not the one for IBX). In some cases IBX does administer their own behavioral

health benefits. The best way to know would be to call the behavioral health

number on your card.


Insurance can get confusing, but doing this correctly in the beginning will ensure

that you see someone who actually accepts your insurance, and you won’t be

surprised later by them saying that they don’t (and giving you a bill). Therapists

will often take your insurance information and verify it for you, but you can save yourself some time by checking this first and then only reaching out to people

who accept your insurance.


4)        Try to find 3 to 5 potential fits for what you are looking for and then reach out to them. Call or e-mail (whatever you prefer)- or do both. Some therapists prefer the phone, while others may find it easier to get back to you via e-mail. Many therapists are quite busy, so try to give them a day or two to respond to you. It’s likely that not everyone is able to take new patients, which is another good reason to reach out to more than one person.


5)        Talk to at least one therapist to get a feel for whether you think they can help you, and if so, proceed with scheduling.


6)        You can also ask your doctor/pediatrician, friends, or friends who are therapists for recommendations. Therapist friends could not work with you or your child because they cannot have professional relationships with people they already know- but they could probably give you some referrals for other therapists they are familiar with.


7)        When you see a therapist, especially if it is your first time, try to give it 2 to 3 visits before you give up or decide to find someone else. The first session is always more of an interview or an evaluation and actual therapy almost never takes place. It can take 2 or 3 visits to establish rapport, to talk about therapy goals, and to get comfortable. If the therapy is for your child, encourage them to do the same thing. You can certainly make an exception after 1 session if the therapist makes a poor impression (i.e. is unprofessional), the therapist doesn’t believe they can help you, or you believe it is a bad fit.


Even if you have had negative or neutral experiences with therapy in the past, don’t be afraid to try again. There are many excellent therapists out there, and you can grow tremendously and get great results if you can connect with the right person. In many cases, a connection with a therapist can prevent someone from developing more serious problems. It can even save lives.  

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