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  • Writer's pictureMental Gear Closet

Looking for a therapist? 5 steps and pro tips to follow

Updated: Jan 29

You’re thinking of working with a therapist/counselor, but how do you find one? Where do you look? How do you know someone will be a good fit before spending hundreds of dollars figuring this out?

I've been on both “sides of the couch,” as every therapist should be at some point, and can really appreciate how daunting the process can be. So let me help guide you with several simple steps and “Pro Tips” to watch out for.

For starters, expect to shop around …

Before you open a single Google browser know that looking for a therapist, like any other service, is something you’ll have to shop around for. While there are oodles of great ones out there, each has a unique personality, style, background and specialty geared towards different types of clients. Therefore, expect to contact or even have first sessions with several strong candidates before deciding on one to work with.

Step 1: “Where do I start looking?”

Where do you start your search? Google? Friends? While referrals from people you know can help (more on the pitfalls of this below), here are several key places to begin:

1) Your insurance company’s website or app

Start with the low hanging fruit. If you know you only want in-network providers, don’t spend hours looking through profiles only to realize that your favorite picks aren’t even options for you, as they don’t accept your insurance.

2) Online Therapist Directories

Online therapy directories are another great tool - if not starting point - as they're essentially an online white pages of therapists in your area. Here are my top 3 favorites AND what makes them a great go-to resource.

  • Various filters to quickly hone your search (eg., gender, insurance, issue) that don't seem to play as much by the complicated SEO rules of major search engines. You’ll see the best matches for the criteria you set.

  • Some providers who struggle with the technical side of creating a website may opt to ONLY have a profile in a directory as it is clean, short and easy to manage.

3) Google and other major search engines

While I would not start here, this is a great place to search for websites and professional social media accounts of clinicians you want to learn more about. Here you’ll find any online content they offer and get a broader sense of their personality and background.

*Pro Tip*: “My friend recommended someone. Should I just go with them?”

No! Keep them on your radar but do your homework first. Their therapist may have been a great fit for their needs, their personality and their financial means. While they may work perfectly for you too, don’t assume so right off the bat.

Step 2: Apply search filters

Now that you’re in the right online places you’ll want to pair down the dozens of options that pop up. Start by specifying several characteristics that matter to you:

  • Location/zip code

  • Insurance or sliding scale options

  • LBGTQ+ or ally

  • Religious affiliation

  • Ethnicity

  • Specialty (e.g., sports therapy, sex + relationship therapy, trauma, etc.)

  • Modality (e.g. CBT, EMDR, ACT, etc.)

Pay attention to the letters at the end of a therapist's name. They indicate their level of education AND if they are fully licensed or not.

Fully licensed:

  • LPC - Licensed Professional Counselor

  • LCSW - Licensed Clinical Social Worker

  • LMFT - Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

  • PhD - Doctarate level Psychologist

NOT fully licensed

  • LPC-C

  • LSW

  • MFT

*Pro Tip*: Be picky!

While you may not realize it, you probably have an image of what your ideal therapist looks like – someone you trust and are most willing to work with. This makes a difference as your work together becomes more personal and based on connection.

Step 3: Reach out to 3-5 therapists

On sites such as Psychology Today you can either email or call a clinician to get started. Remember … this DOES NOT mean you have to work with them. This is simply a request to be introduced. Write a short message to 3-5 clinicians including:

- Your name

- Brief description of what you are looking for or wanting to work on

- Your contact information

- Ask if they offer free consultations. These are a great way for both of you to get a sense of each other before investing a lot of time and money.

*Pro Tip*: Be ready … bumpy landing ahead.

I recently had to find my own therapist to help recover from a relatively severe concussion. It. Was. Hard. After over an hour of careful searching I faced a host of frustrating responses ranging from: no response at all, to an immediate “I can’t help you”, to sky high rates without accepting insurance or sliding scale options, to late or missed scheduled phone calls. It was a mess.

Let me share some context which helped me stay calm and focused (courtesy of my Dad) ...

Many private practice therapists run every part of their business solo – from marketing to social media to finances to sessions – with no front-of-house help or an ounce of training on how to do so. When they themselves are confused or sick or their kids are fighting, there is no coworker to help pick up the slack and keep the ship running smoothly. Therefore, while I would never ignore unprofessional or poor service be prepared to experience a few glitches in the system.

Step 4: What to say or ask during the consultation

You’ve found a few good options and weeded out the ones who weren’t responsive. You’re getting close! But what should you say or ask on the consultation call (prior to first session)?

In short ... the whole purpose of this call is for you and the therapist to get a sense of each other, make sure needs can be met and feel out the vibe. The therapist will facilitate the conversation for the most part but here are some questions you may choose to ask …

  • “What kinds of clients do you specialize in working with?” (Watch out for clinicians who say they treat every issue under the sun. They may have some exposure to them but are most likely not a specialist in every area and are trying to appeal to too large of an audience.)

  • “Tell me more about your practice.”

  • “Are there certain modalities or tools you use in sessions? What do those mean?”

  • “Do you offer online/telehealth sessions or ever do sessions outside of the office?”

  • “What do you charge for an intake session versus normal sessions? Do you take insurance and/or offer sliding scale rates (if applicable to you)?”

  • “What do I need to do before we get started? Is there any paperwork I should fill out before the first session?”

Step 5: Set up a first session

Who did you click with? Set up a first appointment with 1-2 clinicians and you’re off and running. (Note: If you choose to cancel a session for any reason please give 24+ hours notice.)

*Pro Tip*: You get to change your mind.

Whether it’s been 1, 2 or 30 sessions, you get to reduce or end therapy whether you want to work with someone else or take a break all together. While your therapist may have feedback to share, you should never feel “stuck” or locked in. You are in control of your process … we are simply here to help you on the journey.

Good luck!


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