How to Find a Therapist

by Anna North

“Get counseling” is every advice columnist’s go-to line — but it’s a lot easier said than done. Today, we offer some tips on how to find a therapist — and how to afford one.

Especially if you’re already feeling bad, finding someone to help you can seem like an insurmountable challenge. And America’s healthcare situation doesn’t make it any easier. But if you know where to look, there are many options available, even if you’re uninsured. Here are some tips to help you navigate the system:

If you have health insurance, start by looking at your insurance company’s website.

First of all, this will tell you if you need to call up and get pre-authorized for therapy. Don’t let this freak you out or discourage you — yes, it can be a hassle, but it’s often a simple phone call. And making it will insure that your visits are actually paid for. You should also check to see how many visits per year your insurance allows, as many companies impose limits.

Next, your insurance company’s website can help you find a shrink in your area. Many have a function that allows you to search for providers within your insurance network, and some will allow you to narrow your search by gender, specialty, or qualifications. PsychCentral has a helpful rundown of the different kinds of mental health professionals that may be listed on these sites. It can be helpful to know what all the letters after these people’s names mean, but remember that the impressiveness of someone’s degree doesn’t necessarily correlate with how well they’ll be able to help you.

Once you find one or more therapists who might be a match for you, it can be a good idea to Google them. Online reviews of therapists are a hotly contested area, and I wouldn’t necessarily suggest putting too much stock in them — but insurance websites aren’t always up-to-date, and you want to make sure the providers are still practicing in your area. Also, some therapists will have websites that mention their approaches and areas of specialization. PsychCentral also lists (some of) the different therapeutic approaches — understanding the difference between, say, cognitive-behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy can help you find the therapist that’s right for you. If the therapists you’re interested in don’t have websites, it’s fine to call them up and ask them a little about themselves — as long as they’re taking new patients, they’ll usually be willing to answer basic questions over the phone.


Ask a doctor or friend for a referral.

If you’re not finding what you’re looking for on your company’s website, but you have a doctor you trust, you can ask him or her for a referral to a mental health professional. Some doctors’ offices keep referral lists for this kind of situation, though as with insurance company websites, you’ll need to check and make sure the info is up-to-date. Also, be aware that your doctor won’t always know if the therapists on the list take your insurance.

Alternately, if you have a friend or family member with whom you’re comfortable discussing your mental health needs, and you know that person sees a therapist, you can ask him or her for a recommendation. Not everyone wants to give out the name of their therapist, but that therapist can sometimes recommend someone else for you to see. Also, this can be a way of finding a clinician with flexible payment options. Which brings me to …

If money is an issue, look for therapists with sliding scales.

If you don’t have insurance, or if you’ve exceeded your maximum number of visits for the year, therapists’ fees can be really steep. But some shrinks may give you a break based on your income. A doctor or another therapist may be able to refer you to someone who offers a sliding scale, and sometimes therapists’ websites advertise this offering. However, many therapists have limits on how many reduced-fee patients they can see, so you’ll need to check and make sure they can accommodate you.

Consider community mental health centers.

If you can’t find a therapist with a sliding scale in your area — or their fees are still too high — another option is a community mental health center. As John M. Grohol of PsychCentral (a goldmine of info about this stuff, which also has a searchable database of therapists) explains, these are government-subsidized facilities that offer therapy at lower rates than private practitioners. Grohol also points out that therapists at community mental health centers may be younger or less experienced than those in private practice, but that doesn’t mean they can’t help you — many really smart and dedicated people train at mental health centers. You may be able to find a community mental health center in your area through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration or

Investigate universities in your area.

Some university psych departments or medical schools offer therapy to the local community a reduced rates or on sliding scales (UC Berkeley is an example). Like community health centers, these programs may place patients with students still in training for their degrees. But again, these students are often intelligent, caring, and driven — and while it’s not the best situation for everyone, being part of someone’s training can actually be rewarding. After all, you’re helping someone learn how to help not just you, but other people in the future.

Look for resources specific to your situation.

If you’ve been abused or assaulted, several organizations can help put you in touch with therapy providers, and possibly help you find therapy at a reduced cost. For survivors of sexual abuse or assault, RAINN operates both a crisis hotline and a website that can help you find counseling centers. If you’re dealing with abuse, the National Domestic Violence Hotline may be able to help you find services in your area, including counseling.

If you’re struggling with substance abuse or addiction, you may be able to find a treatment facility near you through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website. Also, community centers and hospitals sometimes operate support groups geared to specific issues, which can be an option if you can’t find an individual therapist or prefer a group setting. If you’re part of a church or religious community, they may have resources as well.

[Autostraddle Sidenote: Hey homos! Check out The Gay Lesbian International Therapist Search Engine which can help you find a local specialist. However, generally the best place to look for gay and lesbian therapists is reading the ads in your local GLBT publications. The local GLBT center has referrals, tons of ’em. Just be careful that you don’t accidentally pick a therapist who wants to cure your gay!]

Get a friend or family member to help you look.

Sorting through all the information on therapists and their fees can be daunting, and while some people prefer privacy in this process, for others it can be tough to manage alone. If the latter is true for you, consider asking a trusted friend or family member for help. This person most likely can’t, say, argue with your insurance company for you — but he or she can help you search for providers, help you find info on health centers in your area, or generally give you moral support in your quest to get help. Sometimes mental health problems can be isolating, and it can be good to have someone to remind you you’re not alone.

Originally posted on Jezebel. Republished WITH PERMISSION MOTHERF*CKERS.

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Jezebel has written 38 articles for us.


  1. YES! I actually recommend everyone go to therapy; not just those with mental health issues or effed up childhoods.

    Ignore the stigma that surrounds therapy– best decision I’ve made in the past 3 months was to go to therapy. It may not feel like it’s helping sometimes, but it does. You shouldn’t keep things inside and you shouldn’t always be Negative Nancy or Downer Debbie when talking to your friends (not healthy). You can vary the amount you go for $ reasons too// thank gaga for sliding scales.

    • Agreed. I’ve found counselling to be really useful, not just for figuring out my various neuroses but also as a kind of preventative measure – for stress.

      I went to one at my university (mid way through a stressy PhD). To be honest, I felt a little ashamed – as there was nothing very serious wrong with my life. When I realised though quite how many people I know are in therapy, people who seem very well adjusted, I got over that.

    • I’d like to agree with you, but I’m in crisis, and the wait list for me to be seen by Women’s Brief Psychotherapy is 15-16 months, and the waitlist for the Trauma program is 8 months.

      If everyone goes to therapy, those of us with severe mental health issues and effed up childhoods are probably going to end up with lots of facebook wall comments saying “RIP”, and maybe a post on Autostraddle about yet another gay suicide because we can’t get through the wait-time for someone to help us.

      I liked this article, and I think the best part is having a friend/family member help you with the search. Trust me, it is SO HARD to jump through all the hoops on your own. When your first priority in the day is not jumping in front of a train, and not having a public meltdown, dealing with the bureaucracy just to get the help you need is totally overwhelming. If, like me, you don’t have friends or family, call a crisis line and ask how to get a social worker. Don’t do what I did, and get yourself rejected because out of the 20 forms you have to fill in, you missed one, and thus do not qualify for anything.

  2. this is a great how to. Finding a therapist-let alone a good one- is rough. this article helps show that it’s easier than it sounds. it’s also worth it!

  3. My family doctor actually put me in touch with my counsellor, and she was great. I don’t see her anymore (although I’m thinking of going back) but she helped me out a lot while I was seeing her regularly. Plus I had the benefit of the government paying for it, whoo Canada.

    In conclusion, therapy = yayyyy!! :)

  4. Great guide! As a training therapist, here are my other tips:

    – Don’t be afraid to “shop around”. You don’t have to stick with a therapist just because you started with them. It needs to feel like a good fit! That said, if you notice you are never satisfied with anyone, and keep jumping around, it’s worth getting one of those therapists to help you figure out whether that’s a pattern than shows up in other parts of your life. Chances are it is, and sticking with someone to work it out would be helpful!

    – Don’t be afraid to talk about how you feel about the work you are doing with your therapist. Is it working for you? Why or why not? It can be scary to have these conversations but it is REALLY GOOD PRACTICE for life!

    – There are MANY ways to do therapy. So many! So don’t assume that therapy isn’t for you, just because you had one (or even more than one) bad/mediocre experience. Just find someone whose approach works for you.

    – Having clear goals, or at least some idea of what specifically you want to work on in therapy, can be really helpful. These will probably shift over time, but they are a great way to prevent aimlessly wandering around in talking circles. (Not that that isn’t a great thing to do sometimes – it just sometimes helps to have a sense of where you want to end up!)

    Good luck. Yay therapy!

  5. If you want to do long-term work, I’d recommend checking out psychoanalytic training institutes. They all have already liscened mental health professionals who are going back for additional certification in this modality that will see you on a sliding scale. Bonus: You don’t have to walk in with an understanding of what is wrong or what you want to work on, the process can take off from wherever you are. No matter the circumstances, the process of being understood & known by someone outside your interpersonal life is in itself is very healing. I know psychoanalysis gets a bad rap cause historically some of its theoretical basis was problematic in terms of being able to understand gender, sexuality and ‘sex’ but these days there are really wonderful revisions to earlier constructions of gender/sexuality that do not ascribe to problematic conceptualizations and instead privelege human subjectivity in all its glorious forms.

  6. i’m so happy that in university i can see a therapist for free. and i agree with what someone above me said, if you don’t like your therapist, you can always switch.

    also i wish i didn’t sound like a crazy person when i tell people i’m in therapy. therapy is great because you have an excuse to talk all about yourself and your feelings to someone whose job it is to listen.

  7. The best therapist I ever had was a man who was still training at my university. One of the best things about him was that he had me set date when we going going to stop [although I could always push it back and he made sure I knew that it didn’t mean I had to be done with therapy for life, just for that time] and gave me “tools” so that I could figure things out on my own when I wasn’t going to be seeing him anymore. If you go to a university that offers counseling services, take advantage of it, even if the person at the front desk is rude or nasty or someone you know. It’s worth it.

  8. “Just be careful that you don’t accidentally pick a therapist who wants to cure your gay!” Did it make anyone else sad/mad that this even needs to be said?

    I have yet to find a therapist that works for me. It can be frustrating to go and have it not work out and feel like you’re just bad at therapy. Thanks for this article and the comments. You guys are inspiring me to try again.

    • i was first placed in therapy at the age of 12. i hated it. i didn’t want to cry or talk about my feelings so was kicked out. then again at 14 after my dad died. i refused to talk and was kicked out. then sent again at 15 — we lasted 4 or 5 sessions before i decided i’d rather just talk to my friends than this strange sterile woman. THEN AGAIN, at 17. she felt even stranger. maybe 3 sessions with her.

      at 19, my first year at university of michigan, my friends forced me to go see a counselor there b/c i was obviously insane. i told her straight off that i didn’t want to be there but my friends had made me go. she said if i really didn’t want to be there, i should just get up and go. so i did.

      a few months later my body broke down with fibro and therefore was forced to see a psychiatrist regularly b/c i needed meds for the fibro. the day of our first session, a boy had fucked my heart up and i was crying and wailing and couldn’t stop. very vulnerable from the get-go. she didn’t wince so i stuck with her for another 4 years.

      then i moved to nyc, started therapy with a new person mid-2006. in mid-2010 she had to leave the clinic that my health insurance covered and go into private practice far away. so then i decided to move to california.


      • Thanks for sharing. I don’t feel so bad at therapy anymore. I hate talking about myself or my feelings so therapy goes against everything that comes naturally to me. This makes me feel less alone in that.

        So I’ll try to stick it out, but will a princess come instead of a prince? Because I don’t really need one of those.

      • Ugh yes, this is so very similar to my own experiences with being forced to go to therapy. I never felt that my therapists were as smart as me (this was just a feeling not a judgment) and resented being there enormously. Eventually I realized that if I was ever going to stop being forced to go to therapy I had to figure out some other way to get my act together on my own, and I did. So therapy was somehow a force for good in my life, in that it provided motivation to get more sane through not wanting to go to more therapy.

        I know that it works great for lots of people but I don’t particularly think it’s for everyone. I think that everyone probably always should be working on better self-knowledge, but there are a lot of different ways to achieve that.

  9. Damn SNL and that one Celebrity Jeopardy skit where “Sean Connery” chooses the category “Therapists” but calls it “The Rapists” because I will never read the word the same way again.

  10. The hospital that I work at offers 5 free counseling sessions a year with any therapist you choose. I haven’t taken advantage of this yet because I wasn’t sure how to go about choosing someone. After reading this I have a better idea of how to go about finding the right therapist for me. Thanks!

    Call the human resource office where you work, they’ll be able to tell you if these free services are available to you.

  11. Some workplaces offer employee assistance plans (EAPs) that usually cover a certain number of visits as well.

    I’m just finishing up a phobia support group that I found through our local university. My therapists (one qualified, one in training have been excellent and super gay-friendly. Macquarie Uni Emotional Health Clinic FTW!

    • Yeah, my employer has an EAP system and I used it earlier this year after I lost a friend of mine. The beauty of the EAP system is that most of them don’t report your name back to your employer. They just tell the employer how many employees used the service. Thus, you get to keep complete confidentiality, which is WONDERFUL.

  12. Fine, fiiiine. I’ll stop putting it off and finally call the therapist I was referred to to make an appointment. Stop stalking me, Autostraddle (I love you.)

  13. I got medicated about a month and a half ago but was too scared/nervous to do both at the same time. Thanks for posting this, it reminded me to get my ass in gear.

  14. I just think kids in Africa are not going to the psychologist.

    Honestly, what’s up with everyone (in the US at least) going to the psychologist? Maybe we’re analysing too much and living too little? OK some people have real problems but mostly, isn’t a session at your local gym much better?

    Just my opinion…

    • PS. and I also think this psychology craze is a symptom of our individualistic, time-obsessed society. Why do you need to pay a stranger to talk about your feelings/thoughts, when you can talk with your friends? I know you’re going to say that a psychologist is a professional but…friends know you. They KNOW you. You can TRUST them and they will probably have INSTINCTIVE reactions to your problems that are more accurate than your psychologist (and involve less costs and less mental masturbation).

      • well maybe YOUR friends know you and YOU can trust them, but please don’t generalise that to everyone. difficulties in relationships with others is a very common reason for having therapy in the first place.

        plus i really hope you don’t tell your friends to just go to the gym when they have problems, because that’s incredibly dismissive and solves nothing at all.

      • I’ve been thinking about this lately. Two comments in one thread, jeez. But, sometimes professionals just have information you did not know about or don’t have access to. I realized recently that I know a lot of the science behind the brain, and i am developing a bodily awareness to go with it. For me, this means I just needed people to honestly talk to, who I could trust and then I will help them in return. Basically, I’m making all of my relationships meaningful, and I expect things to go badly, but then I just experience it and let it go as soon as i can.

        I hate to ramble, but what I’m really trying to say is that if the idea that the, “psychology craze is a symptom of our individualistic, time-obsessed society,” is true, then the only answer is to openly trust and not judge anyone. For some people, the answer to the burning things in their life that are weighing them down is therapy. Its okay.

      • I can attest to the fact that going to the gym doesn’t solve all of some people’s problems. I go to the gym all the time and have for years. And I would NEVER want to burden my friends with all of my self-hating thoughts. Thoughts that I know I shouldn’t have. Please don’t take this as an attack, I understand what you are saying, I just don’t agree with it. Thoughts like that are exactly what have kept me alone for a veeeeeery, embarrassingly long time. When I got medicated, my doctor actually said, “Why are you depressed, you are so pretty!” Friends and even some people in the medical field, JUST DON’T UNDERSTAND, and that’s why some people need to go to counselors. Also, friends sometimes don’t understand that you don’t want your business broadcasted for all to hear. It’s like that whole DUKE fu@k list thing. The chick that did that only gave it to three people! One of those three friends e-mailed it to one person and the next thing you know, it’s being discussed on CNN. Obvs, that is an extreme example, but the point is, people talk and if you are talking about something extremely personal, the only way to make sure it doesn’t get around is to not talk about it.

      • I somewhat agree with you Luisa. I know several people who are professional naval-gazers and are in therapy for nothing else but self-indulgence (and they’ll readily admit that). But that said, I also know lots of people who really do need therapy, and don’t pursue it. I strongly believe anyone who is gay or confused about their sexuality should seek some sort of therapy or counselling (even just one or two hours) as early as they can.

        My advice about seeking therapy: find a therapist/psychologist who after one/two sessions can approximate how many hours of therapy are required. A therapist who is seeing their patients on a regular basis for years and years are not doing their job.

        • I disagree with what you say about therapists needing to have a deadline. Look at it this way: someone who has an injury might need to go to a physical therapist a handful of times, but someone with a chronic pain condition may end up having a regular appointment every day for years. It’s the same with mental health – if you just need to talk to someone because you just went through a traumatic event or want to get over a phobia or whatever, a set number of visits may be helpful, while someone with a chronic mental health condition (especially paired with a stressful life) might find regular visits very effective.

          Plus, even if it is a self-indulgence… there are many worse things that one could indulge in. ;)

    • I was going to refute your points but I don’t have the energy.

      You are lucky that you have such a great group of friends that can be your therapists. I would think that most people do not want to be their friend’s therapists, that would be a big responsibility.
      Especially if you have serious problems like an eating disorder or dealing with grief or a mental disorder. Therapists are trained to know how to deal with those things, friends are not.

      • Well said. No amount of talking to my friends and family was able to get me past my needle phobia to the point where I could go and, say, give blood. (Which I did for the first time on Tuesday.) My phobia support group, which is headed by my amazing therapists, could.

  15. nice article
    clear cut and direct
    I don’t have any kind of insurance and i’ve tried looking for help before and it was all kind of overwhelming at the time.
    Thanks to this i’ll give it another go

  16. the fact that people are encouraging others is a pretty cool thing if you ask me. its removing the stigma, because there is nothing wrong with talking things out, even if you don’t think things are serious. my mom refused to talk to a counselor when i came out, and i really think she should have because she had such a hard time with it (plus other things) and hasn’t actually dealt with it and its caused such a strain on her/our relationship . she didn’t seek help because she didn’t want “people to talk” and also shes a nurse and theres some law that prohibits them to work if they see a therapist. or maybe it was go under drugs for depression or something. i think therapy could work for her. its not some random trend. people really do need help sometimes.

    and sometimes professionals are better than friends, mainly because they’re pretty neutral on situations. also, gyms smell weird and the music playing normally sucks.

  17. Check out your local LGBT Community center. If they offer counseling services they are probably low or possible no fee.

    I highly recommend looking for someone who is trained in LGBT Affirmative Therapy. This is not the same as simply having a therapist who happens to be LGB or T. Whether your reason for working with a therapist is directly related to your sexual identity or not, Affirmative therapists specialize in understanding the ways being a sexual minority impacts our lives and relationships.

  18. I found therapy in practicing contact improvisation. but also my mom was in child pysch, so I’ve basically been raised by a therapist. and now I’m really gay. Fuck yeah!

  19. i just got hired permanently at my new job and my benefits will be kicking in come the new year. I haven’t had insurance in 2 years. I’m pretty excited. Finding a therapist will be one of my top priorities

  20. a friend recommended vetting therapists for queer-friendliness by asking them a few questions on the phone when making that first appointment- like, are they familiar with queer/trans/genderqueer/lesbian issues(whatever your identity, and the identities of the people that you’re close to), you know, so you don’t wind up worried if your therapist is cool with identity stuff. i always fear that a therapist is going to get hung up on my non-standard gender identity when i’ve got other stuff that i want to work on.

  21. In about ten years you can come to my totes gay/bi/trans-friendly practice and we’ll work out all your crazies together.

  22. This is cool, I have some advice for the UK girls out there:

    The NHS is your primary source of therapy / councelling. Talking to your GP is obvioulsy the right way to go about it, and they will either refer you to a local therapist or counsellor or some surgeries even have something called ‘talking therapy’ now, where they have trained therapists based in GP surgeries.

    You do, as always, have the right to self-refer, if you think your doctor is unsympathetic or you don’t feel cool talking to them about it. The NHS website ‘Live Well’ section has all the details and searches for this. Don’t take any crap from your GP girls, some can be real assholes, alarmingly in the area of mental health too, so make sure you do something about it if they are shrugging you off!

    Ultimately, you have the option to go private. Therapists will usually charge between 40 and 100 pounds an hour. If you are blessed with money, then hey, go for it! Your GP will be able to give you a list of local private therapists or you can just use the web / yellow pages etc.

    If you do go private, just make sure they are a member of a registered organisation such as BACP. Again, the NHS website has a list of all of these, so know your onions before you get spending any hard cash.

    Personally, I was referred by my GP for an assessment by a CBT specialist, who then in turn referred me to a counsellor which was ace. Me and her spoke for a good few months, and it stopped me being so damn miserable around my friends and burdening them with my problems. Between that and some good old fashioned meds, it sorted me right out!

    Happy mental health to you all :-)

  23. Thanks, Autostraddle. Once again a perfectly timed article that’s in sync with my life. This time I recently switched insurance and recently convinced my mom that I want to see a therapist.

  24. hi. so that picture that says “give me therapy”, is mine. i took that. i put it together. i put my efforts in that. it’s really sad the way you’re using MY picture, when you clearly don’t understand the meaning behind it.
    that picture is lyrics to a song called “therapy” by all time low.
    it’s about how i, alone overcame my own struggles with life ON MY OWN, without a therapist and i’m perfectly fine now.
    before you justify a picture based on something you see in it, don’t assume it has to do with what YOU think.
    the fact that you put NO credit whatsoever proves a few things.
    1.) you clearly just search around google for cheap images.
    2.) you automatically believe that because it has a key word in it, it has to do with something you think.
    3.) stealing MY picture without credit toward me is illegal.
    i feel honored that you used it, thank you. but you misread it which offends me, and you stole it.
    great article and all, but not everybody needs therapy.
    if you need to contact me for some reason, feel free.
    [email protected]

    • hi! i’m the executive editor here. we’ve removed your image from this post. the image was obtained via intern from a third party website that hosts images, most of which are, unfortunately, not credited to anyone. we go out of our way to credit images when possible.
      thanks for contacting us and we apologize for the misuse of your personal image.

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