We’ve all been (or are currently in) a place where we know we should see a therapist, but the idea of even taking the step to figure out how is too daunting. Without over-complicating things, I’m going to walk us through what it could look like to find you the right therapist.
While there are many different websites and avenues to finding an individual licensed professional, we should address what it might take to get us from “yeah I should probably see someone someday” to “I called them yesterday and set up my first appointment.” If you’re reading this and thinking you exist somewhere on this spectrum of commitment, the first step to take is to assess if you’re in crisis. Before you can move on to the step-by-step part, you need to make sure you have immediate support if you need it.
If you have thoughts or intentions of hurting yourself or others, this could be considered a crisis. Immediately call or text the suicide hotline: 9-8-8. If this feels like an emergency (you plan on hurting yourself or others), contact 911. I realize this is a loaded statement. Not all emergencies call for contacting the police, and even ones that do come with more danger and concerns around race, gender, or status. Your 911 dispatcher may have access to other types of crisis intervention specialists, so make 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 hit up the suicide hotline at any time, but there are other hotlines dedicated to different situations. Feel free to contact these hotlines if you think it applies to you.
Suicide & Crisis Lifeline — 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
Substance Abuse Hotline — 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
Live chat available
Report Child Abuse — CALL or TEXT 800-422-4453
Live chat available
Follow the instructions the hotline gives you.
On to the Step-By-Step Guide for How to Find a Therapist
1.Look Up Your Insurance / Nail Down a Budget
If You Have Insurance
This can be the most confusing and draining step of the whole process, which is part of why many people (myself included) never make it through to actually have their first session.
If you have insurance, you’ll want to take a look at your card. It will have a number you can call to figure out your mental or behavioral health options. You could call and say something like, “I’m looking to start seeing a counselor in [insert city] but I would like to use my insurance. Can you help me find an in-network provider?” Alternatively, many insurance companies have accompanying apps where you can search for the type of care you want under your specific plan.
A second approach is to look for individual therapists (see step 3), find some you like, and ask if they take your insurance. If they take insurance, they will most likely have a website that lists what providers they work with. From there, you’ll need to contact your insurance to double check that your specific plan covers this specific therapist.
If You Don’t Have Insurance
If you don’t have insurance, you’ll want to figure out a budget. You can see therapists as frequently or infrequently as you like (within reason), so it depends on your needs and financial circumstances. Usually people see a therapist once every 1-2 weeks, but it’s certainly fine to only have one session a month. Some therapists have sliding scales, which means they can work with you to figure out a payment option that best fits both your needs.
Additionally, you can seek out free community resources. Often places like your local LGBT Center can connect you with free mental health services. Even your work may have an Employee Assistance Program, which typically gives you a set number of free sessions.
2. What Am I Struggling With? What’s Important to Me?
While you and your therapist will ultimately work through a variety of topics or concerns, it’s helpful to know the catalyst for beginning your journey to seeking mental health counseling. Are you constantly sad? Can’t get out of bed in the morning? Crippling anxiety? Numb? Having an awareness of what might be going on can help you in your search. Many therapists will list their specialities on their website. If there is something specific or big that you’re concerned about, you can look for it on their page.
Similarly, an important thing to note is if they’re LGBTQ+ and/or have expertise in working with this clientele. Therapists will also list their areas of interest and experience on their website (or, if they don’t, get curious about why that is) so you can filter them by what exactly you’re hoping to find. For example, if you’re trans and it’s important to you that your therapist deeply understands your journey, you might look for people who specifically list trans/nonbinary identities and/or trans mental health on their website.
3. Search for Names
Now that you know your limitations when it comes to insurance, finances, expertise, and identities, you can start google searching.
This part can also be overwhelming, but there are quite a few websites and tools to help you navigate this search. The industry go-to is Psychology Today, a database with almost every therapist listed by location, insurance, and expertise. If you take this approach, keep a running document of names, phone numbers, and emails that pique your interest.
Additionally, there are many excellent hubs for therapists based on identities and populations.
HIV Information, Hotline, and Warmline
Therapy for Queer 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
4. Send Some Emails! Call Some People!
Now that you have a running list of therapists you’ve collected across websites and databases, it’s time to reach out. This step can be scary, so figure out a way you can support yourself during this time. You could have a friend hold you accountable, or even help you make the phone call. Setting up an after care plan can also be beneficial. For example, “after I’ve contacted a certain number of people, I’ll go get coffee and a pastry from my favorite shop.” Please take care of yourself and reward yourself along the way.
It’s helpful to have a miniscript or email template of what you want to say to reduce your own emotional and mental labor. When you call or email, simply state that you found their profile through [website] and would like to speak with them about starting counseling for the first time. If you have any questions straight away, you can ask those as well.
5. Feel Out the Vibe
Once you start reaching out, therapists will often want to set up a consultation phone call or Zoom to see if you are a good match. Sometimes this purely has to do with insurance coverage and other times it might be a matter of the therapist’s expertise or availability.
Getting a therapist is a two-way street, so you’ll equally want to feel out their vibe while reaching out to them. Every therapist will be slightly different. Similar to getting to know other people, you’ll want to tune into how you feel when talking with them. If the first therapist or session doesn’t match your needs, don’t give up! The first appointment for any therapist is an intake where you get to know each other; you’ll want to give it some time.
After the first few sessions you aren’t feeling it, that’s okay. You can fire your therapist! No big deal! You can return to your list and start again.
Every step of “how to find a therapist” process can be stressful and draining, so having a support buddy can really help, especially if you’re in this last step and you don’t know if the therapist you’re seeing is a good match. Trying to find the right person can be extremely taxing, give yourself some grace. Almost all licensed therapists will know how to do simple, brief counseling. If you’re feeling really stressed and overwhelmed, share as much as you need with them and ask for what you need.
This process is, well, a process. I wish our healthcare system was set up so that we didn’t have to jump through hoops, worry about payment or insurance, or spend time figuring out what type of therapy works for you. When you’re at a low point in your mental health, all of the steps are that much harder. Just know you are not alone in this journey. You will find the right therapist for you with some patience and perseverance. I wish you both of these things as you continue your self-healing journey!