Getting Started with a Psychotherapist
It’s 2022, and finding a therapist can feel as exhausting as it did before the internet. While mental health stigma is decreasing, finding the ‘right fit’ can feel a bit like online dating — ghosting, scheduling issues, personality fit, and the list continues.
As a psychotherapist, here is how I educate people on how to get started.
Where to start:
Like most things, it all starts with how you’d like to pay for your services. I know, I know — commingling money with your mental health can sometimes feel uncomfortable, but let’s dive in:
Just because you have insurance, doesn’t mean that mental health services are covered. It can be deflating to have a job that has ‘good’ insurance and something so important as your mental health isn’t covered. I know because I have to pay for my therapist out-of-pocket — The irony isn’t lost on me (a therapist)!
Start by calling the number on the back of your card, or looking at coverage in your on-line portal. With HMO plans, you can’t always pick your therapist and you have to go with a referral from your primary care provider. Most PPO plans allow you to pick your own therapist.
Once you’ve confirmed your coverage, here are my recommendations for places to look:
- Your insurance website. To my knowledge, I’ve never gotten a referral directly from the insurance webpage, but it does legitimize if the therapist actually accepts your insurance. Typically, sites call this section ‘Provider Finder.’
- Psychology Today — This is a user friendly website where most therapists post services.
- Meetmonarch.com — This site is connected with Simple Practice (which is a large electronic medical record company that is popular among therapists.) This is where therapists bill, do video chats, write notes. The user flow is super easy for prospective clients
- Websites with easy user flow that I like: ZocDoc, Zencare, and My Wellbeing
- Openpathcollective.org — This is a site where providers (therapists) list sliding scale prices. The user pays a lifetime fee ($59), which allows you to search for people in your area.
- Referrals from a friend. When a potential client informs me they received my information from a friend, boy am I quick to respond — even if I don’t have any openings.What’s more, is that this therapist has been vetted by someone you trust. Yes, the therapist may not be a good fit, but it helps to have someone do a lot of the grunt work for you.
Once you find a therapist you’re interested in, next comes the first outreach.
A consultation call is a 15–20 minute, free, phone call that allows both parties (you & potential therapist) to see if it is a good fit. From a therapist’s perspective, they are listening to what brings you in, what you’re looking for, and trying to see if what you’re seeking is within their scope of practice.
This is a dual meeting — meaning, it’s as important for you to see if you feel safe enough and can trust the therapist.
As a psychotherapist, I encourage all to take as many consultation calls as possible. There is a lot of research that indicates the most important dynamic in psychotherapy is the connection between client and therapist. With that, it saves you a lot of time, emotional energy, and money to take the time to find the right connection.
Recently my husband scheduled a consultation with a potential therapist. Shortly after the consultation was scheduled, the therapist requested a full session via email. Without consent, the therapist emailed my husband the intake paperwork. This act left my husband responsible for advocating for a consultation, which the therapist offered as a service. My conflict-avoidant husband left the consultation feeling as though he had done something wrong. Aside from feeling defensive for my husband, I felt disappointed in someone I do not know because they represent the field I’m apart of.
If you think a therapist is trying to sell you or get you on the books, press pause.
Here are some questions you could ask a potential therapist:
- What do you do to foster connection?
- How do your personal values influence your therapy practice?
- Would you recommend me taking other consultation calls?
If you’ve never been to therapy, the intake session is a bit of an outlier. Typically, a therapist will send you over forms to complete, which includes some sort of psycho-social- emotional- spiritual assessment.
During the first session, generally you’ll go through the paperwork and a bit more detail about your past, present and future.
On one hand, it can feel odd to do this with a stranger. It can also feel pretty formulaic and structured, which can be easy. Structure is nice sometimes!
Session 2 or 3:
Once you’ve completed your intake, which can take 1–2 sessions, there sometimes can be a shift in the approach.
In my personal therapy, I have a therapist that will sit quietly and stare at me until I say something… Which wasn’t the case in the first session, where he was more vocally active in learning about my past.
I often educate clients on how shifting from a formulaic approach (the intake), to active interventions can feel different. Meaning, it can feel a bit awkward and not fully comfortable.
And remember, the relationship you’re developing is like any other relationship. The difference is that in this space you can, and encouraged, to express how you’re feeling.
Usually around Session 3 or 4, you have a good idea of what the therapeutic approach will feel like from your therapist.
Recently, I had a client who after 4 sessions told me they finally decided to stay with me. While I wasn’t actively questioning their commitment to my approach (their space), I praised them for continuing to assess what they need and I fit the bill. In fact, I want my clients to continue to explore and express their needs as we progress through time and space.
In the end, finding a therapist can be challenging — It can also be a great way to highlight your abilities to research, advocate, and experiment in your relationship with yourself and others.
Happy hunting, and remember to continue to be kind to yourself