How to Find the Right Therapist for You

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Finding the right therapist can be an intimidating task. You may be wondering where to begin, where to look, or what to look for. You may fear that you won’t know who is or isn’t a good fit for you and your particular needs. I’ve been there; I have had to navigate this process both personally and professionally, helping me become uniquely qualified to help others.

As a counselor working at an outpatient mental health clinic near Union Square in New York City, part of my job was to talk on the phone with individuals calling in to our treatment center to request a therapist.

I worked closely with people like you – grappling with questions about therapy while trying to maneuver the systems of insurance, availability, and understanding therapy. On top of the logistics, individuals reaching out for therapy are often experiencing distress. Symptoms of anxiety or depression can feel crippling before adding the overwhelming nature of infinite options, unclear instructions, and mystifying distinctions (read more about when to see a therapist here).

After nearly ten months at the clinic, absorbing individual accounts of confusion, frustration, and concern, I decided to launch My Wellbeing. My goal at My Wellbeing is to guide people like you through the therapist search, ultimately helping you to find the right fit and to feel more confident in your early stages of healing.

Through my experience, I have come to believe in five important first steps for finding the right therapist. I am excited to share these steps with you today.

Step 1: Determine your budget. Be honest.

You are your most important resource. Investing in yourself, especially through something as powerful as therapy, has the potential to drastically return its investment by improving your performance, your relationships with others, and, perhaps most importantly, your relationship with yourself.

Take a look at your budget. What can you afford to invest in therapy? Social stigma tempts us to undervalue our self-care. Be honest with what you can afford to allocate for your personal growth and have courage to invest in yourself.

One way to better understand where to begin is to research what a therapy session costs on average in your city. For example, in New York City, an average therapy session costs between $200-$300 out-of-pocket. This range will vary by location and by the depth of the therapist's experience. Informing your expectations will help you frame your budgeting.

If your budget is tight, there are still options. Some therapy is covered by insurance. I recommend calling your insurance company to learn the specifics of your plan and coverage. Calling your insurance provider is free, private, and will not affect your rates. Below are two suggestions of what to ask:

  • What is your co-pay for mental health? This is what you would pay a therapist per session if they accept your insurance plan in-network. Co-pays hover around $20-40 per session; some more, some less.
     
  • What are your out-of-network benefits? Often, insurance plans will reimburse you a percentage of your monthly session fees. Through this method, you may work with a therapist who does not accept your insurance "in-network" if you are eligible to receive a "reimbursement," or money back from your insurance company, based on the Out of Network benefits of your specific plan. Note: this often depends on whether you have met your "deductible," or the amount of spending you need to reach before your insurance benefits kick in.

    I know, a headache and a drag, but this information is worth learning. You could save 100s or 1,000s of dollars and liberate yourself to work with a high-quality therapist, even if she, he, or them is not in-network with your insurance company.

    Set aside 10 minutes to make the call, and reach out to us at connect@mywellbeing.us if you need any help interpreting what you learn.

Why go outside of insurance?

In many cases, even if your budget is tight, it is worthwhile to consider a therapist who works outside of insurance. Sometimes, after your reimbursement, your per-session rate is close to what your co-pay would have been. Other times, the therapist will work with you to set an affordable rate that aligns with your budget.

Moreover, if you limit yourself to in-network only, you will severely restrict your options. Most therapists, particularly in NYC, do not accept insurance in-network because insurance companies do not pay therapists a living wage. Insurance companies also often ask therapists for invasive information, and your diagnosis will stay with you on your record. Therapists prefer to keep the information you discuss as private as possible, and accordingly, prefer not to share your information with any external parties, insurance included.

Before writing off a therapist because of fee, reach out to the therapist in mind and explain your circumstances. You may be surprised at what you can work out.

At My Wellbeing, we work with many therapists in NYC who offer sliding scales as low as $80-100 per session. Compared to their full fee, you may be saving $100-$200 per session. Let us know any time if we can help you find your fit.

Step 2: Determine your availability.

Consistency is key in developing a healing relationship in therapy. Most therapists will encourage you to come to therapy once per week. Some therapists, namely therapists with psychoanalytic training, may encourage you to come more than once per week. This opens up an opportunity to both unpack things going on in your life outside the therapy room, and to explore what may be happening beneath the surface, which once-per-week therapy does not always allow enough time for. Other therapists may be willing and able to work with you every other week, either for budget or scheduling reasons.

Most therapists will be very interested in meeting you where you are. When in doubt, ask. I understand this can feel intimidating. However, your therapist is there to help you. Worst case: you learn your therapist's schedule does not align with yours. That is much better to learn in the beginning than a few weeks in.

Beyond frequency, therapists often vary in what time of day they see their clients. Think about when your schedule allows you to engage in therapy and include this information in your outreach to therapists. Do you work 9-5? Would you prefer to start your day with therapy or see your therapist after work? Do you work evenings, prioritizing daytime hours for therapy?

A note: often, as evening hours tend to be the most in-demand, seeing a therapist during daytime hours or during a lunch break may help you negotiate a lower rate per session. If budget is your biggest concern, this is one way to make it work.

Step 3: Think about your goals.

Various types of therapy exist for various reasons. You may have heard of cognitive behavioral therapy, psychodynamic therapy, mindfulness, or psychoanalysis. These are four among many.

To distill what type of therapy might be best for you, begin by thinking about your goals.

  • What brings you to therapy?
  • What would you like to work on?

For example, if you are working through panic attacks, the best treatment style for you may look different than for someone working through challenging relationship dynamics.

A good therapist’s training may not limit the kind of obstacles they can help you with, but will influence the way in which the therapist structures the session and the therapeutic dynamic.

For example, on two different ends of the spectrum are short-term, concrete, goal-oriented therapy and long-term, insight-oriented, relationship-building therapy. The first will often encourage you to follow action-oriented to-do lists and complete homework assignments and the later will prioritize creating a space space for you to openly unpack anything and everything on your mind. It is possible to work with a therapist who practices both.

Where to start?

  1. Reflect on your expectations
  2. What kind of problem-solving works best for you in other environments?
  3. What kind of obstacles are you hoping to overcome?
  4. Read more about the experiences of others to get a better feeling for which kind of therapy you prefer to try first.

Remember: When in doubt, ask. Express your goals with your potential therapist to see if you have found a good fit.

You may also be flirting with starting tele-therapy, or therapy implemented through technology, like video or text therapy. This is another way to potentially make therapy more affordable or more accessible, as it comes directly to your electronic device. If you are able, I encourage you to pursue in-person treatment first. If tele-therapy feels safest or most do-able for you, it is important to at least take that first step in providing yourself regular check-ins and care.

Of course, if you would like more support connecting with the best therapist for you in NYC, let us know: connect@mywellbeing.us. We're here to help.

Step 4: Prepare for your first session and tune in to your gut.

You may be wondering how you can prepare for your first visit or whether there are specific questions you can ask to gauge your fit with your therapist. This often depends highly on you and your unique needs; however, here are a few questions you can start with:

  • What kinds of clients have you worked with in the past? When you ask this question, what you may really mean is: Can you help me? You may gain useful insight about the therapist and her, his, or their practice through the answer.
     
  • I feel a little unsure what to expect. Can you help me understand how this works? Particularly if this is your first time in therapy, your therapist will be able to walk you through what working with her, him, or them will be like. The therapist’s manner of guiding you may help you get a better sense of whether you are interested or not in the kind of work and process they describe.
     
  • Can we talk about the logistics? Are logistics on your mind and distracting you from deciphering whether the therapist is a good fit for you? Your therapist will be able to answer questions like how scheduling works, how is best to contact her, him, or them, how communication between sessions works, cancellation policies, insurance policies, and more. Though sometimes intimidating, the first step is to ask. Your therapist is there to help.

If you find yourself face-to-face with someone who is not a good fit, trust your gut instinct. Therapists understand the importance of fit and will understand if you move on to find someone better suited to you and your needs.

Step 5: Try and try again.

Rapport is responsible for over 70% of why therapy works. Accordingly, the process of finding the right therapist can sometimes feel a bit like dating. You may need to go on a few first dates before you find someone who you would like to see a second time, despite each therapist seeming like a puzzle-piece-fit on paper.

Be patient with yourself and with the process. This relationship may grow to be an important part of your personal journey. It is worth the time and effort required to find a good fit.

If you are not sure, try again. Often, therapists are open to meeting for a few sessions to feel out the dynamic and its potential.

If you have found your fit, congratulations. Therapy is an incredibly healing space. I hope you keep in touch and consider sharing your story.

All in all, thank you for your reading attention today. I hope these guidelines prove helpful for you in your search for a therapist. If you have any more questions or would like to connect, please email me at alyssa@mywellbeing.us. I look forward to hearing from you.

Alyssa Petersel