Your Mental Health Matters: A Resource Guide to Finding a Therapist
Mental health is a major topic of discussion for us at KCare. As CEO, I want to remind both our customers and employees that the new year brings new opportunities for prioritizing mental health.
At KCare, our customers dedicate themselves to demanding professions that deliver crucial social services to others. Unfortunately, mental fatigue and burnout is alarmingly high within these fields.
When taking care of others it's essential to remember to also take care of yourself, because your mental health matters too!
Getting Started with Mental Health Therapy: Where to Begin?
First of all, congratulations on deciding to consider therapy! Therapy can be a life changing first step to investing in your mental health. However, once you’re ready to take this step it’s easy to feel overwhelmed with the process of actually finding a therapist or counseling services that are a fit for you.
A recent survey from Verywell found that over half of Americans in therapy experienced difficulties getting appointments, finding a therapist, or finding in-network providers. After helping a few friends navigate their own counseling services searches, I saw firsthand how frustrating it can be. I’m sharing everything I know on this topic in hopes that it can be helpful in getting you through the first steps of your therapy journey.
Key Factors to Consider Before Starting Your Search
Before beginning your search for a therapist, I recommend you keep two main priorities in mind:
Your Therapy Goals
Before you start talking to prospective therapists, take some time to reflect on what you’re looking to get out of therapy. Are there specific issues you are looking to address? Don’t worry, this doesn’t need to be an exhaustive list of measurable therapy goals and it’s something you can work on figuring out together with your new therapist. That being said, I do think it’s helpful to take some time to think about your needs and why you’re considering therapy at this time.
Next, there are a few logistical questions you’ll need to answer to narrow your pool of prospective therapists.
- Do they accept my insurance? Unless you are planning to pay out-of-pocket, you’ll need to make sure that you find a provider who is in-network. Note that you may also be able to use an FSA, or perhaps get partial coverage from your insurance to pay for a provider that is out-of-network. For this, you need to ask if your therapist is willing to send you a monthly Superbill.
- Are they accepting new patients? As you all know, there is a serious shortage of mental health providers right now. While there are still plenty of great therapists accepting new patients, it is important to remember that you may find some therapists online who seem like a fit but aren’t able to accept new patients right away.
- Do they have availability at a time that works for you? It might be important for you to feel less rushed to get to therapy during the week, so you may be looking for someone with weekend availability. Or, to avoid going to therapy at the end of a long workday, or trying to fit it in between meetings, you may prefer to schedule appointments on your lunch break, or during the morning. It's important to find a therapist whose schedule can accommodate your availability.
- Are you open to virtual therapy or looking for in-person only? After the switch to virtual services during the pandemic, a lot of therapists have decided to continue with virtual therapy only. If you’re able to do virtual therapy, this will open up your pool of prospective therapists. Of course, this can be challenging for those with partners and children at home. Joining from your car, asking your partner to leave the house for an hour, buying a set of noise-cancelling headphones for your partner to use while you’re in therapy, or taking a walk are all options that can help make virtual therapy work. There are also still providers seeing patients in-person, so if this is a requirement for you, just be sure to factor this into yoursearch.
- Do they meet your requirements? You may have a specific provider identity (gender expression, race or ethnicity, sexual orientation, also a parent, etc.) you’re looking for in a therapist or perhaps you have a therapeutic style that has worked well for you in the past. If these are requirements for you, make sure to consider this in your search.
How to Find Available Mental Health Therapists
So now that you’ve identified what you’re looking for in your therapist and from therapy, it’s time to get to the fun part of actually finding a therapist. At the highest level, there are two approaches to finding mental health therapists.
- Get a referral from someone you trust: Getting a referral from someone you trust is an excellent starting point, although it may have its limitations. If you have friends or family members who have experience with therapy, they might be able to recommend someone they've previously spoken to, or their own therapist might have suggestions.
- Find a therapist online: This is a broad category, so let me break down some specific options on how to find a therapist online. This is not an all encompassing list, but I have included a table below of the best online resources I have found to date. I should note that I have not used all of these directories, so I can’t speak directly to the experience or therapist quality.
|Many U.S. States. See the Full List Here
|Referral & Billing Platform
You can search their directory for your specific area or fill out their matching survey. Part of their offering for therapists (who pay a membership fee to Alma) is that they will handle insurance credentialing, eligibility, negotiate higher reimbursement rates, and handle billing. So. I expect this means they will have a high ratio of providers who accept insurance, though there are private pay providers on the site as well.
|Many U.S. States
|Referral & Billing Platform
|This website is similar to the Alma model with great search functionality.
This is essentially a directory of all therapists using Simple Practice, perhaps the most popular private practice electronic health record (EHR), who opt into Monarch. The great thing about this directory is that, since it is linked to their EHR and scheduling tool, their availability is presumably up-to-date.
I believe this is the original therapist directory, and may be the most comprehensive. This one may not be as up-to-date on provider availability and noting if they are currently accepting new clients.
|Many U.S. States
The therapists profiles on this site have a lot of great detail, including a video intro, a breakdown of their out of pocket rates, whether they can provide a Superbill for out-of-network clients, and current provider availability. Similar to Alma, therapists pay a membership fee to Zencare to access the referral platform, but this looks to be purely a marketing and referral tool for therapists.
Once you have identified a list of prospective therapists, spend some time looking at their websites and reading more about their approaches to therapy. I’d suggest narrowing it down to roughly three therapists that you reach out to for an initial consult.
Finding the Right Fit
Now that you’ve put together a list of therapists you’re interested in, you need to contact them and decide if they might be the right fit. Before we get into the logistics of this, let’s talk briefly about the therapeutic alliance.
The Therapeutic Alliance
I’d argue that this is the most important factor, though perhaps less intuitive, when trying to find the right therapist. The therapeutic alliance is essentially therapist speak for “do you vibe and are you on the same page?” Extensive research has been conducted on the crucial role of the therapeutic relationship in attaining positive outcomes in therapy.
"Based on its 16 meta-analyses on aspects of the therapy relationship, the APA Task Force on Evidence-Based Relationships and Responsiveness concludes that a number of relationship factors—such as agreeing on therapy goals, getting client feedback throughout the course of treatment and repairing ruptures—are at least as vital to a positive outcome as using the right treatment method."
An analysis of 16 different meta-analyses is perhaps as meta as you can get. But seriously, that’s a lot of research saying that the therapeutic alliance is important, and possibly the most important factor to client success. According to Dr. Adam Horvath, a professor at Simon Frasier University and a leading expert in research on the patient-therapist relationship:
"A little over half of the beneficial effects of therapy accounted for [in previous research] are linked to the quality of the alliance."
If you’re not convinced by all these meta-analyses, I can tell you that in my personal experience, the therapeutic alliance really matters. You will want to feel comfortable being your most vulnerable with your therapist. Liking them as a person, being aligned on goals, feeling comfortable sharing feedback, and trusting that they are on your team all go a long way towards helping you achieve your therapy goals. A great first step in building a strong therapeutic alliance is finding a therapist who you connect with and makes you feel comfortable.
What to Expect During an Initial Counseling Services Consultation
Most therapists will offer an initial 15 minute introduction call, free-of-charge, to see if their counseling services might be a good fit. When you’re reaching out to therapists to get this time scheduled, you don’t have to explain much about your current situation- leave that for the phone call. Below is a great quick template you can use.
“Hi! I’m interested in [EMDR Therapy/Couples Therapy/etc] with you and I’m curious if you have availability in your practice at this time. My availability is [flexible within the work-week but I prefer weekends]. If you are currently taking on new clients, could we schedule an initial consult for [next week]?”
While there is admittedly not much you can cover in a short intro call, it’s a great opportunity to get a sense of their style and ask your questions. Questions you may want to cover could include:
- What might a typical session with you look like?
- Have you worked with clients that have concerns similar to mine?
- Do you have a caseload of culturally diverse clients?
- What should I commit to in order to ensure I’m getting the most out of therapy?
- Logistics questions regarding fees, insurance, availability, etc.
If you’re new to therapy, remember that while this conversation may feel very unnatural to you, therapists talk to people who are new to therapy all the time. They can help you get comfortable in the conversation, even if you don’t know what to share or ask.
In fact, when I was first doing consultations to find my therapist, I think I said something along the lines of “I’m struggling with X. I’m new to therapy and don’t know what to expect. What should I be asking you?” and the conversation was easy from there (especially with the person who ultimately became my therapist!). The most important takeaway from this initial conversation is whether you have a good rapport with this therapist and their approach to counseling services.
After you do initial consults with a few different therapists, it will be much easier to decide who to work with. Choose the person you clicked with the most (or make a couple more calls if you didn’t find the right fit) and get a regular cadence of appointments on the calendar.
I hope this guide has been helpful, and I wish you luck on your journey towards better mental health!
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