13 Min Read

Finding a Therapist

Brad Brenner, Ph.D.

Your mental health matters. Whether you’re struggling to cope with everyday stresses, relationship issues, or mental illness, therapy can help you feel better. If you’re having trouble, it can help to remind you that you’re not alone—one in four adults in the United States experiences a mental health problem in any given year.

People decide to seek mental healthcare for a myriad of reasons. Some common mental health challenges include:

Anxiety

Everyone feels anxious from time to time—for example, you might feel anxious before a first date or making an important decision. But if feelings of anxiety and intense fear interfere with your daily life, you may be struggling with an anxiety disorder. Common anxiety disorders include social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and specific phobias.

As one of the most common mental illnesses in the United States, anxiety disorders are highly treatable. With mental healthcare, individuals with anxiety disorders can manage their symptoms and reduce feelings of anxiety to live a more fulfilling life.

Depression

Mild feelings of sadness are typical in everyday life. It’s common—and even healthy—to feel sad or hopeless following a challenging life event or go through a period where things just feel off. However, when feelings of sadness become frequent, long-lasting, and overwhelming, they can interfere with daily life.

Depression involves episodes of low mood that affect an individual’s ability to function in everyday life. Major depressive disorder, also known as clinical depression, involves feelings of sadness or hopelessness, low energy or appetite, sleep issues, and a loss of interest or pleasure. Depression is a highly treatable condition, and the majority of patients with depression respond well to and find relief from their symptoms with a combination of medication and talk therapy.

Anxiety and Depression

Many people with an anxiety disorder also experience co-occurring depression, which can exacerbate their symptoms and make recovery more challenging, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Both conditions share similar risk factors and can contribute to each other—with one condition worsening or triggering the other condition’s symptoms.

The best way to treat and learn more about co-occurring anxiety and depression is to seek individualized, long-term mental healthcare from a qualified mental health provider. Psychotherapy can help individuals focus on mindfulness and learn healthy coping strategies to manage their mental well-being.

Relationship Issues

Whether romantic or platonic, relationships are essential to all of us. Some conflict is normal in any relationship. However, when relationship issues become intense or frequent, they can lead to common mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. Sometimes, relationship conflicts can lead to emotional and physical abuse. 

Relationship issues come in many different forms, but some common situations include financial problems, trust issues, communication issues, and sex and intimacy struggles. If you’re experiencing stress or conflict in a relationship, working with a licensed psychologist, licensed social worker, licensed professional counselor (LPC), or licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) can help.

Work and Career Challenges

It’s normal to feel bored, stressed, anxious, and frustrated about your own work or career path from time to time. While a moderate stress level can keep you motivated or engaged in your work, regularly experiencing intense stress can interfere with your professional goals, relationships, and personal life.

Work stress comes in countless forms, but some everyday situations include being underpaid, conflicts with coworkers, burnout, unhealthy work-life balance, and workplace discrimination or harassment. If you’re dealing with work or career challenges, you might feel overwhelmed, have difficulty relaxing, or experience other common mental health symptoms, such as anxiety or depression.

finding a therapist withtherapy

In addition to broader mental health problems, talk therapy can help you cope with more specific issues, such as:

  • Addiction: Substance abuse is the harmful or dangerous use of psychoactive substances. Substance use can lead to addiction, which involves behavioral, cognitive, and physical dependence symptoms that develop after long-term substance use.
  • ADHD: It’s normal for younger children to forget to do their homework or get lost in a daydream. But when this type of behavior is disruptive or continues into adulthood, it could be a sign of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
  • Bipolar: The term “bipolar disorder” describes a group of mood disorders that involve alternating symptoms of mania and depression. While emotional highs mark manic episodes, depressive episodes involve emotional lows.
  • Borderline Personality: Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a personality disorder characterized by a pervasive pattern of volatility in interpersonal relationships, mood swings, and unstable self-image. BPD can influence how you perceive yourself and others and can interfere with relationships and functioning in everyday life.
  • Diversity/Cultural Identity: While cultural and racial identity can provide strength, they can also contribute to mental health challenges like stress and anxiety. Sometimes, stress and anxiety surrounding identity can lead to stress, struggles, and mental illness. Some common challenges related to racial and cultural identity include experiences with microaggressions, interpersonal discrimination, and structural and institutional discrimination.
  • Eating Disorders: Eating disorders are a group of mental illnesses related to an unhealthy relationship with food and body image. Individuals with eating disorders struggle with irregular eating patterns involving calorie restriction, avoiding large amounts of food, binge-eating, or excessive exercise. Common eating disorders include bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder.
  • Gender Identity: Struggling with gender identity and feeling like others don’t understand your gender are common experiences. Although identity struggles are common during adolescence and young adulthood, they can be experienced by anyone at any age.
  • Grief/Loss: Grief is a normal response to loss. However, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to grieving. While most people go through the grieving process at some point in their lives, it’s essential to understand that everyone’s experience is different.
  • Infertility: Infertility can cause emotional stress among couples and can significantly strain relationships. Sometimes, psychological distress from reproductive challenges can lead to mental health issues like anxiety and depression. If you’re struggling with infertility challenges, infertility counseling or couples therapy can help you cope.
  • Life Transitions: It’s normal to experience stress during a life transition. Sometimes, other mental health problems, such as depression and grief, can arise during life transitions. Life transitions can also exacerbate the symptoms of pre-existing mental illnesses. Consequently, it’s essential to pay attention to your mental health during life transitions and reach out for professional help when needed.
  • Parenting: Parenting can be challenging, whether you’re a first-time parent or supporting an older child. While raising a child can be a source of happiness and fulfillment, it’s often stressful. For some people, parenting struggles can be closely connected to mental health symptoms. If parenting issues are causing anxiety, depression, or other psychological concerns, consider reaching out for professional help from a family therapist.
  • Sexual Orientation: Opening up to a best friend or close family member about your sexual orientation can be stressful. Regardless of your sexual orientation, it’s normal to worry about being treated differently by loved ones. In addition to fear and stress surrounding coming out, individuals questioning their sexual orientation may also struggle with social pressures, discrimination or stigmatization, and relationship problems.
  • Sexuality and Intimacy: Whether you’re not having sex, not feeling intimate, or you feel like you’ve lost touch with your significant other, individual therapy and couples counseling can help you reconnect and navigate other issues in your relationship.
  • Spirituality: Spirituality can be a valuable source of happiness and fulfillment. However, spirituality—or lack of spirituality—can also be a significant source of struggle and stress. For example, you might question your spiritual beliefs, or you might feel stressed that you’re not living up to your religion’s expectations. If you’re struggling with your spirituality, consider reaching out for support from a mental health provider specializing in spirituality challenges.
  • Trauma: People experience a range of reactions to traumatic experiences depending on the event’s circumstances and the individual’s level of emotional and psychological functioning. Traumatic experiences include events like the death of a loved one, natural disaster, physical injury, and abuse. Sometimes, survivors of trauma develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following a traumatic experience. The symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks, intense anxiety, avoidance, and physical symptoms, such as headaches and muscle pains.
  • Women’s Issues: Identifying as a woman can be a source of strength, but it also comes with unique challenges. Navigating the world as a woman can create a significant psychological burden, and according to research, women are twice as likely as men to develop a mental illness. As a result, many women prefer to work with therapists who identify as women or have experience working with women.

It’s essential to keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list of mental health problems. If you’re experiencing a particular issue that is not listed here, don’t hesitate to reach out for professional help.

When to Seek Professional Help

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a mental illness to benefit from therapy. If the problems in your life make it harder for you to function or feel good, therapy can make a big difference. You don’t have to wait until you’re suffering to seek help—even if you’re not sure if treatment would help, it couldn’t hurt to explore your options. 

According to the American Psychological Association, you may benefit from therapy if:

  • You feel an overwhelming, long-lasting sense of hopelessness.
  • Your problems don’t seem to improve despite support from friends and family.
  • You have a hard time concentrating on work or find it challenging to carry out everyday activities.
  • You feel excessive anxiety, always expect the worst or feel on edge.
  • Your actions, such as using drugs or being aggressive, cause harm to you or others.
beginning therapy withtherapy

Some common types of talk therapy include:

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT helps patients identify and change unhelpful thinking and behavioral patterns. Numerous studies suggest that CBT leads to significant improvement in daily functioning and quality of life. CBT is an effective treatment for a wide range of mental health problems, including anxiety, depression, substance use, and relationship problems.

Psychodynamic therapy: Psychodynamic therapy focuses on the psychological roots of emotional suffering through self-reflection and self-examination. Psychodynamic therapy helps patients alleviate mental health symptoms, understand patterns in thinking and behavior, and live healthier lives. Psychodynamic psychotherapy’s effectiveness has been studied extensively. It is effective, and the gains achieved in therapy last and often continue to increase even after treatment has concluded

Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT): IPT helps patients address interpersonal problems, including social withdrawal and relationship problems. IPT is also helpful in helping patients manage grief, navigate challenging life transitions, and deal with interpersonal disputes. IPT can help treat depression, eating disorders, addiction, and other mood disorders.

Most people who seek professional help feel better. According to Mental Health America, more than 80% of patients treated for depression improve, while treatment for panic disorders has a 90% success rate.

Finding the Right Therapist

While many people use search engines like Google to search for a new therapist, others ask their primary care doctor or family practitioner for an in-network referral. However, a referral isn’t required to meet with a therapist. Many insurance providers also provide therapist directories to search by location, type of therapy, and specialization.

According to a growing body of research, the quality of the relationship between you and your therapist can significantly affect your treatment. As a result, it’s crucial to place your mental health in the right person’s hands to get the most out of your treatment. Although demographic attributes might not come to mind when searching for a new therapist, consider your personal preferences and requirements to find the best therapist. 

To narrow down your list of potential therapists, WithTherapy recommends considering the following preferences:

  • Age: Do you want to work with a psychotherapist who’s older, younger, or close to your age? While many patients feel that someone closer to their age will better understand them, others prefer working with someone older, with more life experience.
  • Gender: Do you feel more comfortable working with a man, a woman or someone who identifies as nonbinary? Many patients feel more comfortable opening up to a woman because they feel more heard and supported. For other patients, a caring male therapist is a good match. For trans and nonbinary patients, finding someone who shares their gender identity may be particularly important. On the other hand, it can also help to work with a cisgender therapist specializing in gender identity concerns.
  • Race/Ethnicity: Do you feel more comfortable working with a therapist who shares your racial or ethnic identity? For some patients, being able to open up to therapistatherapist about racial and ethnic concerns may be a priority. However, depending on where you live, it might be more challenging to find a therapist who shares your identity.
  • Religion: Do you feel more comfortable working with a therapist who has a particular religious affiliation? Although religion is a less common consideration, some patients feel that sharing a religious background helps deepen the therapeutic relationship through a shared world view.
  • Sexual Orientation: Do you feel more comfortable working with a therapist who shares your sexual orientation? Many gay, lesbian, pansexual, and queer patients seek therapists who share their orientation or are part of the LGBTQIA+ community. Similar to race and ethnicity, working with a therapist who shares your background can help deepen the therapeutic relationship.

It’s up to you to think about the type of therapist you would feel most comfortable opening up to. If you don’t have any preferences or requirements, it can be helpful to consider the credentials, certificates, licenses, and specialties of potential therapists.

For example, if you’re seeking mental healthcare for a specific issue or mental illness, narrow your search to specialists in that area. If you’re struggling with PTSD, consider searching for therapists with experience in trauma and who can give you their professional opinion on eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. Meanwhile, if you’re experiencing relationship issues, you might choose to search for a professional counselor with experience in family systems therapy.

Other Considerations

Finding a great match is essential, but there are other essential considerations to consider. One consideration is  which providers accept your insurance provider and what type of coverage you have. Additionally, you’ll need to navigate scheduling and geographic constraints.

In addition to preferences and credentials, be sure to consider:

Scheduling

Unlike other types of healthcare, many mental health providers do not provide a quick scheduling process, and many patients face long wait times and limited access to in-person mental health services. If you have a more flexible schedule, making an appointment with a therapist is easier. While early morning and evening appointments are typically in high demand, afternoon openings are easier to get. 

If you have a busy schedule, online therapy is a convenient alternative to in-person therapy sessions. With online therapy services like WithTherapy, patients can choose a treatment time that works with their preferred schedule.

Insurance and Fees

Therapy is expensive in the United States. If you’re not sure where to start, it can be helpful to research the average cost of therapy for your zip code. If you live in a major city like New York City or San Francisco, mental health care fees tend to be higher.

If you’re insured, using your insurance can help make therapy more affordable. Before starting your search, check with your insurance provider to understand what kind of coverage your insurer provides for mental healthcare. Depending on where you live, it’s important to keep in mind that roughly 50% of mental health providers don’t directly accept insurance.

For the most affordable therapy, use your insurance company’s therapist directory to find an in-network therapist. If your insurance provider requires working with an in-network therapist, keep in mind that this may limit your search for a mental health provider, and it may take longer to find someone who fits your preferences and requirements. 

On the other hand, if you choose an out-of-network therapist, you may have to submit a claim to your insurance or pay a discounted rate upfront. Depending on your out-of-network benefits, you may be able to see any licensed mental health provider.

If you don’t have health insurance, it’s still possible to find affordable therapy. Many private practice therapists offer affordable options, such as sliding-scale therapy sessions or lower fees for uninsured patients. Additionally, many interns at community clinics provide free or low-cost mental health services.

Types of Therapists

If you’re interested in a specific type of therapy or counseling, it can be helpful to search for a mental health provider with the relevant training and experience. There are a few different types of therapists that are licensed to provide mental health care:

  • Psychologists hold a doctorate in clinical psychology (PhD or PsyD), counseling psychology (PhD or PsyD) or School Psychology (PhD). Psychologists can make diagnoses and provide different treatment modalities, including individual, couples, and group therapy services. Some psychologists have training in specific types of therapy, such as CBT or psychodynamic therapy.
  • Counselors, clinicians, and therapists, including licensed professional counselors (LPCs) and licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFTs), are trained to evaluate a person’s mental health and utilize therapeutic approaches based on specific training programs, such as family therapy and couples therapy. 
  • Licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs) evaluate a person’s mental health and provide mental health services based on specific training programs. Clinical social workers hold a master’s degree or doctoral degree in social work.
  • Psychiatrists are licensed medical doctors with psychiatric training. They can diagnose mental illnesses, prescribe medications, and provide therapy.

What to Expect

Before your first session, set aside some time to assess your expectations. During therapy, you can be vulnerable, express your feelings, and navigate specific issues with a mental health professional.

However, there’s no rule about how quickly you’ll decide whether you and your therapist are a good match. Although you might have a gut feeling during your first phone call or within the first few sessions, remind yourself that your intuition isn’t always right. If you’re not sure whether therapy is right for you in the first place—or if your hopes and expectations on therapy aren’t met right away—it can be worthwhile to ask yourself why you feel this way.

For example, you might feel like your therapist should have all the answers because of their training in psychology. On the other hand, you might feel like they should accept your flaws without hesitation, or that they should offer advice to help you feel more understood.

Ultimately, finding the best therapist is a matter of trial and error. For guidance during your first appointment, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you want direction and guidance, or do you prefer space to explore?
  • Do you want to focus on your emotions or thoughts?
  • Are you trying to figure out things from the past to understand yourself, or are you looking to learn new habits?
  • Do you want unconditional support and empathy from a therapist, or someone who will actively challenge you?
  • Are you looking for ‘a-ha’ moments, or do you want to learn skills and strategies?

Reflect on how vital these elements are to you, and remind yourself that the process of therapy involves being open to new experiences and finding healthier ways of doing things. 

As you continue to narrow your search, consider scheduling initial consultations with potential therapists to discuss their theoretical orientation (that is, their general approach to how people get better when facing struggles) and your hopes and expectations. There are a lot of therapists out there, so yYou might try meeting with a few different people or scheduling multiple consultations before finding a good fit—and that’s normal.

Everyone wants to feel better, but improving your mental health takes time and requires vulnerability. If you have a question, concern, or fear about anything during the therapy process—from your therapist’s credentials to different types of therapy—it’s essential to be open and honest with your therapist. If you don’t feel like you can open up about personal information to your therapist after a couple of sessions, this could be a red flag. Above all else, asking questions and receiving direct answers is fundamental to building a strong therapeutic relationship. 

Final Thoughts

Finding the right therapist is extremely important. Whether you’re experiencing symptoms for the first time or struggling to cope with stress, taking the time and effort to find a good therapist can help you make the most out of your mental health treatment.

To find the best therapist, reach out to a clinical psychologist, clinician, social worker, or counselor through WithTherapy. At WithTherapy, we connect each patient to a shortlist of mental health professionals based on your personal preferences, requirements, and expectations about the therapy process. One of the qualified therapists on the WithTherapy platform will help you gain insight into your mental health, explore different types of therapy, and learn healthy coping mechanisms.

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