11 Min Read

How to Find a Therapist Online: Tips for Finding the Right Teletherapist

Brad Brenner, Ph.D.

It’s so important, more now than ever, to take care of your mental health. If you’re feeling stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed, you’re not alone. According to the World Health Organization, although one in four people experience mental health issues during their lives, only two-thirds seek professional mental healthcare due to stigma, discrimination, and challenges accessing care. 

Online therapy, also known as teletherapy or telepractice, is associated with a wide range of benefits—from hassle-free mental healthcare to increased access to mental health specialists. Online therapy is as effective as traditional face-to-face therapy, but with one major caveat—instead of visiting a therapist’s office, you can access mental healthcare from your smartphone, tablet, or laptop.

In response to COVID-19 and social distancing measures, an increasing number of in-person therapists have started offering virtual counseling and telehealth services. Whether you prefer text therapy, live chat, or live video sessions, online therapy can help you step back, take a breath, and find the support you need from the comfort of your own home—all you need is a reliable Internet connection. 

However, finding the right teletherapist can feel daunting, especially if you’re new to online therapy. Sure, it might be tempting to type your zip code into your insurer’s website, choosing the first mental health professional you find, or sign up for the first online therapy program you find on Google. But, if you don’t take the necessary steps, you risk wasting time and money switching between online therapists until you find the right fit. 

Whether you’re a first-time patient or transitioning from in-person therapy, here’s everything you need to know to find the right online therapist.

Know what you want to get out of online therapy.

Figuring out what you want to get out of online therapy requires asking yourself questions and using the answers to narrow your search. Before starting your search for a teletherapist, here are some essential factors to consider:

What mental health challenges are you facing?

People choose to seek professional help for a wide variety of reasons, and understanding your main mental health concerns can help you narrow down your search. Some common mental health challenges include:

  • Anxiety & Stress: Sometimes, high stress levels and anxiety can take over our lives. As the most common mental health disorder in the United States, anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults annually. Anxiety disorders involve constant worry, feeling wound up physically, and always feeling on edge—but there are ways to manage anxiety symptoms and feel calmer.
  • Combination of Anxiety & Depression: Nearly one-half of patients who have been diagnosed with depression experience a co-occurring anxiety disorder. Feeling down sometimes is normal—and everyone feels anxious once in a while. But when overwhelming or persistent feelings of anxiety or depression interfere with your everyday life, it’s imperative to seek professional help.
  • Relationship Issues: Some level of conflict in relationships is normal—and can even serve as a healthy way to connect and grow. However, if left unresolved, relationship issues can lead to mental health symptoms such as anxiety and depression. In some cases, relationship issues can turn into emotional or physical abuse. If relationship issues become frequent, working with an online counselor specializing in family therapy or marriage counseling can help you figure out how to move forward.
  • Work & Career Challenges: Whether you’re feeling stuck in your current position, suffering from impostor syndrome, or experiencing workplace discrimination, your career can significantly influence your mental health. Experiencing some stress at work is expected at times, and it can even motivate you to meet deadlines or stay engaged in your career. However, if you’re dealing with work- and career-related stress regularly, reaching out to a professional therapist can help you learn valuable stress management strategies.

It’s essential to keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list of mental health challenges. If you’re struggling with a specific issue or having a hard time coping with everyday stresses, working with a licensed therapist can help you start feeling better. If you’re experiencing a mental health emergency, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit the nearest emergency room for immediate mental health support.

What’s your preferred session length and frequency?

Many traditional therapy sessions last around an hour, but you might prefer less time than that, or maybe more. On the other hand, some clients prefer to meet with their mental health professional more than once a week or only once a month. 

Some online therapy platforms also offer unlimited access to teletherapy, allowing patients to text therapists whenever they need real-time emotional support. Unlimited messaging therapy services typically charge a weekly or monthly fee rather than per session.

How flexible is your schedule?

Between hectic work schedules, traffic, and other hurdles, finding the time for an in-person appointment can feel impossible. Online therapy is an excellent option for busy parents and students, as it provides the flexibility to schedule appointments that fit into your schedule, regardless of your physical location. 

Depending on your flexibility, you might opt for weekend appointments or evening therapy sessions. To make the most out of your online sessions, treat them like in-person therapy sessions by choosing a time where you can minimize interruptions, distractions, and background noise. If you’re planning to video chat or send audio messages, be sure to choose a time where you have access to a microphone, Internet connection, and mobile phone or laptop.

How much does teletherapy cost?

For many people in the United States, the cost is a significant obstacle in accessing mental healthcare. To find more affordable teletherapy options, contact your insurer to determine whether your health plan covers the cost of online therapy services. Some insurance companies, like Medicare, offer therapists’ databases that enable prospective clients to search for mental health providers by specialty and type of therapist.

However, you don’t need health insurance to receive quality mental healthcare. When it comes to teletherapy, you may not use your insurance as some teletherapy services with lower costs do not accept health plans. During your search, ask yourself whether affordability affects the quality of psychotherapy.

Therapy sessions typically cost between $75 and $250, but therapy can cost as low as $20 per week, but that is a rarity. Online therapy can help lower out-of-pocket costs by eliminating transportation costs for clients in remote and rural areas. If you’re unsure whether online therapy is right for you, many online therapy platforms offer free trials for new patients.

Who do you prefer to work with?

As a patient, having preferences and requirements are perfectly acceptable. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association (APA), working with a mental health professional who shares an aspect of your identity can help you form a higher-quality therapeutic relationship, which, in turn, can lead to better outcomes. For example, if you’re a member of the LGBTQ community, you might feel more comfortable exploring gender and sexuality concerns with an LGBTQ therapist. 

Online therapy platforms like WithTherapy allow prospective clients to filter by gender, race/ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, and religion. If you don’t have any preferences or requirements, that’s OK too.

What type of therapist is right for you?

Several types of therapists can help you work toward your mental health goals. Understanding the differences between different mental health professionals can help you find the right therapist for your individual needs. 

Some mental health providers that you might encounter during your search include:

  • Psychologists hold a doctoral degree in clinical psychology (Psy.D.) or another field, such as education (Ph.D.). Psychologists diagnose mental health issues and provide individual and group therapy. Some psychologists have training in specific areas, like psychodynamic psychotherapy or cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). A clinical psychologist primarily focuses on treating more severe mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and ADHD. A counseling psychologist tends to focus on struggles adjusting, less severe mental health problems, and career and work difficulties.
  • Counselors, clinicians, and therapists hold a master’s degree and provide psychotherapy and counseling services. They work under a wide range of job titles, including licensed professional counselor (LPC), licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT), clinician, and professional therapist. Some online counselors have additional training in teen counseling, marriage counseling, and other fields.
  • Licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs) often hold a master’s degree in social work. Social workers are trained in case management and advocacy services. While some clinical social workers work in community-related fields providing low-cost mental health services, others maintain private practices.
  • Psychiatrists are licensed medical doctors with psychiatric training. They can diagnose mental health issues, manage prescription medications, and provide psychotherapy. Some psychiatrists have additional training in substance abuse, geriatric psychiatry, and other specialties.

What types of therapy are you open to?

Exploring different types of psychotherapy and deciding what kinds of therapy you’re open to can help you further narrow your search. Some patients respond better to one intervention than another, and your psychotherapist will consider factors like personality and your specific needs when determining the most appropriate treatment for you.

Some common forms of psychotherapy include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT helps patients identify problematic thinking and behavioral patterns to challenge situations and respond to them more effectively. If you’re experiencing mental health concerns like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance abuse, OCD, or schizophrenia, CBT might be a good fit for you.
  • Interpersonal therapy (IPT): IPT helps improve interpersonal relationships by focusing on communication and relational patterns. If you’re experiencing relationship problems or an eating disorder, anxiety disorder, or mood disorder, such as bipolar disorder, IPT might be right for you.

In addition to different types of therapy, many online therapists specialize in other treatment modalities, such as group therapy, individual therapy, couples therapy, and family therapy. Some online therapists also offer medication management services. If a specific type of therapy stands out to you, you can ask your psychotherapist about that form of therapy during your first teletherapy session. 

Do you prefer texting only, or do you want video conferencing and live chat options?

When it comes to teletherapy, most people think of Skype and Facetime sessions. But online therapy can be more than that. Many online therapy services offer text messaging, phone calls, video sessions, and live chat options with online therapists using a HIPAA-compliant mobile app or online desktop platform to ensure confidentiality. 

Depending on your preferences, you might choose to use a combination of these options. Alternatively, many clients prefer text messaging, with several studies backing text therapy’s efficacy compared to face-to-face therapy. However, it will likely take a high level of motivation to stay engaged with it in the long run. 

Finding and Vetting Potential Therapists

Now that you know what—and who—you want in your online therapy experience, it’s time to start your search for a teletherapist. Here’s how to make your search as hassle-free as possible.

Ask friends and family for recommendations.

If you’re just starting your search, asking close friends and family members for recommendations can help you save time when searching for a teletherapist. If you don’t know anyone in therapy, or they don’t feel comfortable disclosing who their therapist is, there are other ways to find an online therapist.

Ask your primary care doctor for a referral.

If you’re seeking professional help for the first time, consider asking your primary care doctor or family practitioner for a referral to a mental health provider. In most cases, your primary care doctor will be able to provide you with a list of providers that you can further filter based on preferences and requirements.

Expand your search to therapy databases.

The key to finding a great fit is searching teletherapy platforms and databases for the best fits. Here are some tips to help you find tons of potential therapists:

  • Use large databases and search engines such as Psychology Today and the American Psychological Association to find mental health specialists accepting new clients.
  • Search for online therapy networks using a search engine or an online platform to narrow down your search.
  • If you decide to use insurance to cover online therapy costs, use your insurance company’s online database.
  • If you’re currently a student, check your school’s mental health resources.

Then, filter your search according to your preferences.

After creating a list of therapists, it’s time to narrow down your list. This part might feel like online dating. While making your shortlist, your main question should be, “which therapist do I want to build a therapeutic relationship with?“ The therapist’s education, credentials, specialization, and character should match your requirements. 

If you’re using a therapy service like WithTherapy, the service will provide information on therapists to help you find the best option. Additionally, many therapists have personal websites with testimonials and “about“ sections featuring information on their credentials, experience, specialty, as well as their contact information. Even after finding a potential therapist on an online platform, you can conduct additional research by browsing their website or social media accounts.

If you’re struggling with a specific issue, it’s also a good idea to search for therapists with experience treating similar matters. For example, if you’re grappling with feelings of hopelessness and apathy, filtering your search to include depression specialists can help you find a good fit. Meanwhile, if you’re experiencing family issues, you might search for a counselor with experience treating adolescents.

Schedule consultations with potential therapists.

Before committing to an online therapist, schedule initial consultations with potential therapists over the phone or video chat. Think of your consultation as the coffee date before getting dinner—taking the time to talk with your therapist in advance can help you determine whether they are the right fit, ask questions, and learn more about them. Some online therapists and online therapy platforms offer initial consultations or free trials at no additional cost. 

If you’re using an online counseling platform, your free trial provides an opportunity to access the platform and evaluate its ease of use. WithTherapy offers a personalized matching service that searches for online therapists based on preferences and requirements, so you can save time and effort searching for the best therapist for your individual needs. Our easy-to-use system also makes it easier to switch teletherapists if things don’t work out.

Assess your expectations.

Before starting therapy, ask yourself what you expect from your therapist and mental health treatment. During your first appointment, you have the opportunity to express your feelings and talk through issues with a mental health specialist.

While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to finding the right therapist, you might have a gut feeling during your phone call or within the first few sessions. On the other hand, if you’re questioning whether online therapy is right for you in the first place, or if your therapist doesn’t meet your expectations right away, consider setting aside some time to reassess your expectations.

You might feel like your therapist should have all the answers, or you might feel like they should provide compassion and empathy without hesitation. You might try meeting with a few different people before committing to a mental health specialist, and that’s a normal part of the process.

To help assess your expectations before your first appointment, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you want structure or space to explore?
  • Do you want to focus on your feelings and emotions or thoughts and behaviors?
  • Are you trying to understand the past or focus on the future?
  • Do you want your therapist to provide unconditional support or actively challenge you?
  • Do you want to focus on insights or skills and strategies? 

The goal is to form a long-term therapeutic relationship.

Above all else, working toward a good mental health state requires time, effort, and vulnerability. Your therapist should be an active listener, check in on your progress, and help you set personal goals. If you have a question or concern about anything during therapy—from online counseling services to deductibles—it’s imperative to be honest with your specialist. 

If you don’t feel comfortable opening up to your therapist after a few online therapy sessions, this could be a red flag. Ultimately, being able to ask questions and receive genuine answers is the basis of a strong therapeutic relationship.

Final Thoughts

Everyone needs help sometimes. Whether you’re struggling with a mental health condition, relationship problems, or everyday stresses, working with a licensed therapist can help you learn valuable coping mechanisms and regain strength. Above all else, forming a high-quality, long-term therapeutic relationship can help you overcome mental health challenges and start your journey toward mental wellness. 

When you’re ready to start your search, reach out to a mental health provider through the WithTherapy platform. We know that deciding to seek professional help is deeply personal—and so is finding the best therapist for your individual needs. Our guided search and intelligent matching system will connect you to a psychologist, counselor, or social worker who’s right for you and your mental health goals. 

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