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9 stress-free steps for finding a therapist

Step No. 6: Treat the first month like a dating show.
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The unfortunate thing about trying to find a therapist is that in most cases, we don’t set out to do it when we’re feeling our best. Instead, we think about going to therapy when we feel we may need therapy the most.

In my experience, I’ve usually waited until I know I’m bottoming out and then I start thinking I should find a professional whom I can pay to start working on dealing with some of my emotional and mental baggage. Often, that just makes me more stressed out — who wants to do all that Googling and calling around while deeply depressed? No one, that’s who.

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Finding a therapist can be super overwhelming regardless of your state of mind, so I reached out to Eliza Chamblin, a licensed clinical social worker and a psychotherapist in New York City, to get some tips. Here’s a plan to help you find someone without freaking out:

  1. Find out what kind of insurance you have. Not just the name of the insurance, but the actual plan name. Usually insurance companies offer tens of different plan levels depending on what you pay each month, what you need and where you live. A therapist might say they take Blue Cross Blue Shield PPO Choice, but you may have Blue Cross Blue Shield HMO. You want to make sure they take your insurance, so the more details you have, the better. If you don’t know what kind of insurance you have, contact your employer! They will have your benefits on file.

  2. Keep your insurance info handy. Snap a pic of your insurance card and give it a little “heart” tap on your phone: There, now it’s in your favorite photos folder for easy access!

  3. Shop around. Check an app like ZocDoc for therapists in your area who take your plan. When I was trying to find a therapist, I was lucky enough to live in a city with an endless supply. But it was still hard to narrow down who I could actually afford to see. A start-up like ZocDoc will show you who takes your insurance and if they have availability to see you within two weeks. If you don’t live in a big metropolis, Google something as simple as “therapists in [your area]” and see what comes up. Chamblin also suggests asking a friend for a recommendation or asking them to ask their therapist for one.

  4. A therapist might not take your insurance, but your insurance may still cover visits. Some therapists might take your insurance right off the bat; you give them your info and you’re only responsible for a co-pay each visit. The rest of the paperwork is done between therapist and insurance provider to get the difference in cost covered. Other therapists will have you pay out-of-pocket in full on each visit, but provide you with paperwork so you can file a claim with your insurance company, which will then evaluate what percentage it is obligated to pay you back. If you know you’re someone who truly hates paperwork, you may want to find a provider who is in-network and save yourself the stress of the administrative tasks.

  5. Don't be afraid to ask for flexibility! Don’t rule someone out because of the potential cost. Some therapists see patients on a sliding scale depending on income and it’s always worth asking if their session fee is negotiable.

  6. Treat the first month of therapy like a dating show. “Just like with any other kind of relationship, personality, belief system, and style fit matter,” Chamblin says. “Just like with dating, you may need to try a few out. Don’t be shy about doing so and don’t give up. Follow your intuition.” Try setting up a few different appointments with a few different therapists to see who may be a good fit for you.

  7. Check in with yourself. Take note of commute time to and from the therapist's office, how you feel when you talk to them, how you feel when you leave their office. Do you feel comfortable? Accepted? Understood? Seen? You may not be able to know all of that after one visit, but you should be able to get an idea of a therapist’s bedside manner and if their personality vibes with yours. Chamblin says, “you don’t have to be clear on your problems or goals as exploring and goal setting is one of the initial collaborative tasks that a therapist can support with.”

  8. Call in a favor with a friend if phone calls stress you out. Lots of people find the task of ringing up a bunch of different doctors just to book one appointment to be a serious roadblock. Ask a friend you trust if they wouldn’t mind helping you make some preliminary calls. Doctors are used to this, seriously!

  9. If you’re comfortable emailing, try using this template! Remember, therapists especially are sensitive to the needs of patients and prospective patients. They’ve heard it all! Try sending a message like this:

Hi! My name is [name] and I saw your services listed when I googled therapists in [where you live]. Right now I am dealing with feelings of [sadness, lack of energy, confusion, stress, whatever applies!] and I am trying to find someone to talk to. I have not been to therapy [before/in awhile]. My insurance is [your plan]. Is that in your network? If not, what is your session rate? Talking on the phone can sometimes make me nervous, so I would love it if you could email me back any availability you have so we can set up an appointment. Thank you!

Finding a doctor in any field can be a huge pain in the you-know-what, but hopefully these few steps can help the mountainous task seem a little more like a manageable hill.