Mental Health

How Do I Deal? 8 Tips for Finding the Right Therapist

GNI readers share their tips for finding the right therapist. TL;DR the search looks different for everyone. (And that's okay!)

This May, we’ll be exploring various aspects of mental health in a new series called “How Do I Deal?” As we navigate Mental Health Awareness month during COVID-19 this year, we feel like this current moment in time requires us to go a few layers deeper as we learn how to manage all the grief hope, whiplash, fear, anxiety, and sadness we may be feeling in this moment and beyond.

Last week, guest editor Sahaj Kohli shared her tips for finding a good-fit therapist in our weekly newsletter — and asked you to share yours, too. The truth is the experience and the search looks different for everyone, and while taking the first step can be daunting, it’s easier with tips and advice from our friends. Seeing as though we’re all friends here, we thought we’d share some of your most helpful words in hopes they’ll work for someone someone else, whether new to this journey or ready to get back on the horse. Here are your tips for finding the right therapist.

1. Make a step-by-step plan for yourself or a loved one

“I think providing tangible steps to find the right therapist can hugely reduce the burden and fear of starting the search in the first place. Along those lines, I’ve had friends send me their criteria/what they’re looking for in a therapist (e.g. gender, race, sexuality, zip code, specialties, insurance, cost, etc.), and then I’ve done the initial search for them on Psychology Today! In my experience, the most daunting part of the search can be getting started, so when I can send them a somewhat pre-vetted list of 3-5 therapists, they’ve been able to set up the initial phone consultations more easily with less of a barrier to entry. I’ve found it much less stressful (and even fun!) to do the initial search for friends when I found it so overwhelming to do for myself, so even a sort of therapist search exchange if you’re both looking could help reduce some of the inertia of getting started. ☺️ And then you have the added bonus of built-in friends to share your therapy journey with, whatever that looks like for you!” - Emily L.

2. Know this doesn’t have to be your forever-therapist

“One thing that really helped me when I was looking for therapists was the knowledge that I could ‘break up’ with a therapist if I didn’t feel like it was a right fit. For a long time I didn’t realize I could do that, but I once I did, it made the process feel a lot less daunting.” - Neda D.

3. Try Talkspace and other apps to help find a fit

“I have some input on how I found my therapist. I was extremely fortunate to find my therapist on the first try a couple of years ago. Many of my friends have had such a difficult time finding someone who they ‘click’ with. I found him through We messaged about my mental health/family history for free over a few days, and I expressed that my finances were tight and was looking for someone who could be flexible with that. I became his first patient that he ever offered a discounted rate to, and he still offers it to me to this day. He is honestly one of my best friends. I didn’t actually utilize the website for therapy after we initially connected via the messenger. His office is in my area, so we have always met in person. During quarantine, we have been doing Zoom sessions, which has been an awesome alternative!” - Sarah B.

4. Use Therapy for Black Girls as a resource

“What has helped me was the Therapy for Black Girls website and podcast. The podcast itself is a nice introduction to Dr. Joy Harden Bradford and her knowledge in regards to the Black community and our struggles. Once I became familiar with the website, I used its directory to help find myself a Black therapist. Also, this Instagram profile: @be_well_with_dr_mechelle. It’s run by a black clinical psychologist. Her page is new, but it provides tips and tricks to help people learn to cope with difficult things in their lives.” - Ashley G.

5. Ask to negotiate a reduced rate if you need one

“Current LCMHCA (licensed professional counselor associate), here! Finding a counselor is like dating—not all of them were meant to be and it’s okay to break-up and try again. Also, therapy can be provided at a reduced rate if you ask. Sometimes interns provide free therapy under the supervision of fully licensed counselors. Practices can offer ‘sliding scale’ rates, dependent on your income (i.e. $10 for every $10,000 one makes annually). And, if you do not have or want to use your insurance, know that the ‘self-pay’ rates are usually much higher than what insurances would pay because practices and insurance companies negotiate. Some practices even have government grants to provide counseling for free or a reduced rate, but it’s not advertised.

As a provider and consumer of mental health services, I know how frustrating fees are. If you need this support and put in the effort to make the reduced rate worthwhile for the counselor (following through, communicating frequently about missed appointments or discomfort in the change process, etc.), no guilt or awkward feelings about money talks are necessary. A motivated client is sometimes worth seeing for free for a counselor!” - Jessica G.

6. Identify what you’re looking for in a therapist

“When I was looking for a therapist someone gave me the advice to think through who you want them to remind you of - a parent, a peer, aunt/uncle. I went with a slightly older cousin but close enough in age that we can relate vibe. This was such a help to think about it though!!” - Maggie S.

7. Be patient with yourself as you advocate for what you need

“The thing that helped me most as I was in the process of finding my therapist was realizing that breaking up with a therapist that isn’t working is completely acceptable! I was seeing my first therapist for a few months and I knew deep down that it wasn’t working, she just didn’t have the approach I wanted - I needed some more tough love and high energy, rather than the gentle, maternal vibes she was giving me. I was afraid leaving my therapist because she already knew so much about me, and I was terrified by the thought of having to reveal myself and my problems to someone completely new, to start from scratch. But it was easier than I thought to cut off that relationship (truly we just never set another appointment, and she never reached out to re-schedule and neither did I). Since then I found an amazing therapist (with the guidance/recommendation from my psychiatrist) that has the approach I need to flourish and the specialties I need to heal. I adore her.” - Kristina B

8. State your needs up front

“I recently switched to a new therapist and was VERY not excited to have to spend the money with someone who wasn’t a good fit. My solution was to write a very long intro email to everyone I found using Psychology Today. The email included…

  1. My past experience with therapy (it’s okay to say you have none too!)
  2. What I hoped to get out of a therapist/what topics I was most struggling with and wanted to dig into** (in my case I included things like my own relationship with my body, sexuality, and working as a white person in racial justice work). I clearly said I wanted to work with someone who had experience with and language for those topics.
  3. What hadn’t worked in previous therapy experiences
  4. Availability/schedule flexibility/insurance. This was a TON of detail to give, but ultimately meant that the people who responded were comfortable with what I wanted to get out of the experience and that led me to an immediate great fit. Sometimes the consult meeting in person is even MORE expensive than a normal session, so I think if you can get more of your goals/ask about their style done before starting a first session, you can spare a lot of the difficulty [of searching].” - Tori G.

What’s helped you most as you’ve looked for a therapist? Click here to subscribe to our newsletter, and be a part of conversations like this one.

Image by @alisharamos.

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