Congratulations! You’ve decided to schedule a therapy session to address your mental health concerns and improve your overall quality of life. That’s a big step toward positive change. Your next step, though — finding the right therapist — is just as crucial to your ultimate success in your journey to excellent mental health.
There are hundreds of thousands of mental health professionals practicing psychotherapy in the United States, with more earning their licenses and certifications every day. Although there are certainly similarities among all therapists, they have different job titles, offer different types of therapy treatment, and have training and practice in various specialties. At first, the sheer number of options might seem overwhelming. But once you learn what relevant information to look for in a practitioner, it’s much easier to narrow down your list of potential therapists and find not just a good fit, but the best fit for you.
First, identify the type of therapist you need to see.
When you Google “therapists near me,” you’re bound to come across various lists of names followed by lots of different initials like PsyD, PhD, LCSW, MFT, and LPC. These credentials can tell you a lot about a mental health provider’s education and area of expertise, which are both critical factors to consider. Here’s some insight into these different mental health occupations:
Psychiatrists (MD or DO) are medical doctors who specialize in mental health care and can prescribe medications. Most psychiatrists, however, don’t practice psychotherapy. Even though medications often complement psychotherapy, you don’t need a psychiatrist; a nurse practitioner or, in some cases, your primary care physician can take care of your prescriptions.
Psychologists (PsyD or PhD) earn a doctoral degree after four to six years of graduate work and an extensive amount of supervised work with patients. Psychologists can work with patients in private practice, teach, or conduct research in all areas of mental health.
Licensed clinical social workers (LCSW) have completed a master’s degree and thousands of hours of clinical experience to earn their licenses, after which they can offer psychotherapy treatment. Many social workers work in a social services setting, including schools, mental health care clinics, or child welfare agencies. Some social work only requires a bachelor’s degree, but those occupations are usually limited to case management or non-therapy services.
Licensed Professional Counselors’ (LPC) education levels vary from state to state, but most have earned a master’s degree and have thousands of hours of experience. They, too, are psychotherapists treating a variety of mental health issues and may work in private practice or a counseling center.
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT) specialize in therapy to address relationship problems. They offer couples therapy, family therapy, and also individual therapy, all with a focus on resolving issues and improving interpersonal relationships among family members or partners. Most states require LMFTs to earn a master’s degree and have hundreds or thousands of hours of experience, although these requirements may vary.
“Counselor” and “therapist” are usually used as umbrella terms for all types of licensed and practicing mental health clinicians, from psychiatrists to social workers. Pay attention to potential red flags, though. Different states have different sets of rules, so it’s always a good idea to check for a license and other state-required credentials for anyone purporting to be a counselor, therapist, or another mental health specialist.
Select an approach or type of treatment.
There are several different ways to practice therapy today, but by far the most popular is cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT. Psychology Today defines CBT as a “short-term form of psychotherapy directed at present-time issues and based on the idea that the way an individual thinks and feels affects the way he or she behaves.” One of the many reasons for the appeal of CBT as a mental health intervention is its effectiveness in patients of all ages and with a variety of mental illnesses, from generalized anxiety disorder to phobias to bipolar disorder.
Several treatment approaches, like exposure therapy or dialectical behavior therapy, fall under the CBT umbrella. And of course, there are non-CBT treatment alternatives designed to address specific concerns. When it comes to selecting a therapist, keep in mind that you might not find the right one for you on your first visit. If that’s the case, your therapist will provide a referral to another mental health professional. Therapists usually operate in a friendly, non-competitive environment, caring more about finding the best solution for your specific goal than losing your business to another mental health services professional.
Comfort is key.
Psychotherapy is also called “talk therapy” for a good reason — it involves a lot of open and honest dialogue. Ultimately, your ability and willingness to share your innermost feelings and private concerns requires you to be comfortable with your therapist. In many ways, your comfort level with a potential therapist can be the most critical thing to consider before making your first appointment.
Being comfortable with another person who you’ll turn to for mental and emotional support is a highly personal determination. It could be based on the gender, race, age, sexual orientation, ethnicity, moral values, or spiritual beliefs of the counselor. It also might depend on their specialty or years of experience, or whether they practice one-on-one counseling or in a group therapy setting. Sometimes it just comes down to a gut feeling. All of these considerations are entirely normal and understood by the mental health community.
The perceived stigma associated with therapy started dissipating a long time ago, and more people than ever are seeing therapists for a variety of reasons. You shouldn’t feel ashamed to ask your close friends, family members, or coworkers for therapist recommendations. It’s not expert advice you’re seeking, but opinions on who would be a good match for you. Sometimes that’s the best way to find the right therapist.
If you can’t gather enough information from a licensed therapist’s website or from external sources to get a good idea of your comfort level with them, it’s perfectly acceptable to make a phone call to request a phone consultation.
There will always be practical considerations that affect your selection of a therapist, like proximity to your home or work, hours of operation, and available appointment times. Most therapist directories allow you to enter data like your zip code to show available therapists in your area. Other tools, like With Therapy, use these criteria as well as your considerations to find your best match.
Many people hesitate to explore their therapy options because of cost concerns. However, the Affordable Care Act of 2014 required most individual and small group health insurance companies to cover mental health and substance use disorder services. Additionally, many companies have added employee assistance plans (EAPs) to their benefit options that include more mental health services than their insurance provider may offer.
If an insurance plan doesn’t cover you, there are still some ways to make therapy more affordable. Some therapy practices may offer the services of a less-experienced psychotherapist extern or intern — someone who’s working with patients in a supervised environment toward licensure — at a lower fee. Online therapy services or therapy apps may also be an option.
Contact Therapy Group of NYC today.
If you’re starting your therapy journey, consider starting teletherapy with the Therapy Group of NYC. Our mental health professionals understand the unique demands this city puts on your daily life, and we respect the individual differences of each of our patients. Let us match you with the right therapist and provide the personal service you deserve.