What to Look for in an Online Therapist
Teletherapy, also known as online therapy, is the online delivery of mental health services from psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors, social workers, and other mental health providers through video conferencing, phone calls, or text message. Online therapy sessions are similar to in-person therapy with one significant difference—instead of an office visit, patients and mental health professionals interact online.
From affordability to hassle-free mental healthcare, online therapy is associated with a wide range of benefits. Online therapy creates a safe space to express your feelings, combat negative thoughts, and talk through specific issues with a licensed therapist from the comfort of your own home—in a completely different way than you can speak to your best friend or family.
While many people ask close friends and family members for recommendations, others question their healthcare provider, family practitioner, or primary care physician to refer to a mental health specialist. Alternatively, many insurance companies offer therapist directories to help prospective patients search for in-network therapists.
However, searching for an online therapist can feel daunting, especially if you’re a first-time patient. Here’s how to find the best therapist for you.
Understand your options.
Not all therapies are the same, and researching different types of therapy and specialties can help you choose the best option when searching for an online therapist. Different people are licensed to provide psychotherapy and online counseling services, including:
- Psychologists usually have a doctoral degree (Ph.D. or Psy.D.) and are trained to provide psychotherapy services. During your search, you might see some psychologists listed as counseling psychologists and others as clinical psychologists. While a counseling psychologist helps patients cope with everyday problems, career struggles, and life transitions, a clinical psychologist focuses on more severe mental health conditions. In practical terms, these distinctions become less apparent the longer psychologists provide therapy.
- Counselors, clinicians, and therapists, including licensed professional counselors (LPCs), licensed mental health counselors (LMHCs), and licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFTs), hold a master’s degree in counseling, along with years of training and state board certification. Counselors may have specializations, such as adolescent and teen counseling, couples counseling, or family systems counseling. Online counseling can help people improve their mental health and learn strategies to cope with emotional problems.
- Licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs), usually referred to as clinical social workers or just social workers have a master’s degree in social work. While many social workers work in social services, others maintain private practices.
- Psychiatrists are medical doctors who prescribe medication and provide therapy services.
For every type of therapist, there are even more types of therapy. Understanding different types of treatment can help you start your search for the right therapist. Still, it’s important to remember that different therapists employ a mix of these techniques for each patient.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), some common types of psychotherapy, or talk therapy, include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT helps patients become more aware of negative thought patterns and problematic behaviors to cope with challenging situations more effectively. CBT might be right for you if you’re dealing with substance abuse, phobias, anger management, PTSD, ADHD, schizophrenia, or borderline personality disorder.
- Interpersonal therapy (IPT): IPT helps improve mental health symptoms by focusing on interpersonal relationships and communication and relational patterns, according to the American Psychiatric Association. IPT might be right for you if you’re dealing with an anxiety disorder, panic attacks, mood disorder, eating disorder, or relationship issues, such as family problems.
- Psychodynamic therapy: Psychodynamic therapy focuses on unconscious thoughts and beliefs. It encourages patients to find patterns in their thoughts, emotions, and beliefs to gain insight into their current mental health state. Psychodynamic therapy might be right for you if you have an anxiety disorder, depression, self-esteem issues, or traumatic experience you’d like to explore.
In addition to different forms of therapy, some professional therapists may also offer various treatment modalities, including family therapy, group therapy, individual therapy, and couples therapy. If a specific type of treatment stands out to you, you can ask your psychotherapist about that type of treatment during your first therapy session.
Prioritize your preferences.
Forming a strong therapeutic relationship is critical to the success of your mental health treatment, according to the American Psychological Association (APA). As a result, it’s essential to prioritize your preferences and requirements when searching for a new therapist.
The mental health experts at WithTherapy recommend asking yourself the following questions when finding a therapist:
- Gender: Do you feel more comfortable working with a man, woman, or someone who identifies as nonbinary?
- Age: Do you feel more comfortable working with someone younger, older, or close to your age?
- Race/ethnicity: Do you feel more comfortable working with someone who shares your racial or ethnic identity? Depending on your mental health issues, being able to open up about racial and ethnic concerns may be a priority.
- Sexual orientation: Do you feel more comfortable working with someone who shares your sexual orientation? Many LGBTQ patients prefer therapists who share their orientation or are part of the LGBTQ community. Some LGBTQ therapists also offer pride counseling.
To further narrow down your search, be sure to consider the credentials, qualifications, accreditation, and specialties of potential therapists. Are you looking for mental healthcare to cope with life transitions or experiencing relationship problems? Or do you think you’re struggling with a mental illness, such as panic disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)? If it’s the latter, working with a mental health professional with years of experience in that specific area can help you create the most effective treatment plan for your particular issue.
Above all else, remind yourself that finding the best therapist takes time, and you might try scheduling a few sessions or scheduling multiple consultations before finding a good match.
Consider other important factors.
Along with credentials, specialization, and demographic attributes, it’s essential to consider other significant factors to find a good fit for you.
What’s your price range?
You don’t need insurance coverage to receive quality therapy. Many online therapy services with lower fees, discounts, and sliding scale prices do not accept insurance plans, and taking the time to search for a therapy service with low out-of-pocket costs can help lower the cost of your treatment.
If you’re searching for affordable options, it can also help narrow your list to therapists who offer a free consultation. Additionally, many private practice therapists offer more affordable therapy options for patients without health insurance.
What format of online therapy do you prefer?
When it comes to online therapy, many people imagine video sessions on Skype. But online therapy is much more than that, with many online therapists offering text therapy, online chat options, mobile apps, and video conferencing. Many patients choose purely text therapy, and multiple studies have proven the efficacy of text therapy.
Many therapist networks also use online therapy platforms to ensure confidentiality and HIPAA compliance. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide what type of online therapy is right for you.
How flexible is your schedule?
If you have a hectic schedule, online therapy is a great option. Online therapy can help you secure openings that aren’t available through face-to-face therapy sessions. Depending on your flexibility, you might choose to schedule weekend appointments or after-work therapy sessions.
Additionally, be sure to consider how severe your symptoms or specific issues are. Some online therapy services provide unlimited access to text therapy and charge a flat fee rather than per therapy session, providing patients 24-hour access to real-time emotional support.
Schedule initial consultations with potential therapists.
Before scheduling your first appointment, it’s a good idea to schedule a few initial consultations with potential therapists. Chatting with your online therapist over the phone or video chat is the best way to express your mental health concerns, learn more about your online therapist, talk about the therapist’s approach to treatment, and decide whether he or she is the right fit.
Initial consultations can help you investigate important factors like out-of-pocket costs, availability, and how many therapy sessions to expect. They can also help you determine whether or not you feel comfortable. During your call, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you feel comfortable opening up about personal information?
- Do you feel like your therapist listens?
- Do you feel like you can be honest?
- Do you feel like your therapist accepts you?
- Are they willing to customize their approach to meet your specific needs?
A good therapist should provide empathy, compassion, willingness to listen, and an open line of communication. During your first online session, you’ll lay the groundwork for your treatment plan and begin to set specific goals.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions if something feels off. If you notice any red flags, such as boundary issues, remember that you’re under no obligation to continue your treatment. Therapy can feel challenging at times, but it should always feel safe.
Whether you’re transitioning from in-person therapy or searching for a new online therapist, it’s better to dedicate time and effort toward finding the right therapist instead of committing to the wrong person and searching again.
If you’re experiencing mental health challenges, reach out to a licensed therapist through the Therapy Group of NYC. At the Therapy Group of NYC, we connect each patient to a shortlist of mental health professionals to help new clients find a great fit. One of our qualified mental health professionals will help you navigate different treatment types to find the best solution for your specific mental health issues.