Open Up the Doors: Suggestions for Finding a Therapist from a Therapist
“I never needed anybody's help in any way
But now these days are gone, I'm not so self assured
(And now I find) Now I find I've changed my mind and opened up the doors
Help me if you can, I'm feeling down”
The Beatles first sang these lyrics back in 1965 (and created a film!). While the song’s catchy tune makes it easy and enjoyable to sing these words, the reality of asking others for help is much more daunting. Especially when the help you’re seeking is focused on your mental health and/or substance use.
Fortunately, progress has been made in normalizing the need for psychotherapy in the United States over the years. Organizations (e.g., National Alliance on Mental Illness, the American Psychological Association) and social campaigns (e.g., Make It Ok) challenge the stigmatization of mental illness. Parity laws have been signed to promote insured access and coverage of mental health and addiction treatment. Psychological experts hold greater visibility on social media, while celebrity and public figures have endorsed therapeutic services. And there is an ever-widening array of mediums and products being offered to address wellness (seminars and workshops, podcasts, workbooks, online courses, phone apps, etc.).
While increased awareness and acceptance of psychotherapy leads to increased access, there is still pervasive uncertainty on how to access these services. As a professional counselor, people will often ask me for advice on finding therapist referrals. Having worked in a variety of clinical settings—in both practitioner and administrative roles—I have become well-versed in helping others navigate healthcare systems and the therapy referral process. Therefore, I want to use my education and privilege as a therapist to help, as the Beatles sing, “open up the doors" to the public by offering suggestions on how to find a therapist.
Before you begin your search, it may be useful to answer the following questions:
Where do you plan to seek services?
With the convenience of tele-therapy (and push for online services in response to the COVID-19 pandemic), clients have more choice in where their provider is located. However, it’s important to know that counselor licensure is state-regulated and dependent upon the location of you, the client.
For example: as a counselor licensed in Colorado, I can only serve clients located in the state of Colorado, regardless of where I’m located at time of service. If I wanted to serve clients located in other states, I would need to obtain full licensure reciprocity or temporary practice approval (which some states are currently allowing as part of COVID-19 emergency orders).
Who will be participating in therapy?
You can choose to seek individual care or attend therapy with a partner, spouse, and/or other family members. Group therapy can also be a beneficial option depending on the support you are seeking.
How do you plan to pay for services?
In-Network or Out-of-Network coverage of mental health and substance use services is dependent upon your specific insurance plan’s benefits, whether you have a private carrier or government program, such as Medicare, Medicaid, or TRICARE. In order to have insurance subsidize your costs, you will need to find a therapist who accepts your plan and be comfortable with having a mental health or substance use diagnosis, as this is required for claim submission and reimbursement.
If you don’t have health insurance, benefits that will cover your therapy, or choose not to use your benefits, providers can offer services at set private pay rates or on a sliding scale. Depending on where your provider practices (e.g., private or group practice, community clinic, non-profit), there may be additional payment or coverage options.
Which credentials, specialities or counselor qualities might be important?
Within the counseling field, there are innumerable specialities, certifications, theoretical approaches, trainings, etc. that clinicians are continuously seeking out to improve and expand their care. It’s important to think about what might be important to you based on your reasons for starting counseling. To name a few notable specialities:
Trauma-informed and/or formal trauma training (EMDR, Brainspotting, Somatic Experiencing, etc.)
Substance Use and/or other Addictions
LGBTQ+ affirming and competent
Kink and/or BDSM Aware
knowledgeable of Open/ Non-Monogamous relationships
Often, a therapist’s cultural identity factors (e.g., race, gender identity, sexual orientation) may be important and/or necessary to consider for building trust and safety.
To further facilitate your provider search, the following websites are considered some of the “go-to” referral resources within the therapeutic community:
Psychology Today Therapy Directory: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us
What makes this directory one of the most helpful referral finders is a person’s ability to narrow their search. There are a number of parameters you can set, including location, payment method, types of therapy, therapist identity factors (all questions you were encouraged to reflect on above!), along with language and presenting issues you want to address.
Open Path Collective: https://openpathcollective.org/open-path-staff/
From their About Us page, “Open Path Psychotherapy Collective is a non-profit nationwide network of mental health professionals dedicated to providing in-office mental health care—at a steeply reduced rate—to individuals, couples, children, and families in need.”
Insurance Carrier websites
Most (if not all) insurance carriers, private or government-regulated, offer some insight on how to get connected with an In-Network therapist and/or links to a provider directory that you can search based on your plan. If you have supportive and affirming relationships with a Primary Care Physician or a different medical professional, this may also be a helpful avenue in getting connected to mental health or substance use treatment.
If you’re feeling down (or anxious, stressed, angry, fearful, hopeless... ) and are ready to seek Help! from a professional therapist, the support is out there. More doors are opening each day. In my opinion, the reason why our society continues to de-stigmatize mental illness, and encourage the acceptance and awareness of psychotherapy is because you are not alone in your pursuit of wellness. You have a right to therapeutic care, and hopefully these suggestions can serve you in enacting that right.