Choosing a Counselor: Finding what Works for You
I have had may discussions with people since becoming a licensed professional counselor about the best way to find a therapist. This process can feel like too much work, or yield too little of a result. I know that we didn't learn about finding the right help for us in school, so hopefully this article can lay out some nonjudgmental information about what goes into finding a therapist. This is not everything, and I honor that some individuals may be having different experiences, this is just a piece of my own experience as a client as well as a therapist.
1) Insurance: Where do I begin?
-Okay, so you have insurance, GREAT! What does that mean? It means that, based on your insurance plan, you could pay less for therapy depending on your plan, deductible, past medical history etc. Since plans tend to vary based on coverage, deductibles, and other factors (go here if you would like a better understanding of what it takes for insurance to cover mental health services) it is best to get familiar with what your plan actually covers.
-There is also the reality that insurance providers often give you a set amount of sessions with an in-network therapist and may stop covering the cost after a period of time.
-One benefit about having insurance is that they usually have a website that offers you clinicians that have been paneled by the insurance company to provide counseling services. Please know that insurances sometimes limit the amount of therapists providing a specific service like, DBT, Talk therapy, Addiction treatment etc. so there may be more therapists out there than what are being depicted by your insurance company.
-Sometimes using Google is the best way to see what is out there. Most clinicians have a website, or a listing on psychologytoday.com that offer insight into the type of counseling they provide, again this is not ALL therapists.
2) Self- Pay: You charge HOW MUCH?!
Self- pay can feel like a lot when considering a direct out of pocket cost. Most clinicians in the state of Ohio average between $60-$120 per hour and considering a monthly cost between $240-$480 might feel like a hefty investment, and that is totally understandable. Some things you may not have considered:
-Self-pay therapists along with you, the client, have less to "deal with" when insurance is out of the picture so therapy can be all about you. Instead of reporting claims, getting reimbursed, or finding out insurance won't pay for therapy, you just get to focus on being the client and getting the help you are seeking.
-It can open doors to therapists who may fall outside an insurance network and help you find someone you might not have known about.
-Sometimes self-pay therapists want to be paneled with insurance, but there are already enough providers in your area, and so they are denied access to being a therapist for the insurance plan.
-Self-pay therapists are not forced to give a diagnosis. Insurance requires providers to give a diagnosis after the first session in order for the company to have a reason to bill for the session. This diagnosis doesn't guarantee coverage, and becomes a part of your medical record, which can impact your insurances rates and be shared with other providers. With self-pay therapy everything stays between you and your therapist and a diagnosis is not necessary right away. You have more time to discuss what is really going on and get a working diagnosis in the notes which remain confidential.
3) Looking for a Specialist
If you have a specific set of life events, which require more than talk therapy, look for people who specialize in that thing. Having someone who has had the training necessary to provide appropriate treatment is worth it, you are worth it. Did you know that places like your insurance website, and psychologytoday.com have filters to identify what it is you are looking for? See example:
At the bottom of this photo literally just above this sentence, are the filters that pop up when you search Cincinnati, OH on the psychology today website. You can be as specific as you like with your requests to narrow down the therapists out there that are right for you. It is worth it to find someone who will meet your criteria. Again, psychology today requires therapists to pay for space to advertise, so this is also not the only place where therapists exist.
4) Alternative Routes: Finding a Therapist outside the Internet
Sometimes the internet just doesn't have what you are looking for, so it may require you to dig a little deeper in your search. The best person to help you find a therapist is actually ANOTHER THERAPIST. Try calling someone in your area and talk to them about what you are looking for, most of the time they have a list of people they can refer. You can also reach out to your Primary Care Physician, contact Community Mental Health Resources, and if you feel comfortable enough maybe ask your friends and family. Medical professionals often keep a list of therapists handy to refer their patients to along with Mental Health agencies, Colleges, and other community entities. Asking people you know can give you better insight and clarity into other therapists in the community, and may lead to a perfect fit. Please note that therapists have ethical guidelines, which may prohibit them from seeing you, again, they have a list of therapists to whom they can refer.
5) Interview your Prospective Therapist
Most therapists advertise, or offer some time prior to beginning therapy to talk about needs and expectations. Use this time to get specific. Therapy is like shopping for a car, if it doesn't have the space, the seats fit weird, or it just doesn't feel "right" keep looking. Taking what you can get as a client can be risky and may lead to unfulfilling therapy. This is not blaming therapists or clients, this is noting that when you don't enjoy the time you spend with a therapist motivation, change potential, resentment and self-esteem can impact progress. At the risk of making your life easier maybe consider doing some more research, and be willing to find the right counselor for you. The interview is also the time to talk with self-pay therapists about payment. As a self-pay therapist, and having paid for therapy out of pocket, I know that sliding scale fees are often not advertised, so ask whoever you are interviewing about their policy. You don't know until you ask, and sometimes you might be surprised.
6) You are Worth Great Therapy!
Okay, so after going through everything that you can consider when looking for a therapist please, PLEASE, PLEASE, know that you are worth great therapy. No matter what the circumstances or considerations might be, it is worth it to find the person who works best for you. No one should have to settle, suck it up, or deal with a therapist that they don't like, or don't "click" with. Therapy can be fun, life changing, supportive, engaging, and ultimately worth whatever investment you are making in yourself. Life is too short to settle for less, and you are such a gift as someone who is asking for help.
There are links throughout this article, which cite my references for information, if you have comments or additional thoughts please let me know. These are only a few tools to help you in your search for great therapy, and should you have any questions please visit anahatacounseling.com and contact me directly.