You’ve been thinking about looking for a therapist, read the book, “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone” by Lori Gottlieb and are ready to dive into all those messy pieces you’d rather leave tucked in the back of the closet but seem to keep calling for you to pull them out. And then you start making phone calls. You leave messages. You send out emails. And you’re not getting any responses. “Thank goodness I’m not that badly off…” you think to yourself.
In case you’ve missed all the headlines, finding a therapist is getting increasingly difficult to do. Between a surge in demand for mental health services and a variety of other factors, not the least of which is reimbursement rates dictated by insurance companies, this is becoming a challenging endeavor. There is, in all this dark news, good news; there are good therapists out there who are available but it does take some work to find them. Here are three strategies to get you started as well as a bonus suggestion on what might not be in your best interest.
Start by deciding on your budget or financial requirements. More and more therapists are going off of insurance panels (more on that in my next post) so before you start your search think about how much you’re able and willing to spend. If you have insurance and want to use that, start by understanding what your policy covers and what it doesn’t. Some policies cover a number of sessions. Find out if you have out of network coverage. The more preliminary work you can do, the better for when you get someone on the phone.
You may feel most comfortable by starting your search using the list of approved providers on your insurance panel. You can find out more about therapists who seem like they may be good fits by looking at their websites and/or giving them a call.
If you’re not going through insurance you can still start with this step. That will give you some idea as to who is in your area or who treats the issues you feel you’re starting with. If your issue is centered around grief and loss, you’re not likely going to want to start with a therapist who specializes in ADHD. If you’re seeking an in person therapist you’ll be able to use the list to narrow down the geographical location of possible connections. Many therapists now work remotely by secure video connection and this has the effect of making more therapists available to you.
There are also great directories that therapists get themselves listed on. While Psychology Today is the best known of these, there are many others that have more filters and, frankly, a better system for therapists to share who they are and what they do. Therapy Den and Mental Health Match are among the two best resources.
Be prepared to call and leave messages. Or emails. As a therapist I can only call people back on my short 10 minute breaks between clients or at the end of the day so it’s helpful if people tell me when they’re free so that I can try to time my call to actually get them on the phone. The more detail you leave in your email or voicemail, the higher the chances are that you’ll get a return call. I’m not talking about leaving all your personal history but this would be great; “I’m seeking a therapist who specializes in complex trauma and hopefully takes my insurance, Best Insurance Ever. I can be reached anytime between 2 and 4 or after 7pm. My phone number is 914-000-0000. Thank you.”
I could literally write another 1000 words telling you all about awful phone messages or emails I have gotten over the years that makes it either impossible or nearly impossible to return the message. The call from the friend’s phone that simply said, “I’m using my friend’s phone so I guess you can’t call me back but I’m looking for a PTSD specialist.” Or the, “I’m not sure if you can hear me over the leaf blower….” (Nope, couldn’t hear over the leaf blower!) The worst part? I know people really want to get in touch with me and I really want to connect with them!
Keep a list of who you’ve contacted as well so when we call back you’re ready.
Ask your friends, family, professionals you come into contact with, for references. Before you roll your eyes and say, “I have no desire to ask my family members! They are part of the problem!” Or “I don’t want to tell my friends!” Please remember that your friends and family might have resources that you aren’t aware of; they heard from their friends about a great therapist or how their friend’s mother’s sister found this amazing person. You don’t have to say it’s for you; it’s OK to say that you’re asking for a friend or a colleague.
Your doctor, dentist, lawyer, veterinarian, person who cuts your hair or aligns your back come into contact with therapists all the time. Don’t forget to ask the front desk people in each of those offices for who they’d recommend, “Dr. Smith just suggested Amanda Black, but in case she’s not available, do you have any other suggestions?” Remember, as therapists we go to those same people and, over time, they get to know us and we get to know them. Some of my best recommendations for other professionals have come from the people I interact with regularly.
Also be ready to be flexible with when you see a therapist. If you can only see someone after work, state that up front. If you can take your lunch break at 2pm, say that too. The more flexible you can be, the more likely you are to find someone to talk to.
As you read articles, search google for how to ideas or watch YouTube videos, start keeping track of the names you see or hear or watch. You can likely reach out to those people and ask them for suggestions. Read an article on sleep anxiety and realize that’s exactly what you’d like help with? Contact that person! Maybe they can’t see you due to licensing issues or aren’t taking on new clients but I would be willing to bet they’d be able to point you in a good direction. Therapists who are being helpful ‘out loud’ are likely more than willing to extend a hand; we didn’t get into this career for no good reason! We like to help, within limits. I, for one, will not be answering your call at 2am nor will I be able to find you a therapist who can speak Kalaallisut (one of the native languages of Greenland) but I can likely point you in the right direction!
What might NOT be in your best interest? While you’ve likely seen the ads that shout out the ease of getting connected with a therapist immediately, using your phone to access care ‘anywhere you are’ and any other number of conveniences, there is increasing evidence that such platforms are selling data about their clients. There are also concerns about confidentiality. As a therapist who worked with one of those platforms in the early years of their presence, I’m not totally knocking them but the more I learn, the more concerned I am about them, especially as that relates to client data and privacy. Your privacy matters, maybe more than you realize.
I hope these strategies have been helpful to you. Want to learn more or have a question I might be able to answer in a future blog post? Please feel free to reach out. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org