By: Tess Brigham
You feel hopeless, anxious, lost, and alone and have finally made the decision to go to therapy. You open your laptop, google “therapist” and your zip code and wait for the results to pop up. As you scan the websites and directories for therapists in your area, the pit in your stomach starts to tighten again and your anxiety begins to rise. You think to yourself, “How do I figure out the right therapist for me…I can’t even figure out my own problems!” There are hundreds of therapists to choose from and now you feel more lost than when you started this process!
I’m a licensed therapist and I know that looking for a therapist can be an overwhelming process for anyone. There are so many things to think about when choosing the right therapist for you. Below are the most frequently asked questions I hear from potential clients:
What should I be looking for in a therapist? Why should therapy be thought of differently than looking for any other doctor?
Finding the right therapist is similar to finding the right real estate agent, drycleaner, dentist, etc. with a twist. Just like when you’re looking for a dentist or drycleaner, you need to know they’re competent and able to do their job. The “twist” is you don’t have to feel connected, heard, understood by the person cleaning your clothes – you just need to know they can get a red wine stain out of your favorite shirt. You’re going to be spending a lot of time with your therapist than any other and you’ll be sharing intimate details of your life and you must feel like they understand you and truly hear what you are trying to say.
When you’re talking to a potential therapist over the phone or reading their website, see what kind of feeling you get from them. Are they someone you would chat with at a cocktail party? If they worked in your office, would you want to go to lunch with them? If you were in college together, would you invite this person to be in your study group? Therapy only works when you feel connected and comfortable with that person. As a unique individual, what’s right for your best friend may or may not be right for you. Trust your instincts and if it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t the right match.
I have found a few therapists that I like, now what?
All therapists are willing to spend at least 15-30 minutes on the phone to learn more about you and what you need help with. If they’re unwilling to have any kind of conversation with you over the phone ahead of time – move on to the next therapist. During the phone call, continue to listen to your gut and ask yourself, “How is this person making me feel right now? Hopeful? Energized? Or confused and sad?” If things feel forced or uncomfortable - move onto the next name on your list.
Feel free to call more than one therapist. Ask each therapist the same set of questions and see how their responses vary. This relationship is an important one, so take your time. If you talk to a potential therapist over the phone and you connect with them and like what they have to say, make an appointment. Worst case scenario, if you meet this therapist and it doesn’t feel right, just don’t make another appointment. You’ll be out the session fee but nothing is a complete waste of time, you’ve just gained some information about what doesn’t work for you and now you can ask better, more informed questions with the next therapist on your list.
How does insurance work?
Before I became a therapist, I had no idea how insurance worked and, to be honest, there are times it still confuses me. Some therapists accept insurance and some don’t. Therapists have to apply to be on insurance panels. So, if a therapist says they take insurance, you have to make sure that they’re on your health insurance panel. For example, if you have Aetna Insurance, you want to find a therapist that’s on that panel.
When you call a potential therapist, tell them you want to use your insurance. If they take that insurance (aka they are on that insurance panel) they’ll ask you for your date of birth, insurance number, maybe group number in order to verify that you’re eligible to receive services. The therapist should then get back to you on what your co-pay is, if you have a set number of sessions and anything else that seems pertinent.
Why doesn’t this therapist take insurance?
There are amazing therapists on insurance panels and there are amazing therapists that don’t take insurance. Whether a therapist takes insurance or not isn’t a factor of their value or worth as a therapist. All therapists in private practice decide whether or not they’re willing to take insurance. If you’re curious why a particular therapist doesn’t take insurance, ask them.
In my practice, I don’t take insurance for various reasons. I found dealing with insurance companies and their ever-changing policies difficult and anxiety-provoking. I realized I couldn’t be a good therapist while I was worried I wouldn’t be paid because I filled a form out incorrectly or thought someone was covered when they weren’t. In addition, I had to spend a lot of time on the phone with insurance companies and had less time to focus on keeping up to date on articles and books that pertained to my specialty. Do I lose out on working with some great clients because I don’t take insurance? Absolutely! I don’t begrudge a potential client deciding to go with a different therapist because they take insurance and I don’t. Which leads me to my next question…
Should I use my insurance or not?
This is a very personal decision only you can make but here are some things to think about: Can you afford to pay out of pocket or do you absolutely have to use your insurance? Everyone has different financial concerns, so if you need to use your insurance, search only for therapists that take your insurance. If you have insurance but could possibly afford to pay out of pocket, I recommend looking at both therapists that take your insurance and those who don’t. This goes back to finding the right therapist for you.
Therapy works best when you feel understood and comfortable with your therapist. If you have the choice, then I would recommend not picking someone based solely on cost. If you really click with someone, the therapy will be more effective and you will get to your goals faster. Look at it this way, it’s better to have 6 sessions with a therapist that you really connect with and pay $150 per session vs. choosing a therapist you “kinda” like, paying a $20 co-pay and finding that after 20 or so sessions you’ve gotten nowhere. The other thing to remember with insurance companies is that they’ll not pay for individual therapy forever. Some will pay for only 20 sessions a year, some more, some less. Don’t waste your precious sessions on a therapist that doesn’t “get” you.
Also an insider tip: if you are seeing a licensed therapist, and have insurance, you could possibly be reimbursed by your insurance company. What!? Here’s how it works: you see your therapist and pay at the end of your session; your therapist then creates a “superbill” or invoice which contains various codes which is needed by the insurance company. You can then submit this invoice to your insurance company for reimbursement. How much you’ll get back is determined by your plan.
One important note for this, however: for an insurance company to reimburse you for services of any kind, they want a diagnosis. This means if you want me to provide you with a “superbill,” I have to give you a diagnosis. Our world is ever-changing and I think to be diagnosed with anxiety or depression is no longer the stigma it once was but you may feel differently.
Why is therapy so expensive?
When you think about that hour of therapy, don’t think about it in terms of minutes, (i.e. “I’m paying $2.50 a minute for this person to listen to me talk about my mother!”). While you’re talking, we’re listening intently. We’re watching your body language, we’re listening to your tone and inflection, and we’re reflecting upon what you’re saying and how it relates to what we talked about during our last session.
Typical I can only really see 4-5 clients a day. Prior to each session, therapists are re-reading our notes from the last session and what the focus should be for today’s session. Or after your session, we’re researching articles/books we want to recommend. Many times, I’m reading books or meeting with colleagues so I can make good referrals. You only spend one hour with us but that’s not the only time we’re “working” with you.
How long will I be in therapy?
This is always a tough question because it really depends on you. Let’s say you sign up to meet with a personal trainer at your gym once a week for an hour. If that’s all you do, you probably won’t see any results. You might lose a pound or two and you may be a little more toned but you probably won’t look like Kate Hudson in yoga pants. Now let’s say you sign up with that personal trainer, go to the gym and workout on your own 3-4 days a week and change your diet then you’ll see changes. Therapy works the same way.
If you do not practice the tools and techniques your therapist gives you, if you do not change any of your negative behaviors, and you don’t read any of the books suggested, then your own personal growth will move very slowly and you may be in therapy a lot longer than you planned.
Am I crazy?
This is always a loaded question but the answer I always give is: no. One thing about being a therapist is I meet and talk to a lot of people and I’ve learned a lot about people’s hopes and fears, what makes them cry, what makes them laugh, and what keeps them up at night.
Here’s a secret: we are all the same. We all get sad, we all get anxious, and we all have fears. Going to a therapist doesn’t mean you’re crazy or too weak to handle your problems. It takes tremendous courage to say “I need help” and it takes guts to be vulnerable. It’s crazy to suffer in silence and to remain miserable, especially if there is a way out. If you need help…go get it.
There will always be people who see therapy as a ridiculous waste of time and money. That’s their opinion. I’ve been working with clients for 15 years and I can’t tell you the changes I’ve witnessed. I’ve seen marriages get stronger, I’ve seen people work through their grief, I’ve seen people get sober after years of trying, I’ve seen people pull themselves out of their depression and find their “happy.”
If you need help, please don’t let someone else’s viewpoint change or influence your decision. We all deserve to be happy, to find love, to find a meaningful career, to be healthy and to be whatever it is we want to be in this world. I hope you find the perfect therapist for you and that the process of therapy gives you the relief and hope you are looking for.
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