How to Find a Therapist
Here's a step by step process that I use for myself, and in coaching my friends through their own search:
Write a 200 words or less email blurb including:
One or two sentences about who you are. If there are any reasons you’re worried a therapist might not be well suited to working with you, or might discriminate against you (sexuality or gender stuff, addiction, neuro-atypicality, race, ability, cultural background, all that identity stuff) get it out there and out of the way right away. Yes, this can be scary, but IMO it’s better than wasting your time.
What you’re looking to address in therapy.
If you’ve been in therapy before, anything that was helpful to you in the past
Personal example: I find movement therapy very helpful. I also engage well with therapists who can/will use technical terms, explain what theories they draw on, or why certain approaches work without using lots of metaphors.
Anything that you know doesn’t work for you in therapy, or have had bad experiences with.
Personal example: Meditation is actively problematic for me; any therapist who pushes it on me is not someone I want to work with.
If relevant, why you might want to work with a particular therapist.
Do they have experience working with people who have autism, eating disorders, folks dealing with grief… whatever it is! Are you curious about CBT or internal family systems or art therapy? Don’t know what approach you like - don’t worry! There’s research that shows that your rapport with your therapist is actually more impactful than their approach. If you do know, include it.
Your insurance info and/or ability to pay out of pocket
Schedule info if your schedule is tight or inflexible
This doesn’t have to be perfect. They’ll do an intake with you anyway at your first apt. It’s just baseline info, and it’s really helpful for both you and the potential therapist, and might save you a consultation fee with someone who is not a good fit. As a bonus, this can help you identify some of your priorities.
Here is an example:
Hi, my name is Jamie, and I’m writing to ask if you are accepting new clients right now. I’m a 32 year-old gender queer person who works in academia. I have a history of alcohol addiction, but I have it under control right now and attend AA meetings regularly.
My father died this year, and I have a complicated relationship with my mother. I’m looking for support in dealing with family and work-related stress, as well as managing grief right now. While I am not seeking help with my romantic relationships right now, I am polyamorous, and I’m looking for a therapist who is comfortable with that lifestyle. I’m really interested in cognitive behavioral therapy, and might be interested in trying out some form of art therapy.
I use Blue Cross Blue Shield and my schedule is flexible during weekdays when I’m not teaching. Thanks!
You don’t have to do this by yourself! A friend can totally help. If you don’t have someone IRL who can help, check out online forums. There are support groups on facebook and reddit for folks dealing with all kinds of mental health stuff; people there have likely been through similar things before, and they probably want to encourage you.
Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
If things are really bad, or going through this process triggers anxiety and you can’t manage something that long, one or two sentences is totally fine! The point is to have something you can easily copy/paste to get a line of communication open.
If you are in crisis, call 911, or go to a local Emergency Room.
Send your blurb to 10 or more therapists. If you are a member of a community that you’re afraid might be discriminated against, aim for 15 to 30. Spam it. I’m not kidding. The last time I did this for myself, I emailed 25 or 30 and maybe heard back from 6. I just helped someone else in another city, and we emailed 10 and heard back from 2. Don’t let that daunt you.
The most important thing: Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Don’t stress about whether you’re sending your email blurb to the most perfect therapist who you will have for the rest of your life - just send it. Decide later.
Who to send to:
A) Visit The GSM-Friendly Therapist List right here.
Psychology Today is great! It’s what I use the most when the list above isn’t relevant. You can modify your search to include a variety of specialties, location, insurance, etc. The reason your email blurb is 200 words or less is so you can use their platform to contact people. Sometimes you’ll need to go through that therapist’s website to send your blurb.
C) Goodtherapy.org is another site you can use with a search function. I don’t use it, but it exists.
A list or a spreadsheet can help you track who you have contacted if that’s your jam. If it’s not, NBD. Just get your email out to as many folks as you can who seem like maybe they could be a reasonable fit.
If emailing triggers your anxiety, hand your blurb over to a friend who is willing to help with your contact info. Sit with them at the computer while they hit send if you can. Or have them on the phone with you if that’s possible.
D) If there’s a therapist who sounds great for you, but doesn’t have the availability to see you, ask if there is anyone they recommend. Many therapists have their own lists they’re happy to share.
E) Another method - I’m calling it the TinderBro method: You know how some people, usually men, just swipe right on everyone on dating apps, and only bother to read the profiles after they match with someone? Yeah. Why not try that? Send your blurb to everyone on a list. Just research the therapists who respond, then decide who is the best fit.
When you have heard back from a few therapists, they’ll each have their own process.
They may ask a few simple questions via email.
They will probably want to speak to you on the phone.
Ultimately they’ll want to set up an intake apt.
Intake appointments cost money, so if the therapist is not covered by your insurance, see if you can talk with them on the phone first to get a better sense of whether they’re a good match.
See the previously mentioned pro tips! The first time I had to talk with therapists on the phone, I cried the whole time. Get a partner or a friend to be there with you if that’s helpful!
Meet some therapists! If you can, try to meet with two or three before deciding who you stick with. If you have a particular concern about their ability to serve you, share it so they can address it.
Ex: “What is your level of comfort working with working with people who are ___________?”
“What is your experience working with people who are dealing with _______?”
If they avoid answering your question, or you get odd vibes, trust your gut, and consider trying the next person.
They may have a form with lots of questions - but remember, you’re paying for this, and it’s important for you to evaluate them as much as they’re evaluating you. Refer back to the priorities you set when writing your blurb, or write out some new ones if you want. Trust your instincts. You don’t have to decide to go with one therapist immediately, and you can walk away at any time if they don’t seem like they can serve you.
Set up regular appointments - or try out someone else. You can fire your therapist and go back to Step 2 at any time.
Other options for finding support:
Online therapy can also be a good option for many folks. Especially during Covid. More therapists are running virtual sessions, and that means you're no longer bound by geography... sort of. Unfortunately licencing often doesn't permit therapists to practice teletherapy across state lines, so it's best to look in the state you live and/or are insured in. International therapists may allow you to get around these restrictions. Check the resources page for some community-competent therapists who are based outside of the US.
Talkspace and BetterHelp are the two major pre-covid teletherapy options. They have different packages you can choose, and if you google there are articles that compare them.
I didn’t love text-based therapy; it took me too long to type out everything I wanted to say - but it was important for me as a step in learning how to advocate for my needs and wants with a mental health provider. Maybe it’s a good fit for you.
This shit is hard. Lots of folks have to go through this process to get support while they’re in the middle of difficult situations. It’s ok if it takes a little while, or if you ask other folks for help. Just know that getting through it and finding a therapist who works well with you is worth the struggle!