Finding a Therapist

By: Amy Marschall, PsyD – Freelance Columnist

If you have noticed that you’re struggling more with your mental health than you used to, you are not alone. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), 79% of psychologists report an increase in referrals for anxiety, 66% report an increase in depression, and 47% report an increase in substance dependence since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Data from Mental Health America in 2022 indicates that approximately 20% of American adults currently experience a mental health issue, and approximately 5% struggle with severe mental illness. In addition, the survey showed that more than half of those struggling with their mental health are not currently in treatment.

In addition, APA’s survey indicates that approximately two-thirds of providers surveyed indicate that they do not currently have openings for new clients. Essentially, people need mental health support now more than ever, but it is increasingly difficult to find an available therapist. What steps can you take to connect with a qualified provider?

Contact Your Insurance.

If you have insurance coverage, their customer support team can be a good starting point for finding a therapist. The company knows who is in-network and covered by your plan and can give you referral information. Since the out-of-pocket cost of therapy can be a barrier to services, many people need to use their insurance to afford the cost of care.

When you contact your insurance, you can also ask them about coverage and get an estimate of what treatment will cost you. (Insurance companies always caveat this information with a note that “Confirmation of coverage is not a guarantee of payment,” but it is at least a starting point.) Under the Affordable Care Act, health insurance plans in the United States are required to include mental health coverage. However, there may be limits to what diagnoses, session lengths, and number of sessions that are included.

Although the information is not always up-to-date, your insurance may also know which providers are accepting new clients.

Ask Your Primary Doctor.

Because many people’s first point of contact with the healthcare system is their primary physician, many PCPs keep lists of appropriate referrals. It is likely that your primary doctor already does some mental health screening when you come for an appointment; the U.S Preventive Services Task Force recommends regular screening for anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, and substance dependence.

Even if your doctor does not provide a mental health screening, you can bring your concerns to them and ask for a referral to a therapist. They may be able to provide a more personalized recommendation than your insurance company, as many physicians have relationships with their referrals and might know which therapist in their network specializes in the kind of support that you need.

Ask Your Friends.

Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control indicate that, in 2021, more than 77 million Americans received mental health services. This means that there is a chance that some of your friends and loved ones are already in therapy. Although stigma around mental health has declined over time, many people still struggle with asking for support or talking to their friends about their mental health.

It is okay to ask for and need help with your mental health, including talking to your loved ones about your difficulties. If your friend is in therapy, they might be able to provide a recommendation.

Therapists must follow ethical codes around conflicts of interest and dual relationships. This means that they must be mindful of situations where their ability to provide competent care to their clients might be compromised. Some therapists do not take friends of existing clients due to concerns that they might inadvertently be influenced in their relationship with one client because of their relationship with another client.

While the ethics code has some specific rules around dual relationships (for example, a psychologist may never provide therapy for a first degree relative of a romantic partner), friendships can have more gray areas. If your friend recommends their therapist, the therapist will determine whether or not they can ethically treat both of you. This will also depend on whether or not your presenting issues are within that therapist’s scope of practice and whether or not they have openings for new clients. The therapist will not be able to confirm or deny that they see your friend, but they can provide an appropriate referral if they can’t see you.

Use A Therapist Directory.

There are dozens of directories available online that you can use to find a therapist. Many include information about whether or not the therapist has openings for new clients, though the accuracy of these listings depends on the therapist remembering to keep their profiles updated.

Directories that can help you find a therapist include:

  • Clinicians Of Color: Clinicians of Color aims to allow clients the opportunity to find a therapist who shares their identity, race, and experiences in a field that is overwhelmingly white with a history of upholding white supremacy.
  • Headway: If you plan to use health insurance to pay for therapy, Headway can match you to a provider who is in-network with your plan. All Headway therapists accept insurance.
  • Inclusive Therapists: Inclusive Therapists aims to not only connect clients with providers who can help them but to reduce stigma and increase access to mental health services for everyone, especially those who have historically faced barriers to care.
  • NQTTCN: The National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network takes a social justice-oriented, intersectional approach to mental health. They are committed to providing mental health resources specifically to BIPOC and Queer communities.
  • TherapyDen: If you need to find a provider with a specific specialization or skill set, TherapyDen is a great resource. This directory has more search filters than any other directory so that you can find someone who is a good fit for your needs.
  • Zencare: Zencare was founded by Yuri Tomikawa after she became frustrated when she struggled to find her own therapist. The platform aims to provide accurate information about therapist availability and areas of practice.
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