If you’re looking for a therapist for the first time and doing so virtually, finding the right professional for your needs can feel daunting.
But using online databases and asking a potential therapist questions about their process can help you decide if they’re a fit for you.
It’s also important to watch out for red flags during sessions, like a lack of privacy or plan for improving your mental health.
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If you’ve never gone to therapy before but have recently decided to get professional help, finding the right person for the job can feel daunting.
But it is possible to find a great therapist virtually with the right kind of online research, interviews with potential therapists, and consultations sessions, according to Andreas Michaelides, a clinical psychologist and Chief of Psychology at mobile health app Noom.
Better to use trusted online resources than friends’ recommendations
Finding the right therapist starts with research, Michaelides told Insider. There are plenty of online databases for therapists in any given area.
First, make sure you find a licensed professional, which could be a licensed psychologist, clinical social worker, licensed clinical social worker, or licensed mental health counselor, Michaelides said.
He suggested conducting your therapist search on your own, rather than getting referrals from friends or family.
“You want the therapist to be your therapist and not to be biased by all the other things,” that a friend or family member who referred you might bring up in their own sessions, Michaelides said.
Instead, use online databases like Psychology Today’s therapist database or the American Psychological Association’s Psychologist Locator tool.
Michaelides suggested staying away from any telemedicine databases that are review-based, since they often don’t paint a full picture of the therapists.
“I think when it comes to therapy, therapy could be really difficult for many people and also, therapists tend to work with people who have a disorders. And so sometimes the consequences of working with certain individuals could be that they leave you really terrible reviews,” Michaelides said, while patients who’ve had great experiences tend to leave no reviews at all.
When browsing therapists, they should all list their areas of expertise (such as “alcohol depencency,” “narcissism,” “PTSD”), the types of people they work with, and personal values. Some therapists leave brief videos on their database profiles, and Michaelides said these are a great way to get a preliminary feel.
Be clear about your realistic budget, and if your insurance covers it
Before you reach out to a therapist, it’s also important to know if they fit your financial needs.
Many online databases offer filters to ensure you’re only getting results for therapists that fit your insurance coverage.
Unfortunately, a large portion of therapists don’t take insurance, and that could make it difficult for some people to afford mental health services.
If you can’t find a therapist in your budget, you could discuss pricing and discounts with a therapist, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). Local support groups and community resources tend to cost less or be free.
If you can afford a therapist, prices per session vary depending on where you live and the therapist’s license type. In New York City, a session could be upwards of $1,000, while the same type of therapist in another city could charge $100 per session, Michaelides said.
He suggested noting the range of prices for various therapists in your area, and coming up with a price per session you’re comfortable paying.
Once you find a therapist you like, ask about their process
Once you finish research, it’s time to reach out to that therapist for a virtual consultation.
During the consultation, the therapist will ask for details about your mental health and what you hope to achieve in therapy. But you should also interview your therapist to get a better idea if it’s a good fit.
“It’s important within the first session or the first call that throughout that conversation, you actually start to feel comfortable with asking questions,” Michaelides said, because asking questions with ease suggests you’re comfortable with them.
At the end of your consultation, Michaelides suggested asking how they see your situation, what you can expect out of treatment, and if they have any tips for improving your mental health between sessions.
If you don’t start to feel better after a few sessions, re-evaluate
If you’re still unsure about the therapist you’re working with after two sessions, Michaelides said not to worry.
That’s because those first sessions are for “information gathering, and following that there obviously are more questions [that will come up] as you go through therapy, but it’s less information gathering and really diving into those target areas that we’ve agreed to work together on,” Michaelides said.
If you notice a sense of relief after your sessions, it’s a sign you and your therapist mesh well, according to Michaelides.
But if you get to your fourth or fifth session and still feel uncomfortable talking to them, or feel worse than you did before the session, it’s a sign they aren’t the right match.
Other signs you should search for another therapist include feeling like you know more about them than they do about you, and feeling like they don’t respect your privacy, Michaelides said.
Lastly, your therapist can’t explain your diagnosis and their plan for working with you long-term, it’s time to get back to researching.
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