Everyone Deserves Therapy
tips for finding, assessing, or leaving a therapist
Let’s be clear: we can all benefit from therapy.
Few of us operate exclusively in safe, supportive spaces that foster mutual trust, respect, and purpose. Self-soothing practices help us cope with a less-than-ideal reality. But not all coping strategies are effective or healthy. Our needs also change over time. Good therapy — be it traditional psychotherapy or therapeutic activities — helps us feel safe, credible, and capable.
What does effective therapy look like?
When most people think of therapy, they think of psychotherapy — talking to a licensed professional such as a psychologist, social worker, or general therapist. Therapy, depending on the approach, can be more than just sitting in someone’s office talking. Combining therapy with an activity like dance or art can be more effective than talk therapy alone.
At minimum, effective therapy:
- cultivates a supportive space built on mutual trust and respect,
- expends resources purposefully and judiciously,
- produces tangible growth, and
- generates hope.
Anything less wastes your time, money, and effort; and may cause further harm or suffering.
Whether starting or continuing a client-therapist relationship, it’s critical to assess your satisfaction with the services you’re receiving.
Ideally, you can check every box in the YES column. If you check one or more items in the NO column, it’s time to discuss your perceptions with your therapist. Be direct and offer specific examples. It could be a case of miscommunication, misunderstanding, or a simple mismatch. True professionals welcome this feedback. They will go out of their way to deliver value, even if that means offering a referral elsewhere. Based on this discussion with your therapist, determine if you wish to continue therapy or change providers.
How do I find a therapist?
Finding a therapist requires thoughtful self-reflection, research, and preparation.
Gather relevant personal information. Prepare a summary of your mental health history that includes relevant past or current diagnoses, psychiatric medications, hospitalizations, and family history as applicable. Create a timeline of major life events, focusing on periods of transition or loss such as a new job, marriage, or death in the family. This information will likely come up in an introductory session. You can also use your history to develop your therapy goals and refine your search for an appropriate therapist.
Get goal-oriented. Define one short-term and one long-term therapy goal. It’s okay if these goals change, but for now, they’ll drive your search and give you and your therapist a starting place for prioritizing your treatment’s focus. Here are two examples of an immediate (short-term) goal driving towards a further (long-term) goal:
Example: apply to new jobs and find a meaningful career
Example: transition to a medication with fewer adverse side effects and practice techniques to manage anxiety
Identify your ideal therapist. Service providers differ according to specialization, personal traits, personality, experience, and approach. Compare credentials, expertise, practice areas, and populations served. You might prefer someone who shares a cultural context based on language, ethnicity, generation, faith, or another community.
Consider both what you want and what you don’t want. Unconscious biases can help or hinder establishing the trust and respect needed in a client-therapist relationship. Reflecting on people you instinctively trust and people who make you feel uneasy can point you in the right direction.
Shop around. Start with one of the following websites: Psychology Today, Yelp, Google, or your insurance provider’s in-network search portal to find qualified therapists in your area. Wherever you start, cross-referencing your first search results with the other sites listed can better inform your decision. Psychology Today’s “Find a Therapist” feature filters your options by gender, expertise, and approach, while review sites like Yelp or Google can weed out potential nightmares.
Determine cost and budget. Collect any health insurance information related to therapy benefits, coverage, and local in-network providers to establish your budget and a reasonable frequency or a maximum number of sessions. (Sometimes benefits and coverage related to mental health are handled separately under the term behavioral health.) Remember to call your insurance provider to determine whether the therapists are in-network or out-of-network, and confirm network status with the therapist, too!
If you’re uninsured, underinsured, or on a budget, search for local low-cost clinics, non-profit organizations, or sliding scale therapy.
Be flexible. The hardest part of this process is remaining open and patient to its trials and errors. After reaching out via email or phone, expect a brief phone consultation. From there, you can schedule an introductory session. If you find a therapist who checks most of your boxes, it’s worth a quick conversation to determine whether you’d like to meet in person. Very few people find a perfect match with one contact, so connect with multiple providers to find the best fit.
If your needs are urgent and don’t warrant medical intervention, seek local support groups and warm lines for more immediate assistance.
How do I contact a therapist?
Unless a therapist offers an email or website contact form, you’ll likely have to call. Expect to leave a voicemail. Preparing a written template that you can copy-paste into an email or reference during a phone call saves time and energy (while soothing potential anxiety).
Sample Voicemail: Hello! My name is _____. I found your contact information through [my insurance provider, Psychology Today, Yelp, etc.] and wanted to know if you’re accepting new patients. I’m available for a phone consultation [days and times]. My phone number is [#]. Thank you!
Sample Email: Hello! I found your contact information through [my insurance provider, Psychology Today, Yelp, etc.], and wanted to know if you’re accepting new patients. [Optional: I’ve been struggling to manage [issue] since [timeframe]. My short-term goal for therapy is (brief description). I would also like to work toward [long-term goal].] I am available for a phone consultation [days and times].
[your name & phone #]
What should I ask a therapist during a phone consultation?
Phone consultations help determine whether a therapist’s services fit your needs. Consider asking:
- What is your current availability?
- Do you accept _____ insurance as an in-network or out-of-network provider? Alternatively: Do you offer sliding scale therapy?
- Do you have experience treating individuals with a history of / currently navigating ____?
- How would you assess a client’s progress with goals similar to mine?
How do I discontinue therapy?
If you and your therapist only met once, a polite email is more than enough. In the email, thank them for their time and let them know you’ll be meeting with another provider instead. As a courtesy, include any positive feedback about their demeanor, office space, or insights.
If you plan to leave a regular therapist, let them know as soon as possible that you would like some time away. Your therapist may request a final “off-boarding” session. If budget and time allow, consider this opportunity to meet one last time. You may want to provide feedback, solicit referrals, and receive suggested next steps or parting wisdom. If you are unable to meet in person, prepare a tactful email instead.
Whether it’s a final session or email, explain your reason for pausing or terminating services. Thank your therapist for anything helpful. Citing what worked and what didn’t work helps you understand what is most and least effective for you going forward. If you wish to keep the possibility of returning, ask if you may contact them again in the future.
Still not convinced therapy is for you?
Here are five reasons why we all deserve therapy:
- Change: Therapy challenges us to think, perceive, and act differently.
- Comfort: Personalized care is a basic need, and having a safe space to be vulnerable and express oneself freely is deeply therapeutic. While comfort may not offer cures or solutions, it can stabilize and revitalize us amid painful life circumstances.
- Problem-solving: Therapeutic activities can unlock creative approaches to life’s difficulties and the exchange of good ideas. Therapists can also provide specific advice and guidance related to complex or sensitive matters.
- Education: In addition to navigating potential solutions and providing immediate relief, therapy can educate us on subject matters specific to our areas of concern or interest.
- Skill development: Therapy can also help us practice what we’re learning and introduce lifelong skills that improve our well-being.