I’m a firm believer that in a perfect world with endless time and resources, everyone would be in therapy. Our bodies are taken care of with trips to the gym and regular checkups from doctors, so why shouldn’t our emotional health receive the same treatment? We could all benefit from periodic tune-ups from a therapist, and when life throws us curveballs, that need becomes especially clear. Most people operate under invisible self-created emotional patterns (many of which are destructive), so when we allow a professional to get an objective look at our lives and thought patterns, he or she can offer us a whole new way of moving through and looking at the world. A therapist can provide invisible keys to wellbeing that we could never have found on our own, but the best part of therapy is that the way a professional doles out those keys is by empowering you to discover them for yourself. Here’s how to find a great therapist!

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1. Ask for referrals. One of the most direct ways to find a good therapist is to ask friends for a referral from theirs. Some therapists won’t take on someone who is close with one of their existing patients because it can create a conflict of interest, but they may be able to refer you to someone great in their professional network. Depending on the context of your work environment and how supportive your family is, it can also be beneficial to ask coworkers or relatives for advice. Also consider asking your primary care doctor if they can recommend anyone to you.

Lots of friends are comfortable talking about this stuff at length, but if you’ve never discussed mental health with a pal or acquaintance, don’t feel like you have to spill a long story about why you’re looking for a therapist unless you want to. Simply saying, “I’m looking for a new therapist, do you like yours/know of any?” is usually all it takes. It’d be great if emotional health were always easy to talk about, but some friends may not be helpful or understanding (though that may just mean it’s time to spend a little less time with those friends).

If you don’t think you’ll find much support in your inner circle, it may make sense to carry on your search without a referral. On the other hand, you may receive a surprisingly positive response from your loved ones. If the people in your life seem like they’d be receptive, don’t let an assumption that you don’t know anyone in therapy stop you from speaking up — lots of people may just not think to mention it. Read the room first, but don’t feel that you have to live in fear of discussing a subject that, at the end of the day, is fairly universal.

2. Use the internet. Get started by Googling for therapists in your area. To narrow down results, look into each therapist’s specialty, see if you can find reviews, and try to get a greater picture of what they’re about. Lack of reviews doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not good at their job — not all therapists are even on the internet to begin with. Psychology Today‘s directory of therapists is an especially great resource, as every practitioner has to be somewhat vetted before their listing appears. The varying types of mental health professionals available — social workers, counselors, psychologists, and more — may seem daunting, but the good news is that they’re all equipped to help. If it’s too overwhelming, put that part by the wayside for now and just focus on finding an individual you think you’ll click with — those details can come back into play later if necessary.

3. Consider your budget and insurance. Obviously, the ideal is to find a therapist who takes your insurance, but finding someone who clicks with you is so subjective (and yet so  important) that sometimes you’ll have to look outside of your insurance carrier’s offerings to find the right person. Many therapists don’t take any insurance at all and instead charge a flat fee — luckily, many therapists also work on case-by-case bases and are willing to treat you on a sliding scale.

To find the widest range of options that work with your insurance company, call your provider and ask for a complete list of therapists in your network. They may initially offer to just throw out a few names, but having more options is always better. Lots of companies also offer a few free therapy sessions to their employees, with the option of being referred to a for-charge therapist after the free sessions end.

If you’re on a tight budget, look for therapists who work on a sliding scale, but also consider other affordable options like group therapy, free programs provided by the local government, and local universities, which sometimes offer free or discounted therapy led by graduate students. If you can find a way to afford therapy despite having to make some sacrifices (read: if you’re forced to choose between therapy and shaving off part of your going-out budget), consider making it a priority. The changes you make in therapy can positively alter the course of your whole life, and while it sucks to go out for drinks with friends less often or cut back on new clothes, the money you spend on therapy will pay for itself for decades to come in the form of greater happiness and fulfillment — who knew you could actually buy those things!?

4. Remember that it’s okay if you don’t click with the first person you meet. Your first session with a therapist is often considered to be more of a consultation that allows both parties to decide whether you’ll be a good fit, so don’t feel obligated to keep seeing someone if that first time doesn’t feel right. They may be the one with the expertise, but you’re the one paying them, so don’t be afraid to treat that first session somewhat like a job interview. You have every right to ask questions about what types of issues they have experience with, whether they have a specific technique, or anything else you’d like to know that doesn’t violate the privacy of their other patients. A therapist can be great at their job and still not right for you — it’s a very individualized practice.

It’s okay for a therapist to make you a little uncomfortable sometimes if it’s constructive — after all, part of their job is to steer your mind in new directions and perhaps hash out some old baggage — but if they make you feel shamed or judged, or just don’t seem to get you, that’s a perfectly good reason to give them a pass. If the two of you decide that you’re not a great fit, they may be willing to refer you to someone they think would be a better match for you, because a good therapist is more concerned about you finding the help you’re seeking (whether it’s with them or not) than in selling themselves to you.

5. Don’t give up. There are so many parts of this process that feel like impossible hurdles. Finding a therapist to even meet with in the first place is hard. Making that first phone call is hard. Figuring out insurance or how you’re going to afford it is hard. After jumping through all those hoops, you may find yourself frustrated that meeting with a therapist doesn’t immediately make you feel better. In fact, you may even feel worse for a while, because nobody loves spending an hour a week talking about the parts of their lives they’d rather never think about. The first few sessions can be especially tough, because therapy can feel vulnerable, and you’re essentially baring your soul to a person you’ve barely gotten to know yet.

Trust that this is all part of the process, even with a therapist who totally gets you. The most rewarding results of working with a therapist take time, but they make it so worth sticking things out. Give it time, put in the work on your end (you get out what you put in!), and trust that your life is about to change for the better.

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