Choosing a Therapist

If you are an AU Online student or your AU counselor has recommended a community referral to better meet your needs, you may be feeling a bit overwhelmed and unsure where to start. The following guide provides some information that is important to consider, and hopefully will reduce some of the stress associated with the referral process.

If you have health insurance:

  • Start by looking at your insurance company’s website. This will tell you if you need to get pre-authorized for therapy.
    • Don't let this discourage you! Often a quick phone call is all that is needed to obtain the pre-authorization.
  • You will also want to find out how many visits per year your insurance allows.
  • Some insurance websites will list the providers within your insurance network, and some will allow you to search the database of providers by areas of specialization. 

Unfortunately, provider lists on insurance websites are not always up-to-date, so you will need to make sure the providers listed are still practicing in your area. You can do this by searching for them online. Click here for more information on choosing the right therapist.

If you do NOT have health insurance:

  • The cost of therapy often deters those without insurance coverage from seeking help. If finances are a concern, it is important to know that many providers offer services based on a sliding scale, meaning they may set fees based on your income.
    • Many therapists have limits on how many reduced-fee clients they can see, so you'll need to check to make sure they can accommodate you. It is always worth asking, even if this option is not advertised on their website.
  • If you are unable to find a therapist who offers a sliding scale in your area another option is a community mental health center. These are government-subsidized facilities that offer therapy at lower rates than private practitioners. 
  • Although university counseling centers usually limit services to students only, some university psychology or counseling departments, or medical schools offer therapy to local community members at reduced rates or even free! These clinics are usually set up as training sites for students earning advanced degrees in counseling or psychology. All trainees providing services in these clinics are supervised by licensed clinicians.

There are so many therapists to choose from, how do I decide which one will be the right fit for me?

  • There are different kinds of mental health professionals. The website below has some information about each type. However, it is important to remember that the type of degree someone has doesn’t matter as much as finding someone that makes you feel comfortable.
  • The following website allows you to search therapists in your area, and search filters allow you to search by insurance provider, presenting concerns, treatment approach, and more.
  • Once you find a therapist that appeals to you, Google them!
    • Check out their website if they have one. Many will have information listed about their approach to therapy and areas of specialization. If the therapist you are interested in doesn’t have a website, or if you have questions that cannot be answered by reviewing their website, it is fine to call them and ask them about their approach and experience working with the concerns you would like to address in therapy.
    • Online reviews of therapists are also available. However, it is important to understand that reviews may be biased, so it is best to consider them with that in mind. Also, some therapists will have websites that mention their approaches and areas of specialization. If the therapist you're interested in doesn't have a website, it's fine to call them up and ask them a little about themselves.

Ok, I have decided on a counselor, now what?

Here is an example of how to leave a phone message or send an e-mail for a therapist that you are interested in seeing:

[NAME and CONTACT INFO] Hi, my name is _______.  I’m looking for a therapist.  My telephone number is _____.  It's okay to leave a message there.    

[REQUEST] Could you please let me know if you are taking new clients, and if so, how soon I might see you? 

[HOOK]  Do you have much experience working with people with depression symptoms?  If you could let me know very briefly what general techniques you use, I’d appreciate it. Thank you. I look forward to hearing from you.  

  • Questions to Ask When Interviewing a Therapist: Technical skills are not the only thing you are looking for. The feel of the message or conversation should suggest this person also has the personal characteristics of empathy, compassion, and perhaps (this would be trickier to determine over the phone) some wisdom as well!  You are looking for a connection that feels right, and that feeling should start to develop over the telephone before you even get to their office.
    • What's your training (i.e., what certification or degrees do you hold)?
    • How long have you worked in this field?
    • How does the treatment work?
    • How will we assess my progress?
    • How much will treatment cost?
    • What is your approach?
    • What’s the number of sessions you think we’ll need?
    • What’s expected from me? (For instance, are there homework assignments?)
  • Ask yourself these questions DURING and AFTER your first session:
    • Did the conversation feel natural and comfortable?
    • Did you feel safe and heard by the therapist? Do you feel they understood you?
    • Was the therapist passive or active in the session? What do you like better?
    • Does it seem like the therapist will be open to feedback about your experience with them, even if negative?
    • Does this seem like a safe place to express your thoughts, concerns and feelings?

What to Do if You Don’t Connect With Your Therapist:

  • Talk to your therapist. People sometimes feel angry or discouraged about their therapy. If you feel this way it is important to discuss these concerns with your therapist. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and voice dissatisfactions. The goal is for your therapy to help you, not invite more stress. A good therapist will be open to hearing your concerns and discussing your dissatisfaction with you.
  • Consider changing therapists. Good therapists realize that their approach might not be the right fit for every person. If you do not feel that you are improving, and after discussing it with your therapist, it does not seem likely that you will improve, consult another therapist.

*This information was adapted from various online sources. (http://jezebel.com/5703322/how-to-find-a-therapist; http://www.psycheducation.org/FAQ/find.htm#therapist; http://www.abct.org/DOCS/Members/FactSheets/GuidLine.pdf)