Note of clarification: In this article, I am using the terms counselor and therapist interchangeably to refer to a provider who is trained and licensed by the state to practice. I am not referring to someone who may engage in counseling or counseling techniques who has not been formally trained to practice professionally.
If you want to find a doctor, there are several ways you could approach this. You could ask a friend, check the insurance website, the doctor’s website, or read reviews. Finding a therapist comes with unique challenges. I have listed the important factors to consider when finding a therapist below. Understanding this information helps you know what information to cover in the initial phone call or email when reaching out to a therapist.
1. Belief system
Should you only see a counselor who is a Christian? Short answer: It depends. Why are you coming to counseling? Is the issue you are bringing in affecting your spirituality? If you are coming to counseling for scrupulosity OCD in which you are having obsessions about your faith, it makes sense that you would want someone who is a Christian to help you discern what is an obsession and what is a healthy expression of your faith. However, let’s say you wanted to work through a specific phobia like flying. Would the person you’re seeing need to be a Christian in order to help you work through that phobia or could you work with someone who was respectful of your Christian beliefs, but didn’t hold those same beliefs? You may be worried that a non-Christian counselor might give advice that goes against your faith. However, counseling ethics teach that the client is to be counseled from their own belief system, not the belief system of the therapist.
Even though I have many clients who state they are Christian, their practice of Christianity may look different than mine due to different backgrounds or denominational beliefs. As a professional counselor, it is not my job to instruct them in how to live the Christian life. However, I can point people back to the Bible or if they view that as their guide. In my area, it’s not hard to find a licensed counselor who is a Christian. I have chosen to see Christian therapists because my faith is very important to me and that’s one less thing about myself I have to explain. If you can find someone who is a Christian, great! If you can’t, but really need help, work on finding someone who is respectful of your Christian beliefs and willing to include those in your counseling process.
While doctors tend to be categorized by certain specialties such as primary care or endocrinologist, the same is not necessarily true of counselors/therapists. Providers who do some of the same things may have completely different letters after their name. While there are some therapists who consider themselves generalists, most have certain types of clients they are inexperienced with and ethically would be unable to take on or that they are not interested in seeing. For example, couples would fit into both of those categories for me even though I receive calls for couples therapy. More commonly than being generalists, counselors tend to have a niche area or types of “ideal clients” they prefer to see and have received specific training to be able to help. You should be able to tell this from their online marketing.
Occasionally, therapists will refuse to take certain types of clients for personal reasons. For example, if a therapist loses a close family member, they may not take on clients for a time period who are dealing with grief and loss. While it may be unsettling for a potential client to hear that a therapist cannot take them on as a client, it is in the client’s best interest. The therapist may or may not be able to provide a referral for you to another local provider.
Therapists work a variety of hours. Some only work during the day while some only work evenings or weekends. Some work 2 days a week and some work 5. If you only have limited times in your schedule that you can see a counselor, it’s important that you communicate this information in the initial phone call or email. Remember that FMLA may be an option for you if you have been at your company at least a year. Your therapist will be able to fill out paperwork that will allow you to take the time you need to get to appointments on a regular basis. Therapists can write school excuse notes for your child as well if they have to be picked up early from school or dropped off late.
Finding online reviews for therapists or counseling centers can also be challenging. Due to the sensitive and confidential nature of counseling, people often don’t want to leave a public review. Ethically, therapists are prohibited from soliciting reviews from clients. If you know someone has received counseling and feel comfortable asking them, you may be able to receive a good recommendation. However, you may not be looking for the same thing in a counselor that your friend is. Your primary care physician or other medical professionals may also know of counselors in the area who may be able to help you.
Regardless of who you chose to see, you will need to think about how you will pay for counseling. While doctors almost always take insurance, therapists often do not. A therapist may take certain insurances or no insurance at all. They may tell you that you can file out of network benefits. In this scenario, you would pay the therapist up front and then submit what is called a superbill to the insurance company. The insurance company may or may not reimburse you depending upon your out of network benefits. If you want to use your insurance, your best bet is to call your insurance company and ask specifically about your mental health benefits. Sometimes these benefits are managed through the same company as your physical health insurance and sometimes, they are managed by a separate company the insurance has contracted with to take care of your mental health benefits. You will also want to find out if you have a deductible or a copay, so you know what your responsibility will be for your visits. Therapists will most likely require you to pay whatever your patient responsibility is up front. You may also want to inquire about your out of network benefits as this will open you up to more providers.
Note that billing insurance whether in network or out of network requires the therapist to give you some type of mental health diagnosis. Some therapists who do not take insurance have what is referred to as a sliding scale. A sliding scale is for individuals who can prove financial need and inability to pay the full rate for counseling. Sliding scale ranges vary greatly, so you will have to check with each therapist individually regarding this. If you can afford to, paying cash may be the best option for receiving specific types of mental health services (see above regarding specialization). By seeing a specialist in a particular area, you may spend less time in counseling, which may save you money in the long run. Whether you are using insurance or paying cash, you will want to think about what your monthly budget is for counseling before you choose a provider. Some clients come to counseling twice a month to reduce the financial burden and are still able to make positive progress.
Last, but not least, this is probably the most important factor to consider in finding a therapist. You want to find someone you think you will feel comfortable speaking with about things that may be difficult for you to talk about. Would you feel more comfortable talking to a male or female? What about someone who is older or younger than you? You may feel neutral about these things, but may have stronger feelings about something else. You may get a feel for whether or not you might feel comfortable with someone based on their website or by talking to them on the phone for a few minutes. If there is anything specifically you want to know about how your therapist works or whether or not they think they can help you with what you are bringing in, just ask. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need to help you open up either.
There are many factors to consider when finding a therapist. Not thinking through each of these factors on the front end may end up causing more headache and distress on the back end. If you are a believer, God knows exactly what you need. Start by praying that he leads you to just the right person to help you.