I’ll admit I did not handle things well the first time I searched for a therapist. I punched in my zip code on my family’s mental health care provider website and picked from the first page of results. That was my search.
Because I didn’t take the necessary steps, I wasted time and money going from therapist to therapist before finding a good fit. I didn’t know about online therapy, which would’ve helped me because I didn’t have my own car and couldn’t rely on the limited public transportation in my hometown. Even after I found the right therapist, I moved across the country and had to start the process again (another hassle online therapy would’ve circumvented).
If you want an online therapist and a better search experience than I had, follow these steps.
Know What (and Who) You Want in an Online Therapy Experience
Knowing what you want means asking yourself questions and using the answers to narrow your search. Here are some important issues to consider:
Knowing What You Want to Work on With Your Therapist
Clients usually don’t receive a diagnosis until their first session, but there are ways of forming ideas beforehand. Try researching your symptoms or the issues you are struggling with. If it seems like depression, you might want a therapist who specializes in treating it. Or maybe it’s a big life event such as a divorce, move, job change, or death in the family. There are therapists who specialize in helping people cope with these changes.
Length and Frequency of Sessions
Most therapy sessions run for around an hour, but maybe you want less time than that, maybe more. There are also clients who meet more than once a week or, on the other side of the spectrum, only once a month. Then there are apps, like Talkspace, that allow people to text a therapist whenever they like and charge a cheaper weekly or monthly fee rather than per session.
Think about how severe the issues are. You won’t need to consider schedule as much, though. That’s one of the benefits of online therapy: sessions can be shorter and after normal work hours.
Therapy tends to cost between $75 and $150 per session, but it can be as cost-effective as $20 per week. Using an online therapy network will be toward the lower price point. When you factor it into your budget, think of it as another monthly bill such as electricity or Internet.
Using Health Insurance for Online Therapy (Or Not)
You don’t need to use health insurance to receive quality psychotherapy. In fact, circumventing it is more cost-effective on average. Most of the therapy networks with low price points do not use health insurance. During your search, think about whether health insurance actually affects the quality of therapy.
Choosing Your Therapist by Gender
As a therapy client, having a gender preference is not a problem, and most therapy networks or therapist search engines will allow you to filter by gender. Matching agents in therapy networks will ask you about gender preferences as well.
Nonetheless, don’t assume a therapist of the same gender will be a better fit.
The Most Common Forms of Psychotherapy
Another way of finding the best therapist for you is knowing what kinds of therapy you are open to. Here are some common forms:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy [CBT]: CBT helps you become aware of inaccurate or negative thinking so you can view challenging situations more clearly and respond to them in a more effective way.
- Interpersonal Therapy [IPT]: improves depressive symptoms by focusing on interpersonal relationships and their communication and relational patterns
- Psychodynamic Therapy: focuses on unconscious factors and encourages the patient to freely associate with the therapist only guiding
Are You Into Video Chatting Only, Or Do You Want Text and Phone Options?
Because of incomplete perceptions and popular shows such as “Web Therapy,” video chatting such as Skype sessions primarily comes to mind when people hear “online therapy.” But it’s much more than that. Online therapy includes texting and voice messaging with therapists using an app or normal phone service. Both unaffiliated therapists and therapist networks usually allow you a combination of these mediums. There are, however, thousands of clients who only text. Studies have proven the efficacy of purely text-based therapy such as this one by the Journal of Affective Disorders.
Finding and Vetting a Therapist
Start by Asking Friends and Family for Recommendations
A friend or family member recommending a therapist is the luckiest thing that can happen to you. It saves tons of time. You might not know anyone in therapy, though, or perhaps they are not willing to talk about it. If that’s the case…
Expand Your Search by Casting a Wide Net
The key to any search is casting a wide net and sifting through the data for the best fits. Here are some ways you can finds tons of options for online therapists before you filter:
- Use therapy databases such as Psychology Today, Psych Central or GoodTherapy, then see if your favorite therapists see clients online.
- Try an online therapy network with a search engine or matching agent who does the search work for you.
- Use your insurance company if you decided on relying on insurance.
- If you go to school, check their mental health resources.
- It’s OK to have simple Google searches be part of your process.
Then Filter by Who You Think Would be the Best Fit
This part is kind of like online dating. The question is: “Which person do I want to build a therapeutic relationship with?” The therapist’s ideals, credentials and character should be close to what you’re looking for. There are a few places where potential clients can learn more about a therapist and determine goodness of fit:
- The aforementioned directories such as GoodTherapy, Psych Central and Psychology Today have therapist profiles.
- If you use an online therapy network with a matching agent, like Talkspace the agent can provide information on therapists and help you determine goodness of fit. Online therapy networks without a matching agent will function similar to in-person therapist directories and often re-display the information found on these directories.
- Many therapists have personal websites with “About” or testimonials sections and blogs that show what they care about most. Even after a matching agent suggests an online therapist, you can do additional research by perusing his or her personal website or general online presence.
- With online therapy networks that provide their service as an app, there will be hundreds of reviews you can look at on iTunes or Google Play. Some reviews mention stellar therapists you can request via the network’s matching agent or search engine.
- Have you read a great article on mental health lately, one where you felt the writer understood you and spoke to your concerns? Check to see if a therapist wrote it. Online therapy networks have therapists who write great blog posts. Other therapists such as Dr. Perpetua Neo blog about mental health on The Huffington Post and similar publications. Neo told Talkspace readers should check whether a therapist is an author if they enjoy content on any popular mental health blog or publication.
The process is subjective and there is a lot of intuition involved, but there are some red flags for those who want to filter further:
- The best therapists don’t need to sell themselves so much. Their websites shouldn’t feel like a series of ads.
- Therapists should be willing to prove their credentials upon request.
Try the Therapist Equivalent of Meeting for Coffee Before Going on the First Date
Before officially starting sessions, consider chatting with your therapist over the phone or online. It’s an effective way to feel certain he or she is the right fit. It’s similar to how people who are considering dating one another will meet for “coffee” before going out to dinner.
If you’re using a therapy network, this is an opportunity to test the platform and decide whether you like the user experience. Some therapy networks offer a matching agent who does all the search and compatibility work for you, meaning you can skip coffee and go to dinner. This system also makes it easier to change therapists if things don’t work out.
The Goal is to Find a Long-Term Therapist Relationship
It’s better to diligently search once rather than committing to the wrong person and searching again. Follow these steps to find a therapist you can commit to for a long time and build a happier life with.
If you want more information on finding a therapist online, check out some reviews of Talkspace online therapy.