One of the most common questions I get is how to get connected with a mental health provider. There are so many providers out there, and it can often be overwhelming and confusing to know where to look and how to get started. So here’s how I encourage people to start.
1. Ask friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers. When I moved to the Chicago area five years ago, I had to find new everybodys. (“Everybodys,” I think I just made that up, but you get the picture.) A new hair stylist, a new dermatologist, a new dentist, a new ob/gyn, a new primary care doctor, a new dry cleaner, you get the picture. And you know how I found all of those people? I asked people I worked with and lived near. Sure, asking about a dry cleaner is less personal than asking about an ob/gyn, but it’s the same process. Asking people we know for therapy referrals can feel scary to some, but isn’t feeling overwhelmed and stuck worse? And if you have to pull the whole “my friend is trying to find a therapist” card, fine. I’d prefer you to be authentic, but if using the “my friend” switcharoo is the only way you’ll ask, it’s better than not asking at all.
2. Call your health insurance provider. Though many people do not have health insurance, and some of those who do, may choose not to utilize their insurance for therapy, the majority of people are able to afford therapy because of their health insurance. Your insurance company will give you a list of people that are considered “in network” (aka people that they will pay for). This list will likely be overwhelming, so just consider it a starting point. Then you can compare this list with online reviews, provider biographies, distance from your house, or whatever other variables are important to you
3. Call your nearest college counseling center. You thought college counseling centers were just for college students? They are. But, what you may not know is that college counseling centers keep pretty up to date, as well as pretty tailored lists of referral sources in the area. So Google the closest college followed by the word “counseling,” and you’ll likely get to the right spot. Then, give their office a call, and say something like this, “Hi there, my name is Allison, and I live in the area. I am trying to find a few names for local mental health providers, and I know college counseling centers often keep lists of nearby providers. Could you please pass along some names of local providers; I would really appreciate it.” You may find one or two offices that will be stingy with their time or resources, only helping students, but ninety percent of college counseling centers will be happy to help.
4. Check out Psychology Today. Once you’re there, click on the “find a therapist” tab. From there, you can enter your zip code and then filter results by all sorts of criteria, including gender, level of training, areas of expertise, etc. You can see provider photos, read their bios, and learn more about their approach to therapy. A word of caution, lots of providers are not on this list, as it costs to be included in this directory. (Confession: I don’t pay to be included in this directory.) Nonetheless, lots of providers are listed here, and you have a chance to learn a lot about different providers in one place.
5. If you have a friend or family member in the mental health field, ask them if they know anyone in your area. Even if you mental health professional friend doesn’t live in your area, they will likely know providers in various parts of the country. I have colleagues and supervisors from grad school spread all across the country. You may be able to see one of them, and if not, they’ll certainly know providers in their area. This is a normal question for providers to get. We’re used to it, and we’re happy to help. Plus, if you’re concerned about stigma, you can rest assured we won’t judge; we spent a lot of time and money investing in this field, and most of us have spent time as clients in therapy, so we believe in it!
Finding a mental health provider can be tricky, but like the cliché says, recognizing you need help is the first step. Hopefully, the second step, finding a provider, now feels a little bit more manageable.