How to Find the Right Therapist for You
Finding the mental healthcare that fits all your needs can be very overwhelming. (Believe us, we’ve been there.) The internet is filled with self-proclaimed “mental health experts” and more information on mental health than someone ever could read in a lifetime, so let us help you narrow it down to the truly important deets. After all, if you believe that you could benefit from mental health services, you deserve the best information possible.
How do I know if therapy is right for me?
Be honest with yourself. If you’re experiencing overwhelming stress, anxiety, severe sadness, fatigue, abnormal sleep patterns, feelings of worthlessness, low energy or any other feelings that interfere with your overall wellbeing and ability to eat, sleep or work, then you may want to reach out to a trusted mental health professional.
If you don’t have any pressing symptoms, that’s okay! Being proactive in your mental healthcare is an excellent way to prevent future life stressors from affecting your wellbeing. Maybe you’re going through a big life change (think a move, new career, etc.), you’re experiencing relationship issues, or you just haven’t felt like yourself. Whatever the reason, mental healthcare is for everyone, no matter what stage you’re at in life.
How do I find a therapist?
Despite a seemingly abundant amount of mental health resources, they can be overwhelming and appear inaccessible. It’s hard enough navigating mental health service providers, but when add in thousands of counselors on every site it can seem seriously impossible. Don't worry though, with the right resources you can definitely kickstart your journey to better mental health. Put on those blue light glasses, because it’s time for us to do a whole lotta research!
Let’s start this journey by writing down everything you’re looking for out of your therapy experience. As you begin your research, reference this list while comparing practitioners and service providers, and add to it as new questions arise.
Think: Do I want online or in-person therapy? Do I even want therapy? Maybe I just need a weekly support group? Are there any therapists near me that could be a good fit? Do they accept my insurance? Does my insurance cover therapy, or do I have to pay out-of-pocket? Answering these questions is a great first step in your mental health journey.
If you choose to use online platforms to help you find nearby therapists, we recommend Monarch, Alma and Psychology Today. Through these platforms you can easily narrow down your search by location, practitioner specialties, gender, sexual orientation and more, and contact your selected practitioner.
More than anything, it’s important to feel comfortable with your counselor. You’ll be talking about some uncomfy topics, awkward moments and you may even dish out your deepest and darkest secrets. Make sure you choose someone who you can open up to, listen to, and who will listen to you. Use your first meeting to really see if the connection is there
How long does it take to find a therapist?
There’s no set timeline, so take your time and look around. Call or email every counselor and practice you may be interested in to ask any questions or express any concerns you may have. These professionals are committed to helping their clients find joy in their lives, so take advantage of their knowledge and advice – after all, they’ve dedicated their lives to helping people just like you! Finding the right fit for you can often feel a little like dating, so don’t be afraid to shop around again if you’re not clicking after a few sessions.
There are so many acronyms for mental health professionals. What do they all mean?
This is probably one of the most daunting aspects of any sort of medical care, especially since healthcare practitioners have dozens of letters following their name. (Like okay, Dr. So-and-so, we get it, you’re super smart. No need to rub it in!)
But don’t worry, we’re here to break down the most common mental health professional acronyms (and what they mean) for you. With a little help from Verywell Mind, keep scrolling to read our handy-dandy Mental Health Acronym Dictionary.
- M.S.W. – Master of Social Work
- M.Ed. – Master of Education
- M.S.Ed. – Master of Science in Education
- M.S. or M.A. – Master of Science and Master of Arts
- BTW, a plain ol’ masters degree isn’t enough for someone to be a mental health professional, but it does allow a pathway to mental health-focused doctoral tracks.
- Ed.S. – Educational Specialist
- This degree is somewhere between a master's and doctorate, and can be earned following the completion of a master's degree. Basically, students can opt-in to advance their degree and skills without going full-on academia. Many school psychologists and counselors have this degree.
- M.D. – Medical Doctor
- Medical doctors go through years of schooling, mandatory state testing and lots of training to become certified in their specialties. All Psychiatrists are M.D.s because they have a medical degree, can prescribe medications and administer psychotherapy.
- Ph.D. – Doctor of Philosophy
- A Ph.D. in psychology is research-based and allows candidates to become a licensed psychologist.
- Psy.D. – Doctor of Psychology
- An alternative to the Ph.D., this degree focuses on training psychologists as mental health practitioners as opposed to a research-based approach.
Licenses are obtained depending on the practitioner’s areas of expertise.
- LCAT – Licensed Creative Arts Therapist
- LCMHC – Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor
- LCPC – Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor
- LMFT – Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
- LMHC – Licensed Mental Health Counselor
- LMHP – Licensed Mental Health Practitioner
- LMSW – Licensed Master Social Worker
- LPC – Licensed Professional Counselor
- LPCC — Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor of Mental Health
- LCSW – Licensed Clinical Social Worker
- LCSW-R – Licensed Master Clinical Social Worker
- MFCC – Marriage, Family and Child Counselor
Certifications are similar to licenses, but with a more limited scope of practice.
- CADC – Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor
- CAC – Certified Addiction Counselor
- NCAC – National Certified Addiction Counselor
Whew – I know that was a lot. While finding the right care for your mental health may seem overwhelming, maybe even impossible, you deserve to feel like your best self, always.
Your mental health matters, so go out, find what works for you, and be great.
If you feel like injuring yourself or others, please do not hesitate to call or text the Suicide and Crisis Hotline at 988.
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Olivia Taylor is a writer and creative covering pop culture, beauty, style, wellness, health, relationships, lifestyle and basically anything else you can think of. A lifelong creative and self-proclaimed reality TV buff, Olivia spends her time outside of work surfing, skateboarding, attending cool indie concerts and finding the best acai bowls in town. Say hi to her on Instagram @heyitsoliviataylor and on Twitter @inneedofmargs.