If you’ve recently thought about finding a therapist — maybe for the first time ever — you’re not alone. The COVID-19 pandemic left us isolated, stressed, and worried about the health of friends and loved ones. As a result, mental health treatment is on the rise. In 2020 alone, 26.3 million adults received virtual mental health services, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness Opens PDF.
Feel like you’re ready to join them? Congrats on taking a step to improve your mental health! If you’ve never been to therapy before, finding a therapist for the first time can quickly become overwhelming. We’re here to walk you through what you need to know when finding a therapist for the first time.
Already know what type of therapy or therapist you're looking for?
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Determine why you’re going to therapy
You don’t have to be experiencing a personal emergency — like a breakup or divorce, job loss, or death in the family — to start therapy. There are many transitional, non-crisis moments where extra support from a therapist with whom you have an established relationship can make all the difference.
Common times to seek therapy include big life changes, like graduating from school, starting a new job, moving to a new city, getting married, or becoming a parent. (Add in the stress or general trauma from the pandemic, and we all have a reason to be seeking out therapy.)
That’s all to say that you don’t really need a reason to start therapy. You can come to your first session with a more general feeling that something isn’t right, and your therapist will work with you to explore and improve the areas in your life where you aren’t quite satisfied.
Consider the option of virtual therapy
If you have a tight work schedule, are juggling kids, or live in areas where mental health care isn’t widely available, you may want to talk to a virtual therapist via your phone, tablet or computer. Virtual visits are more common than you might think. In fact, Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield saw a 3,000 percent increase Opens New Window in virtual visits for behavioral health-related use from March 2020 to July 2020. As always, before seeking services, log in to myWellmark to check your virtual visit benefits Secure.
Know the basics for different treatment methods
Talk therapy or psychotherapy generally involves meeting with a mental health professional in-person or virtually for a set amount of time, usually 30 or 60 minutes. However, there are many different approaches to therapy, also known as therapeutic modalities. Some modalities treat certain conditions better than others, and therapists often draw on more than one in their treatment approach.
Though there are many different types of therapy External Site, the most common therapeutic modalities include:
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) External Site, which teaches mindfulness to help you recognize when challenges arise from attempting to suppress, manage, and control emotional experiences.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) External Site, which is used for short-term treatment of behavior by helping you notice the relationship between beliefs, thoughts, and feelings — and how they affect your actions and behaviors. CBT often includes External Site education, relaxation exercises, coping skills training, stress management, or assertiveness training.
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) External Site, which is a form of CBT that helps with difficult-to-treat conditions over a longer period of time, focusing on problem-solving and acceptance strategies.
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR) External Site, which is used to treat symptoms of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by helping you process unresolved memories from troubling experiences.
- Person-Centered Therapy (PCT) External Site, which is a type of therapy that helps you see yourself more clearly, take responsibility for your life, and solve problems on your own.
You don't need to do a deep dive into the different approaches to therapy, especially if you don't have a concrete reason for starting therapy. However, they can be helpful to know if you aren't jiving with a specific therapist — it could be their approach! A therapist will understand if you want to see a different mental health provider, and can often connect you with someone else who would be a better fit.
Consider additional factors
Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the different approaches to therapy, you have a few questions to ask yourself:
- Does it matter if your therapist is male or female?
- Do you prefer someone who is younger or older?
- Do you plan to see your therapist in person or are you interested in virtual therapy?
- Do you have a specific condition or situation that you need to treat, or would having someone with a broad treatment approach be more helpful?
- Are they in your health plan’s network?
How to find the right therapist
Finding someone who meets your criteria and who you connect with can take time — especially when there are many tools and resources to help you find the right person. Here are a few ways to help narrow down your short list:
- Start with a larger database, like the one on Psychology Today External Site. You can narrow down the field to your city or state, then filter by issues, gender, types of therapy, age, price and more.
- Cross-reference your initial list with the provider finder on myWellmark Secure. Search for each therapist by name to see if they’re covered, find out their practice location(s), and estimate costs for each visit. Not signed up for myWellmark? It’s free and takes less than a minute!
- Contact the therapists that take your insurance to see if they’re accepting new patients or if they have a wait list. If they’re available, schedule some time for a brief consultation to ensure they’re a good fit.
If you hit a dead end at any point during this process, you can start again with fewer criteria or ask your personal doctor for a referral. At the end of the day, taking the time to find someone you can trust and confide in will make all the difference.
If you need immediate help, don't wait
If you feel you could be in immediate danger as a result of a mental health condition, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline External Site at 800-273-TALK (8255) to speak with a skilled mental health counselor nearby. You can also connect to a counselor 24/7 External Site by texting HOME to 741741.