How do I choose a mental health provider who is a good fit for me?
This choice is so personal and can be based on many different factors. A provider who is a good fit for your friend may not be a good fit for you. When making this decision, it’s helpful for you to consider your specific needs and priorities for what you are hoping to get out of therapy. Many factors about yourself and your therapist can be considered. For example, do you prefer someone who is older and can offer wisdom and vast experience, or do you prefer someone closer in age to you whom you feel may be more relatable to your current experience? Does it feel important for you to meet with someone from a similar cultural background? Are you are searching for someone who will work with you on issues related to your faith/spirituality? Is it important that you find someone who specializes in your specific concerns such as addiction or eating disorders, or do you feel comfortable with someone who identifies as a generalist? Does gender of the provider feel important to you, given the concerns you would like to address? Is location of the provider’s office absolutely essential for you because you have limited time after work?
When searching for a therapist on our website, you can apply as many or as few filters as you feel you need. Just bear in mind that the more filters you apply, the fewer providers will match your exact search queries. You might consider removing a filter that is not absolutely essential so that you can broaden your search and have more therapist options.
What are some questions should I ask a provider initially so that I can assess our fit?
We recommend that you talk with or meet with a few different therapists for initial consultations so that you can find someone who will meet your individual needs. You might consider sharing with them a little bit about yourself and your specific concerns that are bringing you to therapy. Let them know a bit about how you have been feeling and any specific symptoms you have noticed. Consider asking them how they might approach working with someone with your concerns. Ask them what experience or expertise they have with the types of difficulties you have shared. You can ask the providers if they can describe their approaches to treatment, how active and participatory they are in the sessions, and what their specific specialties are. Lastly, you’ll want to be sure to confirm that the therapist’s regular availability aligns with yours and that they accept your insurance plan if you are hoping to use it.
How do I make initial contact with a mental health provider?
On The Shrink Space we try to make it as easy as possible for you to connect with a therapist. We understand calling a therapist may feel daunting and especially discouraging if you don’t get a phone call back. So we’ve simplified the process. You can message a therapist directly on their profile and they’ll respond to you either by phone or email depending on their preferred method of contact. What should you include in your message? Keep it simple, something like:
“Hi Dr. X I am a student at XYZ University and I would like to schedule a time to meet. I see you listed on your profile that you are available on Tuesday at 10am. Is it possible to schedule an initial consultation with you next Tuesday? Thank you.”
If you prefer to connect with a therapist via phone, we recommend that you message them and ask to schedule a time to speak by phone. Once a provider has shared their phone number, you may have to leave a voicemail for them if they do not answer. A typical voicemail goes something like this:
“Hi Dr. X this is Jane Doe calling. I am a student at XYZ University and I found your contact information on The Shrink Space. I would like some help with my relationships with my parents and I’m interested in scheduling a session with you. You can reach me at (555) 555-5555. Again, my name is Jane Doe and you can reach me at (555) 555-5555. Thank you.”
What if I contact a provider, but I don’t hear back from them?
If you don’t hear back from a provider after contacting them, you might consider reaching out to them again. If you try to contact a provider several times and you still don’t hear back from them, it would be good to let your university counseling center know about your experience. We also encourage you to reach out to other providers on The Shrink Space because you deserve to get the care you are looking for.
The First Session with a Mental Health Provider
1. How do I prepare for this appointment?
It may help to make a list of things you would like to talk about during the first session, and these are generally things that you would like to work on in therapy. Have an idea about what you would like to get out of therapy. Ask yourself what your particular goals are. For example, do you want to feel your obsessive thoughts are more manageable? Do you want to understand repeated patterns in your relationships? Do you want to address coping skills for how to better manage stress and anxiety? Would you like to work through the grieving process after losing someone you love?
Think about your expectations regarding your timeline- when do you anticipate having reached your therapeutic goals and can your provider realistically meet you in this time frame?
Ask yourself what you expect in terms of your mental health provider’s style and approach to therapy. Do you want someone who listens in silence and offers you space to speak or do you want someone who may be more directive and structured in their approach, offering guidance and feedback regularly? Do you need more affirmations and positive reinforcement or does it feel more comfortable to have someone simply witness what you are saying?
2. What are some logistical questions I should ask my mental health provider?
You might consider asking questions about frequency and duration of sessions, whether the therapist accepts your insurance, what your payment options are, the therapist’s cancellation/rescheduling policy, and how your confidentiality and privacy will be maintained. You may want to have a phone call with your provider prior to your first session in the event that it helps you to feel less anxious speaking with them or if you would like to get your questions answered up front.
3. What should I expect to experience during and after this first session?
People have all sorts of different experiences and reactions during and after this first appointment. The initial therapy session may stir up some unexpected feelings that you may not have been anticipating. It may help to clear your schedule around this appointment to give yourself the opportunity to decompress and digest everything that was communicated. You may also want to take some time following the session to reflect on your feelings about your interaction with that therapist. For example, did you feel comfortable speaking with them? Did you feel heard, attended to, and understood? Did you have time and space to express yourself freely? Did you feel you could share what you wanted without feeling judged or criticized? Do you feel this is someone you may be able to develop trust with over time?
If you felt uncomfortable interacting with your therapist during the initial session, ask yourself if these emotions feel temporary and could dissipate over time. If not, remember that each therapist will not be the right fit for every person. It’s okay to shop around for a therapist whom you feel you can connect with. Ultimately, this relationship between you and your provider is the most important piece of a therapeutic relationship.
4. What if I am not connecting to my therapist?
So you’ve reached out for support and you’ve started meeting with a therapist - that’s wonderful that you’ve already taken this (often hard) first step! Feeling connected to your therapist is an essential component of growth, healing, and change that arises from a strong therapeutic relationship. If you’re not connecting with your therapist, try telling your therapist how you have been feeling. Therapists are trained to have difficult conversations such as these and they may be able to make some changes to better meet your needs. However, in the case that your therapist cannot meet your needs, they may be able to help you find someone else with whom you would be a better fit. If you’re not up for having this difficult conversation, you can also reach out to other folks to schedule a consultation. Bear in mind what worked and what didn’t work in your therapeutic relationship so that you can identify how a new therapist might better meet your needs.
5. What type of therapy or theoretical orientation is best for me?
We understand that logistics like schedule, insurance and location are very important when finding your therapist. If possible we’d suggest you also consider the type of therapy you want. Understanding the type of therapy you are looking for may help you in your search for finding a good fit. There are many types of therapy: CBT, DBT, psychodynamic, existential...and the list goes on. Many therapists pull from a variety of these techniques but are typically grounded in one or two primary treatment forms. To learn more about each type of treatment, start searching on The Shrink Space, navigate to the “More” filter tab and search by “Theoretical Orientations”. Hover over the types of therapy to read a brief description.
6. What is a sliding scale and how do I find out if a therapist works on one?
A sliding scale is a payment option based on your ability to pay. Many therapists reserve openings for sliding scale payment. Their scales likely vary, so we encourage you to ask the therapist if they have any sliding scale openings and what their fee range is.
1. What is the difference between an in-network and out-of-network provider?
An in-network provider is someone who is empaneled with your specific insurance plan. They have a contract with your insurance company and agree to a certain rate for their services. With an in-network provider, it is likely that some of the cost of your sessions will be covered but you may be responsible for paying a co-pay and/or a deductible. However, each insurance plan is different, so you’ll want to contact your insurance company prior to scheduling or meeting with your therapist.
2. How will I know if the provider I want to see accepts my insurance plan?
This depends on several factors:
1) Start by calling the customer service number on the back of your insurance card.
2) Ask the representative what your outpatient mental health (sometimes called behavioral health) benefits are.
3) Ask if the provider whom you’d like to see is in-network. If they are an in-network provider, continue to number four. If they are not considered an in-network provider ask if you have out-of-network benefits.
These benefits apply when your insurance company will cover some or all of the cost of services even if you are seeing a provider who is not contracted with your insurance company. If yes, continue on to number four. If no, then it is unlikely you will be able to use your insurance benefits to see that particular provider. You may want to contact the provider to see if they are willing to accept sliding scale fees. Some providers offer lower cost therapy or even pro bono services to students who have financial hardship. How low a therapist is willing to slide their fee is often based on the student’s specific financial means.
4) Ask how many sessions are allowed per calendar year. Some insurance plans limit the number of sessions they will pay for.
5) Ask if services need to be pre-certified or pre-authorized. This means that your insurance company has to “sign off” on the services you will receive in advance of beginning treatment. If your services do need pre-certification or pre-authorization, ask the representative to do that for you (this can often been done quickly over the phone). Ask how many sessions are approved and write down the authorization number.
6) Ask what your deductible is for the year and how much of it has been met. This is the fee you often have to pay out of pocket before your insurance begins paying for services on your behalf.
7) Ask if you have a co-pay or co-insurance payment for session visits and what that amount is. This is the amount you may be responsible for at each session visit and it is dependent upon your specific insurance plan.
8) Find out what the claims address is- you may want to give this to your provider if they will be billing your insurance company on your behalf.