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.

How do I make initial contact with a mental health provider?

Most providers will communicate with students via phone, some by email, and a few by text message. We recommend that when you first reach out to a provider to schedule an initial session, that you call them and leave a voicemail 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.”

If you don’t hear back from a provider after leaving a voicemail, you might consider contacting them via email or phoning again. If you still don’t hear back from them, it would be good to let your university know about your experience.

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 questions should I 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.


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.