Learning how to find a therapist can make starting therapy easier. This article suggests ways to find the right therapist for your needs, including using directories, government mental health services, online therapy, and more.

People may go to therapy for various reasons, from managing a mental health condition to working through a difficult relationship or life event.

Knowing where and how to find a therapist for the first time can be difficult, as there are many options to choose from. There are also many factors to consider, such as the type of therapy necessary, whether to choose in-person or online options, and budget. It is also important for you to feel comfortable with your therapist.

This article discusses how to find a therapist, suggests some questions to ask a therapist in the first session, and provides answers to frequently asked questions about therapy.

There is a wide range of disciplines in mental health services, and it can be confusing knowing what type of mental health professional you need to see.

You may come across psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, counselors, and social workers in your search for mental health support. The table below provides a brief explanation of their differences and what you might see them for.

What they doHow they can help
PsychologistThey can help you learn effective coping mechanisms to deal with everyday problems, mental health conditions, and more. They can employ a range of evidence-based treatments to help you, such as talk therapy. They can work with your primary care provider if you want to try medication.
CounselorPeople sometimes use the terms counselor and psychologist interchangeably. Individuals will go to a counselor to discuss the problems affecting their mental health.They can offer a safe and supportive space for people to talk through their mental health and other concerns.
PsychiatristA psychiatrist can diagnose mental health conditions, prescribe medication, and suggest the best type of psychotherapy for your needs. You can work with a psychiatrist to manage your medication, too.Psychiatrists can help get someone a mental health diagnosis and help people find appropriate care.
TherapistTherapists have many different disciplines, but typically, they will help a person through their problems by discussing them in depth. You may discuss how your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and actions affect your everyday life. They can also teach you new ways to manage your difficulties or health conditions.
Social workerSocial workers can support you with problems that may affect your everyday life, from addiction, abuse, poverty, and discrimination to physical and mental illness, relationship problems, and disabilities. They aim to advocate for your well-being and give you the tools you need to cope with your difficulties.

Learn more about the different types of mental health professionals.

If you are in a mental health crisis, follow the steps below.

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects if it’s safe to do so.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.

Find more links and local resources.

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Therapy can often be expensive, but it is important to get support if you are worried about your mental health.

Consider the finances you have available for therapy and look for options that fit your budget. If you have a smaller budget, there are plenty of low cost options to consider. Some services may be free.

You may also consider using health insurance to help with the cost of therapy. The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA) states that health insurers must provide equal coverage for mental and physical health services. However, this law does not mean health insurers must cover mental health services.

Your next step may be to look through your insurance plan’s provider network if you intend to pay with insurance. It is best to check if there are limitations to certain plans, such as the number of therapy sessions it covers per year.

Additionally, people may wish to seek assistance from local service providers or agencies. Some local agencies may receive government funding to offer support for free or at a reduced cost.

You can consider asking for recommendations from family or friends. Someone new to therapy may feel more confident about starting if people they trust have had positive experiences with a particular therapist or company.

If a person acts on a recommendation, they may be able to get a free 10–15 minute phone consultation to see if the service is the right fit. People can use these consultations to get a feel for the therapist’s style and understand the type of sessions they provide.

Not everyone has a network they feel comfortable talking with about their mental health. In this case, you can consider using an online database to find a therapist.

There are a number of reliable online databases of up-to-date lists of licensed therapists. These include:

You can search for a local therapist using any of the following information:

  • zip code
  • city
  • state
  • therapist’s name
  • therapist’s practice area

You can then contact your insurance provider to ensure it covers your chosen service.

It is important to note that these databases may not assess the qualifications or experience of the therapists they list.

Your employer may offer an employee assistance program (EAP), which may include short-term counseling or coaching. You can also consider contacting your company’s human resources team to get information about workplace wellness programs, including therapy they may provide.

If your mental health is affecting your work, there are laws in place to protect you. Employees with mental health conditions may have various protections under federal law, including:

  • protection against discrimination and harassment related to their condition
  • workplace confidentiality rights
  • the legal right to reasonable accommodations to help them keep and perform at their job

If you are a student, you can check if your school or college has a health and wellness center offering therapy. They may offer free therapy, counseling, support groups, disability advocacy, and mental health education with psychologists, psychiatrists, or counselors.

Working with a therapist who has a good understanding of your challenges, health conditions, lifestyle, and culture is important, as having similar lived experiences may increase the chance of a positive therapeutic relationship.

However, the APA produced data showing that the majority of psychologists in the United States in 2021 were white, female, and did not live with disabilities, meaning people may find it difficult to find a therapist who understands their life experiences and circumstances.

The APA estimates there will be a significant increase in demand for psychologists in Black, African American, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American communities, among others.

The following organizations offer search tools to help people find specialized therapists in a specific area.

Health concerns, addiction, and abuse

Networks for professions

  • The Farmer Resource Network: This network provides valuable resources about emotional stress, financial stress, disaster relief, and more for farmers, farm communities and families, and agricultural service providers across the United States.
  • Agrisafe: Rural nurses run this network, which delivers healthcare to farmers and ranchers.
  • The Emotional PPE Project: This charity is a directory that helps healthcare professionals find licensed therapists in their state who offer no-cost, confidential therapy that does not require insurance coverage.
  • Therapy Aid Coalition: This organization supports healthcare workers, first responders, and people experiencing national crises or disasters. It provides a network of accessible and affordable psychotherapists.

Cultural organizations

Children and families

You may wish to opt for online therapy rather than seeing a therapist face-to-face. It may be more affordable and convenient if you cannot easily travel to in-person appointments. Some people may feel more comfortable talking with a therapist via live chat, phone, or video calls.

Online therapy is unsuitable for people in a mental health crisis or those at risk of suicide.

If you believe online therapy is right for you, read our guides on finding:

Or, read our guide to the 16 best online therapy options, where our editors have reviewed a range of services and provide their honest feedback about their experiences.

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When contacting a prospective therapist for the first time, it is a good idea to ask questions to get a sense of the therapist’s manner and way of working. This will help ensure as much as possible that you and the therapist will have a good rapport.

Some useful questions to consider asking include the following:

  • Are you a licensed therapist?
  • How many years have you been practicing?
  • What are your areas of expertise?
  • What experience do you have in discussing my condition or culture?
  • What treatments do you use, and have these methods been effective?
  • What fees do you charge?
  • Do you accept insurance, and will you bill directly to my insurance company?

Additionally, people may wish to ask:

  • Do you prescribe medication if necessary?
  • Do you offer online therapy?
  • Do you offer any self-help methods that may help me?
  • Is there a time frame for recovery?

One of the most important factors in determining whether therapy is successful is the relationship between you and your therapist. You should aim to try up to five sessions with a therapist to get a good idea of what they are like and whether their way of working will suit you.

You should feel safe and comfortable talking with a therapist and not feel judged.

It is also important that you feel comfortable discussing concerns you have about therapy, including the steps you should take after the end of your sessions.

Additionally, a good therapist should:

  • be an active and attentive listener
  • value what you are saying
  • show empathy and understanding
  • not talk down to you
  • provide achievable steps for you to take during and after the sessions
  • specialize in your particular issue

A therapist may not be a good fit if they do not help you feel heard and understood.

Learn more about the signs of a good therapist.

Below, we answer some questions people commonly ask about therapy.

People can look at online directories to choose a therapist who specializes in their health condition or concern or has an understanding of their culture, identity, or lifestyle. Individuals can also consider their budget, reasons for trying therapy, and the type of therapist they will need before signing up for a service.

One reason it may be difficult for people to find an appropriate therapist is that not many therapists may specialize in their specific area of concern.

According to an American Psychological Association survey, around 40% of practitioners provide treatment for anxiety, compared with only around 5% for addiction issues and under 5% for OCD.

There are also larger systemic issues that may cause barriers to finding a therapist, such as insurance companies not reimbursing well for mental health services.

People can consider online therapy platforms, talking to a doctor about seeing a mental health specialist, and using employer, college, or government resources to find a therapist.

People should consider the type of mental health professional they need to consult, their budget, and their insurance coverage.

People often use the terms psychologist and therapist interchangeably. However, they differ in terms of their training and their ability to treat people with mental health conditions.

Therapists will have a master’s degree in a mental health field. Psychologists will have a doctoral degree in clinical psychology or a specialty such as counseling.

Therapists will help people work through their mental health concerns and find ways of coping. They can suggest treatment options. Psychologists may be more involved in research, but some can diagnose mental health conditions and have specialties in certain types of therapy, such as cognitive behavior therapy.

People use therapy for many different reasons and conditions. However, finding a therapist can be difficult. When looking, it is best to consider your therapy goals, any mental health conditions you have, the therapist’s specialties, and the cost of services.

It is important that you feel at ease and have a good rapport with your therapist to achieve the best possible outcome. You should feel free to change therapists if they are not the right fit for you.

It is always best to ensure that your chosen therapist is licensed to practice in your state, specializes in your particular condition, and is clear about pricing and what you can expect from therapy sessions.