Parents Guide to Finding the Right Therapist

Parents may need therapy now more than ever. But it can be overwhelming to know how to find the right one. Here are expert tips to finding a therapist you'll feel comfortable with.

An image of a woman speaking virtually with someone.
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Nearly a year ago, I wrote this in my journal: "I am deeply depressed." Later entries echo this sentiment of depression, along with deep grief for lives lost from COVID-19 and a paralyzing fear of getting sick.

As the pandemic dragged on, my depression got worse. Like so many other working mothers around the world, the school shutdowns made it hard to get work done. Every morning I'd muster the energy to play with my son for a few minutes before checking the day before's death toll. I'd become so overwhelmed that I left my preschooler with his Legos so I could go cry in the bedroom.

In hindsight, I should've signed up for therapy right then and there. But I didn't. And Zoom hadn't quite become one of the most recognizable words in the country. Now, Zoom is ubiquitous with "life" and one tiny scrap of good that has come from this pandemic is virtual therapy.

Even though the pandemic seems to be slowly winding down (finally!), the grief, depression, and anxiety that it brought on haven't faded. Even though I have taken medication regularly for four years to treat anxiety, my panic attacks began to come back this winter. I was waking up from a deep sleep trembling, my heart racing, my throat impossibly tight.

The stress and anxiety made me feel excessively irritable and crippled my ability to be the best version of myself and the best parent and partner I could be. So I finally decided to look for a therapist to help me deal with the stress of parenting through a pandemic. I'd had a few unpleasant experiences with therapists before, but I'd simply made an appointment with someone who took my insurance and hadn't done much else to make sure they were a good fit.

After forking over a few copays for therapy that didn't help me, I resented the whole process of finding a therapist and was convinced that it was impossible. But the truth is I didn't know exactly what I was doing. I know now there are a few ways for parents to find a suitable therapist.

Look at All Your Options

I live in Alaska where there are only a handful of mental health providers who accept my insurance. Initially, I tried to find a therapist without thinking about insurance because I figured my mental health was worth the price. But the rates were prohibitively expensive: $150 to $300 for a one-hour teletherapysession. I simply couldn't do it. Spending that much money every week or even every two weeks would only have added to my anxiety.

If you have insurance, start your search via your plan's "Find a Provider" feature. If you don't have insurance, there are still a few options for finding a therapist. GoodRx offers an online therapy portal where you can connect with a therapist for $65 a session. The nonprofit Open Path Psychotherapy Collective connects lower- and middle-income level patients with therapists at reduced rates. You can also call the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) helpline at 1-800-950-6264 Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET, or their 24/7 text line (text NAMI to 741-741), which can help during emergency situations, and also help you find affordable services in your area.

And keep in mind, virtual therapy is an especially solid choice because it's safe—and in many instances, like mine, insurance will cover the entire cost of telemedicine, including teletherapy.

Figure Out Why You Want Treatment

"Identify what you need help or support with," says Ana Sokolovic, psychologist and life coach at Parenting Pod. Make a list of the things you struggle the most with. Is it depression? Parental burnout? Debilitating anxiety?

By narrowing your search to therapists who have experience with the specific challenges you're trying to cope with, says Sokolovic, you're more likely to find someone who understands your needs.

Take Time Searching for a Therapist

If you feel the most comfortable with a therapist of a certain gender, race, ethnicity, religious preference, or even personal experience, search for experts who fit your needs. Since you're a parent, for example, it might be helpful to focus on finding a therapist who is also a parent and who understands the special stress that comes with parenting through a pandemic.

Some therapists have websites where you might be able to glean this information. Many have profiles on Psychology Today, says Rhonda Mattox, M.D., a psychiatrist and executive coach based out of Little Rock, Arkansas. Thanks to the prevalence of social media, many clinicians have online profiles. Poke around, acting like a detective, says Dr. Mattox. Search for the potential provider's public-facing LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram profiles. "These may provide clues as to who they are both professionally and personally," she says.

Another solid resource: the National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network (NQTTCN), a healing justice organization committed to transforming mental health for queer and trans people of color (QTPOC), says Dr. Mattox. Use the directory to find a QTPOC therapist in your area.

And Therapy for Black Girls directory is a great place for BIPOC to find therapists in the area and those licensed to do teletherapy in your state.

Ask for a Free Consultation

If you aren't sure if a therapist fits your needs, schedule a call. Most providers offer free 15-20 minute calls to help you determine if they're a good fit for you. During this phone call, ask the provider if they have experience treating your condition, as well as any other questions that came up during your search, says Dr. Mattox, such as whether or not they're parents and what their religious affiliations are. "We are trained to disclose little information about ourselves and reassure our patients that we are capable and trained to be unbiased," adds Dr. Mattox, so keep that in mind when asking the more personal questions.

And don't be hesitant to have more than one consultation. "Schedule a call with three therapists that you find that you think will be a good fit based on parameters such as cost, gender, location, specialty," says April Brown, LMFT, a marriage and family therapist from South Florida who owns and runs The Heard Counseling and specializes in working with parents. "After each call, write down three words that the therapist made you feel. Then go back to the notebook, review the words to see how you felt after talking to each." Opt for the therapist that made you most comfortable. "It seems like a lot of work," adds Brown, "but it will pay off when you find a therapist you truly connect with."

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