If you’ve ever entered this question into Google, you already know that finding a psychologist near you can be a challenge. You might wonder how to get started with therapy. Depending on where you live, you may be overwhelmed with the huge number of licensed mental health counselors in close proximity to you or might find it difficult to find therapy near you. Here in Providence, RI, there are plenty of therapists using a wide range of theoretical approaches. Even if you know what type of therapy you are interested in, it’s a good idea to consider a few things in advance before committing to a specific therapy. In this post, I want to give you an outline of how to go about finding a mental health therapist near you, common problems you might encounter, and what questions to ask before scheduling your first appointment.
Psychologist vs. therapist
Many people might not be aware that there is a difference between the two professions. A licensed psychologist is a doctor (Ph.D. or Psy.D.) who treats mental health disorders through therapeutic interventions, provides psychological, and cognitive assessments, and works in close connection with psychiatrists who prescribe medication if needed. Psy.D. psychologists practice only in clinical settings, whereas Ph.D. psychologists also have a research background. A therapist is usually a master’s level counselor or social worker who also treats psychological disturbances. While there is a difference in the level of education, training, and fees, in reality, a psychologist and a therapist who subscribe to the same theoretical approach might offer similar interventions at a comparable cost. Some people find a psychologist for initial treatment and switch to a therapist for long-term therapy once therapeutic interventions have reached the desired outcome.
Online therapy directories, physicians, community and family services, churches, support groups, and insurance companies are great resources to find local mental health care professionals. Many doctors such as psychiatrists, family and primary care doctors, pediatricians, gynecologists, and obstetricians all regularly refer patients to psychologists. Even your friends and families may know of someone they can recommend to you first hand. Don’t be afraid to ask around.
I don’t know what I want out of therapy.
Perhaps you already have a clear objective for your therapy. Or maybe you feel like you can’t quite put your figure on any specific problem. A good therapist will help you identify your therapy goals and formulate clear objectives. In addition, it’s a good idea to periodically establish priorities to focus on specific themes as therapy progresses. The right therapist will suggest a professional treatment plan but will also respect your wishes in setting therapy outcomes. Remember that goals should be evaluated and adjusted when needed. If your therapist doesn’t evaluate progress on a regular basis, don’t hesitate to bring it to their attention.
What kind of therapist should I use?
You might already have a preference for a certain type of therapy, but what therapy actually works best for you is a different question altogether. Unless you are a mental health professional yourself, you are probably not interested in learning about all the different theoretical branches of psychology in order to get started. For example, a well-known theoretical approach is cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT. But under the CBT umbrella there are other approaches like:
- Cognitive therapy (CT)
- Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)
- Cognitive Therapy (CT)
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
- Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT)
- Self-Instructional Training
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), etc.
The truth of the matter is that most therapists and psychologists are rather eclectic in their approach. I rarely, if ever, see a mental health professional who stays within the boundaries of one psychological theory – for better or worse. On the one hand, providing theory-driven therapy can ensure that interventions are delivered in a structured and consistent manner. On the other hand, interventions from different and even opposing theories might actually complement each other and thus offer added value.
Without empirical studies based on a large number of real therapy clients we simply don’t know how effective interventions are. For this reason, I personally opt to look at empirical research and only deliver those interventions that have proven effectiveness. As a theoretical guiding principle I use CBT, emotion-focused therapy (EFT), and mindfulness-based practices. Not only are CBT, EFT, and mindfulness complimentary, but there are also a large number of controlled studies demonstrating their effectiveness.
Fortunately, you don’t have to study up on psychology to find a suitable therapy but rather determine what resonates with you and look for a therapist who describes their approach in similar terms (characteristics are not mutually exclusive):
- pragmatic vs. idealistic
- directive vs. self-discovery
- present-centered vs. developmental
- to the point vs. gentle
- behavior focus vs. emotional focus
- short-term vs. long-term
- person-centered vs. systemic
- evidence-based vs. experience-based
- protocol procedure vs. evolving process
Looking for specific demographics, e.g., How do I find a therapist of color?
There are certainly pros and cons of sitting across from someone who is alike and unlike you, but you might find it easier to trust a therapist who shares at least some aspects of your identity. Luckily, there are various online directories for therapists that allow you to search for therapists by identity (e.g., ethnic and religious background) and area of expertise (e.g., anxiety, depression, etc.). Psychology today and Zencare are the two of the largest online directories that we use in New England. But there are great alternatives, such as TherapyDen, that provide more details about therapists’ personal characteristics (e.g., LGBTQ, spiritual orientation, etc.).
Therapy online or in-person?
I personally recommend in-person therapy whenever possible. However, I work with people affected by anxiety and depression. Stepping outside of your comfort zone and into my therapy office breaks up the usual cycle just enough to look at a familiar problem with a changed perspective. Regardless, online therapy is a useful tool for everyone who doesn’t have regular access to in-person sessions. For example, you might have such overwhelming anxiety and depression that venturing out of your home is not yet an option. In that case, I would suggest starting out with teletherapy (i.e., phone or video chat therapy) and moving to regular therapy once the severity of your symptoms subsided. Likewise, if you live in a remote area or the therapist you would like to work with does, it might make sense to consider online therapy. Ultimately the goal is to find a therapist who is able to provide you with regular services. For example, I like to offer teletherapy to my clients to uphold the continuity of services during times of travel or when physical constraints make it difficult to come into my office. If you are a Rhode Island resident and are considering teletherapy, you can get in touch with me here.
Therapist near me for depression
Once you’ve identified your specific mental health challenge, you want to find an expert in your local community. Depending on the problem you would like to address, it can be hard to find a therapist specializing in a particular niche. Here is the thing, it’s great to be as specific as possible but don’t go overboard. Yes, you might find a therapist near you who has ample experience with ornithophobia (i.e., intense fear of birds), but if you and the therapist are not matching well, it makes sense to keep looking for a therapist with more general expertise (e.g., phobia). Similarly, too many therapists offer too large of scope and are therefore unlikely to provide specialized interventions. You might notice that the therapist claims to be an expert in each and every possible mental health condition. In this case, be mindful that while it’s certainly possible to deliver therapy on mental health conditions at large, there will be clear limitations to what this therapist can offer you in terms of updated knowledge, research insights, and clinical experience. Instead, try to aim for a therapist that specializes in a small subset of broader mental health conditions.
What to know before your first therapy session
Don’t feel discouraged if you have not found the right therapist just yet. Asking the right set of questions before the first session helps to reduce therapist-client mismatch and disappointment. At the bare minimum, a therapist should take the time to explain to you their level of expertise, clinical approach, service fees, and payment options before starting therapy. This could be done on the phone or in writing. Personally, I like to set up a brief phone conversation to address questions and get an understanding of what a client is looking for to make sure that they are in the right place. Practice policies and the limits of confidentiality need to be addressed as early as possible but no later than the first session. Make sure that you get an opportunity to ask about specifics such as:
- Availability of services (e.g., weekly sessions, biweekly, etc.)
- Therapy cover during periods of absence
- Emergency and after office hours availability
- Contact preferences (email, messaging, hours, etc., )
- Fees and additional charges (e.g., missed appointment fees, legal documents, etc.)
- Availability of additional services (e.g., group support, couples therapy, parent coaching, etc.)
- Any questions related to interventions and procedures
Remember that transparency is important to build trusting relationships. Don’t hesitate to address any concerns and questions as they arise once therapy has been started. Therapy is most successful when you and your therapist work collaboratively as a team to provide you with the skills you need to help yourself.