Dr. Elena Duong
Are You New to Therapy?
Updated: Mar 10
Are you new to therapy and not sure where to start?
As a mental health professional and consumer of psychotherapy, I know how intimidating the process can be. If you are new, I hope this blog will help guide you through the initial processes of connecting with a therapist.
Note: I use mental health providers and therapists interchangeably. They mean the same thing.
Step 1: Decide whether you will be using an insurance carrier or paying out of your own pocket for mental health services
If you have an insurance carrier, go to their website to see if your insurance plan covers mental health services. You may need to call your insurance provider for more information, and the number is usually listed on the back of your insurance membership card.
Next, you will need to find out how to connect with a mental health provider. Some insurances will give you a list of providers accepting clients in your local area while others may assign you a therapist. From what I’ve seen and heard, the list of providers given often do not include specialties or profiles of the therapists. If you want to learn more about specific therapists, I recommend searching them up on https://www.psychologytoday.com/us or googling them.
Private Pay (or Pay Out of Pocket)
If you can afford private pay, you have a lot more options. I still recommend using a directory like https://www.psychologytoday.com/us to search for providers who match your mental health needs. There are other directories as well. You can also google “therapy” or “counseling” in your city.
These are some credentials/degrees to know before proceeding in your search for a therapist.
Different Types of Licensed Mental Health Professionals in CA:
Licensed Psychologists (Ph.D. or Psy.D.) – They will have obtained either a Doctorate of Philosophy in Psychology or Doctorate of Psychology degree and licensed by the California Board of Psychology. They are trained in providing assessments and psychotherapy focused on mental health conditions.
Licensed Marriage Family Therapists (LMFT) – They will likely have obtained a Master’s degree in Marriage Family Therapy and licensed by the Board of Behavioral Sciences. They are trained in providing psychotherapy usually focusing more on marriage and family concerns.
Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW) -They will likely have obtained a Master’s degree in Social Work and licensed by the Board of Behavioral Sciences. They are trained in providing psychotherapy usually focusing on connecting folks with necessary resources and psychotherapy focused on mental health conditions.
Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors (LPCC) – They will likely have obtained a Master’s degree in Counseling and licensed by the Board of Behavioral Sciences. They are trained in providing psychotherapy usually focusing on exploring developmental issues.
** For all the above professionals trained in providing psychotherapy, they are all equally competent. Even though their training may be focused on certain areas, every provider has their own approach, which may overlap with other disciplines as long as it is within their realm of competency.
Psychiatrists (D.O. or M.D.) – They will have obtained either a Doctorate of Osteopathic Medicine or Doctorate of Medicine and licensed by the Medical Board of California. They mainly prescribe psychotropic medication and usually do not provide psychotherapy.
Not licensed or regulated by a board:
Life and/or Wellness Coaches – They help clients with various health and/or life goals. Their clients tend to be functioning well and only require some assistance in certain areas of life.
Step 2: Start contacting your list of therapists
Finding a therapist for you
Once you find out whether you are covered by insurance or intend to pay out of pocket, you will need to contact multiple providers to see who is available or taking on new clients. I recommend making a list of 5-10 potential providers who you want to work with.
More often than not, you will have to leave a confidential voice message. In this message, you can include your name, number, brief description of your therapy needs, and inquire if they are accepting new clients.
If you are looking at https://www.psychologytoday.com/us, they have a helpful feature that allows you message all potential therapists by copying and pasting your message to them.
Example message for potential new therapists:
Hello (Therapist’s Name)! I’m (Your Name). I am currently looking for a new therapist to work on (Your concerns). Are you currently accepting any new clients? I would like to work with you. My number is (Your Phone Number). Please get back to me when you can. My availability is (List your day/time availability for a call back). *in the parentheses and italics fill in your information*
Please do not get discouraged. If they don’t get back to you online or through phone, try calling them again after a week or so. If you don’t hear back after your second attempt, I recommend moving onto the next therapist on your list.
When you are able to speak with your potential therapist, some questions to ask are:
Are you currently accepting any new clients?
Do you accept (Your insurance)? If so, what is my deductible? Is there a session limit?
If you are covered by insurance, it is important to ask this question since some providers may no longer accept a certain insurance.
Your insurance may not have an updated list.
You can also ask your insurance for the deductible and session limit for confirmation.
What are your payment policies and rate per hour? Does the rate per session differ?
If you are going with private pay, it is good to confirm payment ahead of the session since some initial sessions cost more than later therapy sessions.
Do you practice a specific type of therapy? (Including cognitive behavior, couples, families, etc.)
If you are looking for a specific type of therapy or specialty, this is the time to ask.
When are you currently available? How often do I get to see you?
Where is your office physically located? Do you just see clients through Telehealth (through phone or video)?
Is there anything else important that I need to know but did not ask?
Step 3: Finding the right therapist for you
I recommend trying at least 1-2 sessions before deciding on fit. Sometimes, providers are having an off day.
If you feel like you are not a good fit with your therapist, it is okay to change therapists. Some people know after their initial phone consultation. I use the analogy of finding a good pair of shoes or even a relationship. It will likely take multiple tries until you find a good fit.
This is a good amount of work, but it is worth it to have someone you can trust and is a good fit for your needs on your mental health journey.
If you are ready for therapy and want to start with us, feel free to look through our site and see if we are a good fit for you. Our contact information is located in the "Contact" tab on our website. We look forward to working with you.
Stay tuned. The next topic is "Helpful Mental Health Resources."
Written by Elena Duong, Psy.D.
Edited by Susanna La, Ph.D.