Author: Lea Zweig, Psy.D. and Alexa Rabin, Psy.D.

Finding a Psychologist or Therapist San DiegoFor many people, the biggest challenge of beginning therapy is finding the right therapist. When people are seeking out a therapist, they tend to search for a therapist with whom they can connect, who has experience in their specific areas of need, and who demonstrates a deep understanding of their particular issues. In most cities, there is a plethora of psychological professionals with varying credentials and backgrounds, and it is often difficult to sort through the many options to find the right one for you.

The first step is to determine if you will be using insurance to pay for therapy. This is an important first step because if you are choosing to use insurance, you might be limited in who is covered by your specific plan.  It is also important to know the difference between HMO plans and PPO plans.  Typically, if you have an HMO plan, your insurance plan will only cover treatment provided by professionals who are in-network with your specific insurance plan.  With an HMO plan, you might also be required to first see your assigned primary care physician in order to get a referral to a mental health professional.  If you have a PPO plan, you are able to decide whether you want to see a provider that is in-network vs. out-of-network.  Insurance companies typically have different amounts of coverage for in-network vs. out-of-network providers.

You need to contact your insurance company to find out the specifics of your plan.  Questions to ask your insurance company:

  • Is my plan an HMO or a PPO?
  • Does my plan cover outpatient psychotherapeutic treatment?
  • What is my deductible and has it been met?
  • How many sessions per year are covered by my plan?
  • How much is covered for each session?
  • Is there a difference in coverage for out-of-network vs. in-network providers?
  • Is approval required from my primary care physician?

The next step is to create a list of therapists that you would like to call for a consultation.  If you are choosing to use insurance, then your insurance company can provide you with a list of providers in your area.  If you choose not to use insurance, then you might consider asking your physician for a referral.  Alternatively, you can search for a list of providers in your geographical area.  You can search based on other criteria as well, including gender, areas of specialty, etc. On the Psychology Today website on the left hand side of the screen, you can enter your specific criteria to help refine your search.  There are pictures and descriptions of most of the therapists in your area. Compile a list of a few people who appeal to you and have expertise in the areas for which you are seeking help.

When you call, most therapists will speak with you briefly over the phone to discuss your needs.  They typically will discuss the best course of action depending upon your needs or invite you in for an initial consultation appointment.  Sometimes a therapist will make specific recommendations, such as a psychological evaluation to aid in diagnostic clarification, individual therapy to work on specific issues, group therapy to help gain additional support and others’ perspectives, family therapy to work on family issues, or couples therapy to address relational issues.  Some professionals might refer you directly to a specific provider such as a psychologist, family therapist, or a psychiatrist if you need an evaluation for medication.  These referrals are common if they feel someone else might better suit your therapy needs.

You may have to meet with a few therapists before you find the right fit.  Therapy is a process, and it can take some time to find someone with whom you connect and feel comfortable.