There’s been a notable increase in anxiety and depression lately. In the U.S., 34 percent of adults ages 18 to 64 will develop an anxiety disorder at least once in their lives. And about 13 percent of Americans seek out mental health services each year for a variety of reasons.
Maybe you think you could benefit from seeing a therapist? But, if this is your first time diving into the mental health arena, you may be feeling a bit confused by the variety of mental health credentials that fall under the general term of “therapist.” Then there’s the different types of psychotherapy.
How do you choose among psychiatrists, psychologists or licensed clinical social workers who practice different types of psychotherapy: Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Relational Therapy, Psychodynamic, Family Systems and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and others?
And, although seeing a mental health professional is widely accepted today — and many of your friends and family members might have worked with a therapist they like — you might be reluctant to ask them for a referral.
No problem: Read on for some helpful information to get you started on the road to finding a qualified professional who’s right for you, your needs and your budget.
See Your Doctor First
If risk-to-life behavior doesn’t dictate emergency intervention, your primary care doctor is a good place to begin. She or he will review medical history, ask about relevant life changes, and order medical tests to rule out physical causes for psychological symptoms.
From there, your doctor may refer you to a psychiatrist, psychologist or licensed independent clinical social worker (LICSW). Only psychiatrists are M.D.s and only they, or a psychiatric nurse, can write prescriptions. Both often work with therapists who provide the ongoing therapy.
The Massachusetts Psychological Association lists about 1,700 psychologists, most of whom have either Psy.D. or Ph.D. credentials. LICSWs are MSW recipients who have completed an additional 3,500 hours of supervised clinical social work experience and additional certification, allowing them to practice as independent therapists.
Check In with Your Insurer
It’s a good idea to check in with your medical insurer to clarify how your plan covers behavioral health. They can also email a list of providers in your area, or direct you to your online portal.
Massachusetts has more mental health care providers per capita than any other state, but that doesn’t make finding a therapist in Massachusetts any easier.
According to a 2018 Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation survey of 2,201 Massachusetts residents, more than half of adults who sought mental health or addiction treatment had difficulty getting care, primarily because a therapist either didn’t accept their insurance or the practice was closed to new patients.
It’s important to note that in Massachusetts, about 45 percent of mental health providers don’t take Medicaid/MassHealth (the state’s form of Medicaid coverage). About 10 percent don’t take any insurance at all.
Searching Online is Surprisingly Effective
Psychology Today is a good resource for finding a therapist in your area.
Similarly, a simple Google search for “find a therapist near me” comes up with pages of web links to therapists with detailed descriptions of the type(s) of therapy they offer, experience and credentials, if they are accepting new patients — even Yelp or Thumbtack client reviews.
It Often Takes Time to Find the Right Fit
Most therapists blend elements from different approaches to tailor treatment to a client’s needs, so their exact credentials aren’t something to get too hung up on. The main thing to know is whether or not a therapist has expertise in the area you need help with, and if he or she thinks they can help you.
Beyond that, it’s a matter of how comfortable you are with a therapist’s personality and approach. The relationship you form with your therapist will be the most important factor in determining how successful your therapy is.
Be patient: It might take a few first appointments before you find the best match for you, and a therapist who is available to see you when you are available to see them.