Since becoming a practicing psychotherapist, I receive the same question from friends, family members, neighbors, and even from people I meet for the first time: “Where should I turn if I want to start therapy?”
In the midst of the COVID-19 health crisis, there will be a flood of people with that question, so I want to share what I tell people who ask. This information is not exhaustive, and it’s not meant as advice, or as an endorsement of any approach or solution. It is just some insight that I hope might be useful to you or someone that you know.
Before I get to the practical matters, I want to address the thoughts and feelings that can arise in people who are considering therapy for the first time. As recently as yesterday, I spoke to someone who resisted seeking support for years because he thought he could do it alone. He believed that it would show weakness to get help. This is a story that I hear over and over, and it couldn’t be further from the truth.
As Brené Brown—research professor at the University of Houston and author of five #1 New York Times bestsellers—has taught us: It is not brave to deny that we need support. It is avoidant, and avoidance can lead to negative mental health outcomes.
Most people realize that it isn’t wise to ignore physiological symptoms. Our emotional health deserves the same attention. If you think you could benefit from support, don’t hesitate to get it. Here are some ways that you can take action:
State Programs Related to the COVID-19 Crisis
Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo announced in a press conference on March 21 that he is trying to create a network of mental health professionals to assist people experiencing stress and anxiety as a result of the health crisis. If New York is able to establish this network, then sessions would be held by phone or via video conference at no cost to participants. It may be worth investigating if an option like this is available in your state.
Employee Assistance Programs
Many companies offer Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) through which employees, and their families, can connect with outside counselors, resources, and referrals. EAPs usually offer employees a specified number of sessions with a mental health professional at no cost to them.
The service is completely confidential, and employees do not need to seek approval from their manager or from HR. Search your company’s intranet site, or review your benefits package, to find out if your organization has an EAP.
Many medical plans have in-network mental health benefits. If your plan does, most of the costs incurred may be covered. Check with your insurance carrier to understand your coverage and refer to their list of in-network providers to find a clinician that suits your needs. Although you may want to find someone in a convenient location, be aware that many therapists are offering virtual sessions now since people are staying home to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Referrals from People You Know
When you need a dentist you probably ask a friend or colleague. Why not use the same approach to find a therapist? You may think you are alone in seeking emotional support but believe me when I tell you that you are not.
Andrew Solomon—writer and psychologist—told a story from the TED stage about an experience he had at a conference. After he spoke, a woman approached him and confided that she was taking medication to treat her depression. She told him that her husband would never understand, so she hid her medication from him. Later that same day, the woman’s husband approached Mr. Solomon and told the identical story. He was taking the same medication for depression, and he too was hiding it from her.
I don’t think there is a more powerful way than this story to get the point across: You are NOT alone in this.
Referrals from ZocDoc
ZocDoc is an online medical care reservation platform that includes mental health services. There is no charge to use ZocDoc, and you can search for providers that meet your needs. There are online reviews that provide insight to help you find a therapist who is the right fit.
Open Path Psychotherapy Collective
Open Path Psychotherapy Collective is a non-profit nationwide network of mental health professionals dedicated to providing in-office mental health care—at a steeply reduced rate—to individuals, couples, children, and families in need.
BetterHelp is an online portal that provides direct-to-consumer access to behavioral health services. The online counseling and therapy services are provided through web-based interaction as well as phone and text communication.
Talkspace is an online therapy platform that provides users the confidential support of a licensed therapist through an easy-to-use and HIPAA-compliant app.
You may decide to see a therapist who is not in-network with your insurance provider. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the costs will be completely out-of-pocket. Some plans offer out-of-network benefits.
Here’s how out-of-network benefits work: Once you meet your medical deductible for the year, your plan will cover a percentage of the cost of future sessions until your deductible re-sets—usually at the beginning of the new calendar year. While the percentage covered for an out-of-network provider is lower than an in-network provider, it can still be as high as 70-80%. Contact your insurance carrier for more information on what is covered with your specific plan.
As you can see, there are choices available to you, but the act of choosing doesn’t necessarily end after your first engagement with your therapist. When you go on a first date, or you interview a candidate for an open job, you assess whether the person is a good fit. I recommend the same approach when you engage with a therapist. Ask yourself:
· Do I like this person?
· Am I comfortable with this person?
· Do I feel judged or accepted?
· Am I getting the feedback or the space that I need?
· Do I feel listened to and understood?
If you aren’t satisfied with the answer to those questions, then thank the person for their time and let them know that you don’t plan to continue.
Remember: You are seeking a therapist to get the support that you need, so keep looking for the person who can help. We are out here, ready, and waiting for you to find us.