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How-To Choose an In-Network Therapist

How-To Choose an In-Network Therapist

There are two prerequisites to using insurance to cover therapy: having a plan that covers mental health treatment and having local therapists who are in your plan's network. If you've already met these two requirements, congratulations! You have the rare advantage of being able to get all or most of your therapy paid for by your insurance provider instead of out of your own pocket.

But don't start spending that extra money just yet. Just because there are local therapists who accept your insurance doesn't mean you should choose an in-network therapist by default. If the only in-network therapists in your area have long waiting lists, it might not be worth waiting if there are affordable local or online therapists who can see you right away. Even if there's no wait to see an in-network therapist, there are other factors to consider. Take these five steps before committing to seeing a therapist in your plan's network to set yourself up for success.

1. Consider the commute.

Commuting is one of the most stressful activities we do on a daily basis. Driving, using public transportation, and carpooling each come with their own challenges. Whether you have to dodge distracted drivers, cram yourself into a crowded train car like a human sardine, or listen to a coworker's bizarre conspiracy theories, you probably don't want to spend any more time on the road than you already do.

If your plan's in-network therapists are far away, but there are affordable therapists closer by, consider whether what your insurance saves you is worth the time and expense of traveling to a far-flung office. If the commute is long enough, the travel costs might negate your savings. You might also decide that it's worth paying a little more to save yourself the extra time and stress.

2. Make sure the therapist you choose has the right expertise.

As we covered last week, most therapists are equipped to help people achieve the goals that bring them to therapy. Many methods and approaches can help people improve communication in relationships, acquire self-knowledge, and address symptoms of depression or anxiety. However, some conditions require special training to effectively treat, and certain goals can only be met by working with a specific type of therapist.

For example, personality disorders can be successfully treated, but usually only by a therapist with the expertise to avoid common missteps. People who want to process trauma will do better with a therapist trained in one or more trauma-informed methods. Couples counseling requires specific training to do well. Only certain types of therapists do dream work with clients.

Take the time to think about what you want to accomplish in therapy and whether the therapists in your insurance network have the right training or experience. If they do, great! Consider taking the next step: interviewing a few of those therapists to see if you connect on other levels.

3. Interview multiple therapists before committing to one.

Most of us shop around before we make a major purchase like buying a new television or car. We rarely start a new job without interviewing for a few, and we don't usually marry someone without dating several people and getting to know someone for a long time. Yet we often don't take the same care in choosing who will help us address our mental and physical health. Instead, we let happenstance or insurance provider lists choose our doctors and therapists for us.

It's possible to put the same level of effort into choosing a therapist that we put into making other important choices. One way is to interview more than one therapist before you commit. It's not rude or awkward to tell a therapist that you want to meet with multiple counselors before you choose one. Most therapists will respect the care you are putting into making an important decision. Many exercise the same caution on their end. It's not unusual for counselors to refer potential clients to colleagues when they think someone else will be a better match for them.

4. Base your choice on how you feel as much as what you think.

Sometimes people choose too quickly because they don't know what to look for. Even when you know what method you want your therapist to use and what expertise you need them to have, you might not know any other way to evaluate whether you'll work well with them.

Part of the issue is that choosing a therapist relies as much on emotional and intuitive judgment as rational analysis. Evaluating other people depends on mental processes that operate below the level of conscious awareness. Relationships are complex and the signs they'll work are often too subtle to make sense of right away. Our hearts and guts often know before our minds do.

When choosing a therapist, it's important to use intuitive judgment and consider how you feel when you're in the room with them. Do you like them? Do they seem to like you? Do you feel understood by them? Forging a strong connection with a therapist increases the odds that your time in therapy will be successful and productive.

5. Learn more about how therapy works before choosing a therapist.

Research confirms what a lot of therapists already understand: the quality of the relationship, or the strength of the alliance between therapist and client, is the central element of successful therapy. Carl Rogers believed that the three factors of genuineness, acceptance, and accurate empathy were the most important ingredients in the therapeutic process. Even therapists who strongly believe in the power of a particular method understand that it won't work without at least a basic degree of trust and openness in the therapeutic relationship.

Therapists occupy a unique role: neither family member nor friend, neither boss nor employee, they express characteristics of all and none of these in a relationship that is both transactional and sacred. In a way, a therapist is like a paid friend, in others like a spiritual advisor who helps us perceive and navigate the deeper dimensions of our lives. Good therapists maintain good professional boundaries while forging an intimate connection with clients, maintaining the sacred space that can only be held when the competing agendas that inform our other relationships are not allowed in.

Therapists don't have to be perfect or a perfect match to work well with you, but you need to be able to have a basic level of trust, openness, and comfort with them for your relationship to be a container for growth. It's easy to overthink it when choosing a therapist, but it's also easy to underthink it. Find a happy medium by doing your research without turning your determination to be well-informed into an impossible quest for perfection. Analyze your goals and a therapist's qualifications but also trust your heart and gut.

If you haven't started your research yet, consider using the search tools on OpenCounseling or trying affordable online counseling at BetterHelp  (a sponsor). By the time you've contemplated your reasons for seeking therapy and interviewed a few people, you should have what you need to make a good choice. The relationship you'll form with your therapist has the potential to become a touchstone in your life and help you grow in ways you never expected.

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Stephanie Hairston, MSW
Posted on 06/10/2019 by Stephanie Hairston, MSW

Stephanie Hairston is a freelance mental health writer who spent several years in the field of adult mental health before transitioning to professional writing and editing. As a masters-level clinical social worker, she provided group and individual therapy, crisis intervention services, and psychological assessments. She has also worked as a technical writer for a medical software company and as an editor for a company that appeals denials of insurance coverage for behavioral health treatment. As a writer, she is motivated by the same desire to help others that brought her into the field of social work and believes that knowledge is one of the most essential recovery tools. She strongly believes in the mission of OpenCounseling and in making therapy accessible for everyone.