Tips for how to find a therapist and schedule your first therapy appointment, including what to have on hand when you make your phone call, how to interview therapists, & more.
Please make an appointment through the patient portal or call 443-300-6094 if you’re interested in pursuing therapy in Howard County, Maryland through Happy Honeysuckle Healing Center. If you have a psychiatric or medical emergency, please contact 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.
This blog is for educational purposes only. This information is best case scenario, at least within the scope of my knowledge and experience at the time I write the post. Not only does everyone have different approaches to parenting and life- and my way may not be your cup of tea, but also- I am not perfect, nor do I want anyone to imagine that I am. Despite being a therapist and having a whole host of really cool techniques for all the mental health related things, I am constantly learning and trying to do better.
I’m hoping that this blog can help you. When we share what works for us, we can help others develop their own toolkit for improving their mental health.
What is Your Time Line?
It’s important to consider your time line when you setup a therapy appointment. If you’re seeing a therapist for mild symptoms, a life change, or for continuing treatment of something you’re already medicated for, it is feasible to take your time and interview several providers to find the right person.
If you are suicidal or homicidal, self harming, or otherwise in crisis, you need to immediately go to your local emergency room or call 9-1-1. There are often waiting times to see a therapist or psychiatrist so it’s important to get immediate care through an emergency service if this is an issue. The hospital can help determine if you or a loved one needs immediate care.
Many hospitals offer inpatient options (you stay at the hospital) to help stabilize people for a few days so they are safe. Some places also have intensive outpatient programs where you can see a therapist and psychiatrist frequently until you’re feeling well enough to decrease to once weekly appointments.
If they think you are safe to go home, the hospital staff can make recommendations for people in your community that can help.
This post is a guideline for those who have the ability to wait to get care.
PLEASE DO NOT WAIT if you think you are at risk of hurting yourself or others.
Make a List of Potential Therapists
You should start by making a list of potential providers in your area.
In-Person or Telehealth
The pandemic made telehealth a much more accessible option for clients. With the telehealth option, a person can see ANY therapist who is licensed in their state. The client MUST be physically in the state that the therapist is licensed in (for most situations). For example, if a client is a college student in DC, but lives in Maryland during the summer and school breaks, they might want a therapist who is licensed in both areas so they don’t have to switch providers when they’re home for the summer. Likewise, this can be an issue for child clients who have shared custody parents in different states.
Regardless, telehealth opens the door to receiving different types of therapy virtually that may not be accessible otherwise (or within driving distance).
Telehealth is a great option for people who are busy, can’t drive, who live in remote areas, or who struggle to get out of the house. In some ways, it’s helpful with diagnosing a client because the therapist/psychiatrist can see the client in their home environment. For example, an ADHD client may show fewer symptoms in a neatly organized office vs. in their own personal space.
That said, in-person therapy is valuable. I believe that there’s an additional value to meeting face to face, and that the connection in-person is something that a lot of people are missing post pandemic. For some clients, such as young children, meeting in-person is necessary because they can’t maintain focus, or because they struggle to form a connection virtually.
Think about how far you’d like to travel- do you have a car or need to take a bus? Do you need to take a taxi? Make sure your budget allows for travel to your provider.
Do you just hate driving and prefer someone close by? You can use a quick search within the distance you prefer to make a list of appropriate therapists.
If you can’t drive, or don’t have a reliable source of transportation, a provider who offers telehealth services is a better option.
Here’s an example of the distance problem with therapy. A college student in a major city decides to see a therapist covered by her insurance at the local hospital center. The center appears to be a reasonable distance away, around 3 miles. Unfortunately, it turns out that the center isn’t on the same train line as her university. She either has to walk the 3 miles, switch train lines three times, take a taxi, or figure out how to navigate the bus system… which also appears to require a couple of transfers. She eventually drops out of therapy because travel is a huge obstacle.
Therapy is a weekly commitment so distance is more important (assuming you want in-person therapy) than it is when you decide on a PCP or dentist that you’ll see once or twice a year.
It might, however, be worth a longer drive to see the right person.
Can you get a referral from friends or family? Sometimes it’s helpful to seek referrals from others. Often Facebook groups for the local area are a good resource and you can ask the admin if they’ll post your request for referrals anonymously. Many people are happy to give recommendation.
You may want to inquire about a specific type of therapist or therapy type- ie. Can anyone recommend a good male therapist in the area? or Does anyone know of a therapist who does play therapy with 4 year old children?
Family or friends may recommend someone. Make sure to consider if you want to see the same person as your friend or family member. While therapists should maintain your confidentiality, you might still feel uncomfortable knowing she sees your brother-in-law, who you just had a huge argument with.
It might also be awkward if you happen to have sessions back to back… therapists use sound machines and/or music to keep people in the waiting room from hearing what is said in session, but maybe it would still feel uncomfortable to you to have someone you know sitting outside.
Read reviews of the provider on local review sites for doctors. As therapists see fewer patients than doctors or dentists, it’s often difficult to find reviews, however, and most people don’t like to leave reviews as this ‘outs’ them as a therapy patient.
If you’re looking for a therapist who has a certification in or experience with a particular therapy type, you may want to search that therapy type’s website.
For example, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a common treatment for Anxiety and Depression. While most therapists use CBT, there are therapists who have gone through the complete certification.
The same is true for play therapy, art therapy, and other modalities.
There are even people who do animal assisted therapy or equine assisted therapy.
Gottman is a big name in couples therapy and you’ll see their names on a lot of research.
EMDR is highly sought after for the treatment of trauma and PTSD.
Many of these types of therapy have an association or main website where you can search for therapists certified under them.
It is possible you’ll be able to find providers in your area who can do the type of therapy you want, but don’t have the certification. Certification is expensive to get so some therapists will learn the therapy modality, but not get the certificate. They may also be working their way through a certification program.
For example, I was originally trained in the EAGALA model for Equine-Assisted Therapy, but decided to pursue my certification in Animal Assisted Play Therapy (AAPT) instead. I have experience with partnering with animals in therapy, quite a bit of training, and experience doing other types of experiential therapy, but I am unable to get my full certification without another 6 months of supervision and the Part 2 training in 2024.
Not all certification programs are the same- they require different levels of commitment, different amounts of training time, etc. So just having a certification isn’t everything. That’s why you want to look for more than just certification.
Search for Providers Covered by Your Health Insurance
If you want to use your health insurance, the insurance company will have a website or phone number you can call to get a list of providers that are covered.
You should visit that site and either search for the people on the list you created already, or use the whole list of covered providers to begin your search.
Sometimes your insurance company will allow you to see a provider that isn’t on the list, but you will have to pay out of pocket and submit the paperwork to the insurance company yourself. This is called an Out of Network provider.
What to do when you don’t have insurance (or your have bad insurance)
If you are low income and don’t have insurance through the state, you can ask if the provider offers a sliding scale fee. Not all providers do this, but some will base your fee on your income.
There are also Pro Bono therapy programs if you don’t have the income to pay for therapy. Therapists may accept a lower rate or provide therapy for free as a service to the community.
If you can afford therapy, but don’t have insurance, you can pay an out of network provider directly. There are a lot of excellent out of network providers who don’t accept insurance, but will work with private pay clients.
What to Have Available for Your Phone Call
When you call to schedule an appointment with a therapist, have a list of any questions you want to ask, your schedule, and your insurance card (if you’ll be using insurance) on hand.
If a machine answers your call, leave your name and phone number requesting a call back. You should not need to leave any background information on a recording.
If they have a patient portal on their website, you may be able to schedule directly through that. This doesn’t, however, allow you the option to interview the therapist, unless they have an option for a free 15-min consultation on their scheduling system.
What to Do When a Therapist Doesn’t Call Back?
If you suspect that you forgot to leave your contact information or that perhaps the reception wasn’t good when you left your message, you can call back and leave another message if your call hasn’t been returned within 48-72 hours (business hours).
Still no return call? I find it’s usually a good indication that the therapist has a full caseload or a very long waiting list if they don’t call back within that time period. Move on to someone else.
You may or may not want to interview several providers- this is largely a personal choice and one that may be difficult to accommodate if you’re using health insurance. Some providers offer a free 15-minute phone consultation as well which is ideal for seeing it it’s a good fit. This is easier (and cheaper) than scheduling a full intake appointment with three different providers.
For this initial consultation, you should have a list of questions that you’d like answered. It’s okay to interview us and find a therapist who is EXACTLY what you want. We realize that we aren’t everyone’s cup of tea and that’s okay. Therapist fit is an important part of the therapeutic process.
There are often waiting times to see psychotherapists and psychiatrists so if you think you might need both, it is important to schedule both of those appointments as soon as possible.
And again, if an emergency arises where you need immediately help, please contact 911 or go to your closest emergency room.