If you’re considering therapy, you’re also probably wondering how to choose the right therapist. And if you’re interested in psychedelic therapy, that adds another layer of complexity to the already-complicated topic that is mental health.
Finding a psychedelic therapist is difficult because there aren’t many of them (yet), and psychedelics aren’t easily accessible. Psychedelic-assisted therapy is an emerging field, and psychedelics are still federally controlled drugs in the United States.
However, the right mental health therapist can help you process emotions and trauma, which might help shape the insights from your trip. As we’ll discuss later, certain therapists can even help you with integration. So, how do you find a therapist? Let’s talk.
The Importance of Therapy
Therapy helps people work through their feelings and develop necessary coping skills. Some people think therapy is only for those who have experienced a major traumatic event. In reality, therapy is for everyone.
When you’re stressed, overwhelmed, feeling down, or dealing with a significant life change, therapy helps give you the tools to manage your emotions and live a healthier life.
Seeing a mental health therapist is like getting a tune-up for your car. You probably know it’s time to see a mechanic when the “check engine” light comes on. But regular maintenance helps your car run smoothly and catch small problems before they become major issues.
Similarly, talking to a therapist is like a tune-up for your mind. You’re given a supportive space to talk about your feelings and concerns, practice coping strategies, and stay on top of your mental, emotional, and spiritual health.
In this article, we’ll focus on how to choose a psychotherapist. The term “psychotherapist” refers to a clinician who uses talk therapy to help people manage their mental health. 1 Talk therapy has been shown to help conditions such as anxiety, eating disorders, and depression.
The Importance of Finding the Right Therapist
Finding the right therapist matters because you want to feel safe and comfortable enough to talk about your true thoughts and feelings. It’ll be more difficult to open up and understand yourself if you don’t feel seen or heard.
Therapy requires courage, honesty, and vulnerability. Sometimes, it can be validating, challenging, and enlightening in the same session. Therapy isn’t easy, but the right therapist will help you feel supported through your journey.
We’ll share some tips for how to choose a psychotherapist below. But remember: This is a highly individualized decision. Check in with yourself during your sessions. Do you feel like you can speak freely or feel judged? Do you understand how your therapist approaches your concerns, or does every session feel disorganized?
Trust your gut. You’ll know when you click with a therapist and when it’s time to move on.
When to Consider Therapy
Below, we’ll cover some common reasons to find a therapist. Remember that you don’t need to have a clearly defined reason to go to therapy: If you feel compelled to speak with a professional, that’s as good as any reason.
If you’re dealing with thoughts of suicide or self-harm, talk to someone at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Support is free and available 24/7.
You’re having a hard time dealing with your emotions
It’s normal to occasionally deal with difficult emotions, like stressing about a deadline or anxiety about a conflict at work. However, it’s not normal to feel stressed, anxious, or hopeless most (or all) of the time.
When those feelings take center stage, it’s a sign that you’re having difficulty regulating your emotions. Therapy can help you become more aware of your feelings and keep negative thoughts under control, so they don’t dominate your life.
Your behaviors negatively affect yourself and others
Your temper pushes away your loved ones. You’re abusing substances like drugs or alcohol. You find yourself constantly arguing or getting aggressive with others. If your behaviors are difficult to control, a professional can help you understand your actions and approach them from a healthier perspective.
You’re dealing with a difficult life change
It can be difficult to manage major upheavals like moving, losing a job, getting divorced, or dealing with health issues. Sometimes, navigating these changes with a mental health professional is more helpful, particularly if you feel like you can’t talk to friends or family.
You’re constantly worrying
You’re always on edge. You feel like you expect the worst outcome 99 percent of the time. Even the smallest inconveniences can send you into a tailspin. What’s going on?
Constant worrying is a sign that you’re dealing with unregulated emotions. With a therapist’s help, you’ll be more equipped to understand (and manage) the root cause of your worrying: Is it insecurity, trauma, stress, or all of the above?
You want to go to therapy
It’s a common misconception that you must have a diagnosed mental health issue or endure a traumatic event to justify going to therapy. If you feel like a professional can help you navigate unmanageable emotions, that’s your justification for finding a therapist.
Who Is the Right Therapist for You?
The question of how to choose the right therapist begins with credentials and cost.
- Credentials: Is the therapist licensed to practice in your state? What kind of training have they received, and do they have a specialty?
- Cost: Does the therapist accept your insurance? If not, do they offer a sliding fee scale?
Once you’ve established those foundational elements, determining whether you feel comfortable with that therapist is next step.
Your first session is usually a “get to know each other” meeting. Feel free to ask questions about the therapist’s experience and different approaches they might use in your sessions. If areas of expertise are important to you, such as experience working with substance abuse, domestic abuse, or racial trauma, address the topic during your first conversation.
Ultimately, only you can determine whether you click with a therapist or not. If you feel at ease and safe enough to open up, that’s a great sign.
How to Find a Therapist
Go through your insurance
Finding a provider within your network makes it easier for insurance to cover the cost of therapy. To get started, see if your health insurance platform has an online directory of in-network mental health providers or a dedicated phone number for mental health appointments.
Talk to your healthcare provider
Your primary care provider may be able to recommend a therapist who meets your needs and accepts your insurance.
Use online directories
Several mental health organizations maintain online directories of licensed therapists. Browse the following resources to find professionals in your area:
- American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists
- Association of LGBTQ+ Psychiatrists
- American Psychological Association
For therapists with particular experience working with the insights from psychedelic trips, check out MAPS’ Psychedelic Integration List. This directory includes professionals who can help a person process their psychedelic experiences and apply them to everyday life.
You can also find a therapist with experience in more specific concerns or therapies, such as support for anxiety or eating disorders:
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America
- EMDR Therapist Directory
- Cognitive Processing Therapy for PTSD Provider Roster
- International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies
- National Center for PTSD
- National Eating Disorders Association
If you feel more comfortable working with a culturally conscious therapist, check out these resources:
- Black Mental Health Alliance
- Indian Health Service (filter results for “Behavioral Health Facilities”)
- The National Asian American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association
- Therapy for Latinx
- Psychology Today (once you enter your zip code, you can filter your results by particular ethnicities served)
Talk to HR
Some companies offer an employee assistance program (EAP) that can connect you with a professional. Depending on the program, you might receive short-term counseling or a referral. Your human resources department can provide you with more information about EAP.
Note: Conversations with therapists are confidential, but conversations with HR are not. We don’t recommend talking to HR about your specific concerns or psychedelic use.
Speak with friends and family
You can find potential therapists by chatting with trusted loved ones, but keep in mind that the same therapist isn’t right for everyone. However, if things don’t work out, there’s nothing wrong with switching providers and asking for a referral.
Later in this article, we’ll cover some tips on navigating how to “break up” with your therapist.
Questions to Ask When Making the Appointment
Sometimes, therapy will be challenging because it requires working on yourself. However, an experienced therapist can help you navigate difficult situations and move toward personal growth.
These questions help get the conversation started with a potential therapist:
- Are you licensed to practice in my state?
- Do you have any areas of expertise, such as particular types of therapy?
- How often will I see you?
- I think I’m dealing with (a specific concern, like anxiety, depression, or PTSD). What is your approach to this issue?
- What are your hours and availability? If I’m having a particularly hard time, will I be able to speak with you sooner?
- What is your professional background?
- Will you be in communication with my doctor?
Questions to ask a psychedelic therapist
The questions above are relevant for psychotherapists. But if you’re speaking with a therapist who will be guiding you through psychedelic-assisted therapy, here are some more specific questions to ask:
- Are you familiar with Psychedelic Harm Reduction and Integration (PHRI)?
- Can you tell me about your background in psychedelic medicine?
- How will you work with me before and after my psychedelic experience?
- How will my psychedelic experience complement our therapy sessions?
- What is your experience working with integration?
Keep in mind that a psychedelic therapist will not provide you with psychedelic drugs. In the United States, clinical trials and ketamine therapy are the only ways to legally pursue psychedelic therapy.
Psychedelic-assisted therapy may be more accessible in the coming years, particularly after Oregon’s and Colorado’s psilocybin service centers open for business in the next 1-2 years. For now, some people choose to use psychedelics on their own and talk to a therapist about the trip.
The personal use of substances is confidential, as long as your use is not a risk to yourself or others. 2
What to Expect During Your First Appointment
Therapy can seem overwhelming at first. What will you talk about? How will you feel? Fortunately, your first appointment is pretty simple.
This initial consultation is more of an intake session. In some ways, it’s similar to a normal check-up with your doctor.
- You’ll check in and fill out any new patient paperwork. If this is a telehealth (online therapy) appointment, you’ll be able to fill out these forms ahead of time.
- Your therapist will ask about your concerns, symptoms, and goals for therapy.
- You’ll have an opportunity to ask your prospective therapist about their background, treatment plan, and any other questions.
- Toward the end of the session (which usually lasts less than an hour), you and your therapist will discuss scheduling another appointment. If you want to speak with someone else, that’s okay. You can ask for a referral at this time.
- If you choose to move forward with your therapist, they might give you homework such as journaling, breathing exercises, or incorporating more movement into your day. These recommendations may help you gain insight into yourself, manage your emotions, practice coping strategies, or all of the above.
You might feel tired or emotional after a good therapy session, especially if you spoke about difficult experiences. This is a normal reaction, so plan to rest and take care of yourself afterward.
Pay attention to how you feel in the time after your first session. Are you struggling with new emotions and memories? If your therapist gave you assignments, are you benefiting from them? Jot down some notes so you can discuss them during your next session.
What to Do if the Therapist Is Not a Good Match
Sometimes, your relationship with your therapist doesn’t work out. Maybe you keep running into scheduling issues, you aren’t clicking, or your therapist’s methods aren’t working for you. Hey, it happens.
The important thing is to address your concerns (and don’t ghost your therapist). Your provider needs to know how you’re feeling so they can adapt your mental health treatment accordingly. Before you walk away too soon, keep in mind that people usually begin to see progress after six to 12 therapy sessions. 3
Instead of ending the therapeutic relationship, your provider might suggest trying a different approach, such as group therapy, psychodynamic therapy, or cognitive therapy. For example, if cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) isn’t working out, you might benefit from eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy instead.
If you ultimately decide to start over with someone else, it’s okay to ask for a referral. Your therapist may be able to refer you to someone else in your network who has experience working with your particular needs.
Frequently Asked Questions
How difficult is it to find a therapist?
It can be difficult to find a therapist if you don’t have insurance or have limited availability. However, providers may be able to recommend you to someone who better suits your needs. The first step is making your initial appointment.
How do you tell if you need to see a therapist?
If you’re having a hard time managing your emotions and behaviors, feel hopeless, or feel chronically stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed, those are all signs that you might benefit from professional help.
Ultimately, there’s no single reason to see a therapist. If you’re having a hard time living your life normally, that’s a good reason to find a therapist.
Is there a difference between a therapist and a psychiatrist?
A licensed therapist uses talk therapy to help you manage your emotions and behaviors. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who diagnoses and prescribes medication to help treat mental illness, such as bipolar disorder and depression.
The Bottom Line
If you’re new to therapy, figuring out how to choose the right therapist can feel overwhelming. Start by reflecting on what you want to get out of therapy: Are there specific issues you’d like to work on, such as unresolved trauma or chronic stress?
Then, speak with your doctor or health insurance provider to find a good therapist in your network. Remember, your rapport is the most important part of a successful therapist-client relationship. Check in with yourself during your sessions. Do you feel comfortable, seen, and heard, even when you’re working through challenging topics?
Ultimately, therapy is a personal decision. You don’t need a single reason to go to therapy; wanting to improve your relationship with your thoughts and emotions is reason enough. You might even discover new things about yourself in the process.