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How to Choose an In-Network Therapist
There are two things you need in order to use insurance to pay for therapy: a plan that covers mental health treatment and local therapists who are in your plan’s network.
If you’ve already met these two requirements, you’re well on your way to getting affordable therapy. You may be able to get all or most of your therapy paid for by your insurance provider instead of out of your own pocket, with only a small co-pay to make up the difference.
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.
For example, 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.
And even if there’s no wait to see an in-network therapist, there are other factors to consider before you choose one. To increase your chances of success, we recommend taking these five steps before signing up with a therapist in your plan’s network.
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Consider the commute.
Commuting is one of the most stressful activities any of us do every day. 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 as you carpool to work, 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, travel costs can negate your savings. And even if you’d save money by going to that far-away therapist, you might decide it’s worth paying a little more to save yourself the extra time and stress.
Make sure the therapist you choose has the right expertise.
Most therapists are equipped to help you achieve the goals that bring you to therapy. Many therapy methods can help you 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 if you work with a specific type of therapist.
You may be dissatisfied if you choose a therapist based on cost instead of based on the expertise you need them to have. For example:
- Personality disorders can be successfully treated, but usually only by a therapist who knows how to avoid common missteps.
- If you need to process trauma, you’ll 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 with them.
For More Information
For more information on how to find in-network therapists, including tips on how to use your insurance company’s website and a list of online platforms that accept insurance, you can read our article “How to Get the Most Out of Your Mental Health Coverage.”
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 first.
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 lists choose our doctors and therapists for us. The result is that we often end up feeling stuck with providers who aren’t helping us that much.
It doesn’t have to be that way. You can research your care providers and make sure you find one who’s the right match. 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.
For More Information
For more information on how to research therapists, including lists of questions you can ask when you’re interviewing one, you can read our article “The Five Steps to Background Check a Therapist.”
Most therapists will respect the care you are putting into making the important decision of choosing a therapist. In fact, they often use their first few sessions to make sure they’re a good match for you, too. It’s not unusual for counselors to refer you to a colleague if they think someone else will be a better fit.
Base your choice on how you feel, not just on what you think.
It’s easy to choose too quickly when you 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 emotion and intuition as rational analysis. Relationships are complex and the signs they’ll work are often too subtle to make sense of right away. The trick is intuition. Your heart and gut know before your mind does.
So, when you’re choosing a therapist, it’s important to use your intuition and to take note of 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.
For More Information
For more information on how to tap into your intuition, including questions you can ask yourself to connect to your subconscious, you can read our article “Using Your Intuition to Choose the Right Therapist.”
Understand how the therapy relationship 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, who began the person-centered therapy movement, 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 you perceive and navigate the deeper dimensions of your life.
Good therapists maintain professional boundaries while forging an intimate connection with you. This allows them to create the sacred space that can only exist when the competing agendas that inform your other relationships are not allowed into the room.
Therapists don’t have to be 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 under-think it. You can find a happy medium by doing research without falling into the trap of an impossible quest for perfection.
Whether you choose an in-network therapist shouldn't just depend on their in-network status. It should depend on whether they're a good match for your needs.
Even if you save money by using insurance, you ultimately waste it if you spend it on therapy that doesn’t work for you. Ideally, your research will help you find an in-network therapist who’s a good match, but if you can’t find the right therapist in your insurance network, it can sometimes be worth it to pay out of pocket to see someone who’s a good match (especially if they offer an affordable sliding scale).
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 reviewed your reasons for seeking therapy and interviewed a few people, you should have what you need to make a good choice.
The effort you put in at the beginning will be worth it. 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.
Starting therapy can be scary, but we’re here to help
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 clinical social worker, she provided group and individual therapy, crisis intervention services, and psychological assessments.