How To Choose The Right Online Therapist For You
By Danielle Carney, LMHC
Finding an online therapist can be daunting!
Where do you look? What do you look for? How can you be sure they’re the right fit?
I hope to demystify this for you. Knowing where to start and what to look for can save you time, hassle, and hopefully increase the likelihood of finding the online therapist who’s right for you!
What is Online Therapy?
Online therapy is similar to an in-person therapy session, except instead of meeting in a therapist’s office, you’ll meet with your therapist virtually using a laptop, tablet, or phone. Since the pandemic, online therapy has become more mainstream, and more insurance companies have moved to covering online therapy sessions.
Many online therapists use end-to-end encrypted platforms to meet via video chat, which ensures confidentiality and allows for face-to-face interactions. If this is not an option for you, some therapists will offer phone sessions as well.
Benefits of Online Therapy
I started offering online therapy by necessity at the beginning of the pandemic. Since I had never offered virtual sessions before, I was hesitant at first. As the months went on, I noticed my clients were having the same, if not better, results than they were in person. They were coming more consistently and missing less appointments. As time has progressed, research has echoed my observations.
Research has shown that online therapy is just as effective as in-person therapy. With this, it’s no longer a question of which is a “better” option, but rather what feels like a better fit for you.
Many people prefer the accessibility and convenience of online therapy. Not having to plan around commuting, securing childcare, and getting extra time off of work or school reduces the stress around accessing care. Being able to pop on to a video chat on your lunch hour from your car, or while your kids are in the next room makes accessing therapy easier and more flexible.
Additionally, some people report that meeting virtually helps them to open up faster, delve into vulnerable topics sooner, and give themselves permission to feel their emotions in the comfort of their own space. It can feel less overwhelming and anxiety-provoking to be able to meet from a private place of your own choice, rather than driving to an unfamiliar office to meet with a stranger.
Online therapy allows you the option to meet with specialists who might not be geographically located near you. It broadens the reach of your search by the entire state you live in, increasing the likelihood you’ll be able to work with a therapist who specializes in the particular areas you hope to address. Additionally, some therapists (like me!) are able to practice in multiple states due to holding licenses in those states.
Importance of Finding the Right Online Therapist
It’s important to find an online therapist that feels like they are the right fit for you. If you have a specific therapeutic approach that you are interested in, this also can inform the process. For instance, an art therapist’s session is going to go much differently than a therapist who prefers to use a cognitive-behavioral approach.
Some online therapists specialize in certain areas and clinical concerns. If you are looking to address something specifically, it’s helpful to be sure the therapist you’d like to work with has experience and training in that area.
More than anything, the most impactful factor to your results in therapy is the therapeutic relationship. How you feel in the presence of your therapist is everything and the number one influence to your success in therapy. With this, I encourage you to prioritize finding someone you like, trust, and feel comfortable with. Feeling safe, seen, and understood is so huge when you’re looking for a therapist.
Where to Look For An Online Therapist
Many people begin their search for a therapist online, using popular search engines like Google, or more therapy-specific directories like the following:
Using an online therapy directory can be helpful because it allows for filtering tools to search by specialty, approaches, budget, and location.
If you have a health insurance plan that covers mental health, you can call the number on the back of your card or use your insurance plan’s online portal to find a list of in-network therapists. Depending on where you work, you may also have an employee assisted program that covers a certain number of therapy sessions. You can also ask family members, friends, or your primary care doctor for a referral to a therapist.
What To Consider When Choosing An Online Therapist
Cost and/or Insurance Coverage
What are you willing to invest in yourself for therapy? Are you willing to pay out-of-pocket, or would you like to use your insurance benefits? Many insurance plans offer coverage for mental health services. If you’re unsure about your plan, call the number on the back of your card to ask them about your mental health benefits.
If you find a therapist who seems like a really good fit for you but they don’t take your insurance, you might be able to receive reimbursement based on your out-of-network benefits. Here are some questions to ask your insurance company:
- Does my plan provide out-of-network reimbursement for psychotherapy?
- Is there a deductible I need to meet before you will start to reimburse me?
- If so, what of my deductible is left?
- What percentage of the fee do you cover?
- Do I need a referral from my primary care physician for coverage to apply?
- Is there a cap amount for CPT codes 90837 or 90834?
Schedule and Availability
What are you willing to do to make therapy work? With the convenience of online therapy, could you meet over your lunch break? Could you talk to your boss about needing to duck out for a regular appointment?
Whatever your schedule limitations, it’s important to find a therapist who has the current availability that meets your needs. Keep in mind therapy requires you to invest in yourself, which means that you might need to alter your schedule or make arrangements to make the time for weekly therapy appointments. It’s so worth it (and necessary) to put yourself first!
Specialty and Approach
Is it important to you to see someone with specialized training and experience? Some therapists have received extra training in certain areas like anxiety, trauma, addiction, or eating disorders. They would usually state this somewhere in their online bios or on their website.
Are you interested in working with a therapist who offers a specific approach? Many therapists offer a particular therapeutic approach, or combination of approaches:
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
- Motivational Interviewing (MI)
- Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP)
- Relational Therapy
- Psychodynamic Therapy
- Attachment Therapy
- Eye Movement and Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR)
For instance, I specialize in self-esteem, women’s issues, anxiety, depression, body image, eating disorders, and relationship issues. I love helping women deepen their understanding of themselves, shed layers of fear and shame, heal their relationship with food and their bodies, and develop more confidence in who they are. I use a holistic, trauma-informed lens integrating ACT, Psychodynamic, Attachment-Focused, and Relational approaches.
Personal Preferences and Shared Identities
Finding a therapist that shares aspects of your identity in race, gender, culture, disability or health status, age, or faith is a top priority for some clients. It can contribute to a sense of mutual understanding for each other if aspects of identity are shared. This is especially true for members of the LGBTQIA+, BIPOC, and Latinx communities. Knowing your therapist has had similarities in lived experience can lend to more comfort and ease in the therapeutic relationship.
For others, they actively seek out therapists who differ from them in certain aspects of identity. For instance, male clients might seek out a female therapist if they’re looking for a different perspective.
If shared identity is not as much of a priority to you, you might want a therapist who is similar to you in sense of humor, personality, or communication style.
Final Thoughts on Finding An Online Therapist
Online therapy offers convenience, accessibility, and effectiveness. So, it’s really up to you and your preferences if online therapy is the right fit for you. The most important thing to consider is that you find a therapist who you feel comfortable opening up to and that you trust has the skills and the knowledge to help you.
I get how hard finding the right therapist can be. If you’re looking for an online therapist and you live in Florida, South Carolina, or Delaware, you can reach out to me here.