How to Find a Therapist

“A good therapist will meet you wherever you are in your journey and help you get closer to truly living your best life however, you define that.” — Sara Herrity Moscarelli, MS, LMFT 

Mental health is an essential component of overall health. The Center of Excellence for Integrated Care (COE), an FHLI program, advocates for integrating mental and behavioral health to support whole-person and whole-community well-being.

Therapy is one way to support your mental health. However, whether you have been to therapy before or are seeking it out for the first time, finding a therapist can be confusing and challenging. So, the COE team is here to help with some tips on how to find a therapist who fits your needs.

You can learn about distinct types of therapists, tips for finding the right fit, an overview of how mental health insurance works, and more. 

  • How can a therapist help me?  
  • What types of therapists are there? 
  • Is a coach the same as a therapist? 
  • How do I find a therapist?  
  • How do I find the right therapist for me
  • Therapy resources for Black, Indigenous, and people of color 
  • In-person & telehealth therapy 
  • How much does therapy cost?  
  • Free, low-cost, and sliding-scale options 
  • Does insurance cover therapy? 
  • NC Medicaid therapy coverage 
  • Mental health insurance benefits 
  • Additional resources 

How can a therapist help me?  

Therapists can help you navigate life transitions, develop healthy coping skills, identify and process your emotions, and gain greater insight into your experiences. Even if you aren’t 100% sure what you hope to gain from therapy at first, a compassionate therapist can help you figure that out as you work together. 

It’s common to experience a range of emotions, including some discomfort, as you begin your therapy journey. COE Senior Project Manager Sara Herrity Moscarelli, MS, LMFT, MS, LMFT, says, “Therapy might not feel good initially. Change, growth, and healing can be hard, but it is the good kind of hard. That hard work usually doesn’t only occur in a one-hour weekly session. We see the inner transformation as the work sinks in during the other 167 hours (about seven days) in the week between sessions. Therapy is a space to slow down, reflect, process, gain insight, and learn skills, but the time between sessions is where the practice of these skills is put to work and becomes part of ourselves.” 

What types of therapists are there? 

When you begin searching for a therapist, you will see different licensures, such as Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), and Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC). All these licensed professions require a master’s degree, including fieldwork experience, a state license, and certification. You can look up a therapist’s state license to verify they have met the requirements to practice

Other types of mental health providers include Psychologists (PhDs or PsyDs) who have Doctor of Philosophy degrees and a licensure and Psychiatrists (MDs) who have Doctor of Medicine degrees and a license to practice medicine.  

Beyond earning their degree and maintaining their license, therapists often pursue additional training in specific therapeutic approaches and models. A few examples of these include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Internal Family Systems (IFS), and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).  

Other types of mental health providers include Psychologists (PhDs or PsyDs) who have Doctor of Philosophy degrees and a licensure and Psychiatrists (MDs) who have Doctor of Medicine degrees and a license to practice medicine.  

Beyond earning their degree and maintaining their license, therapists often pursue additional training in specific therapeutic approaches and models. A few examples of these include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Internal Family Systems (IFS), and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).  

All licensed mental health providers receive training in treating and diagnosing individuals struggling with mental health issues. However, each licensure has a unique lens or training background with which they understand mental health. Depending on your needs, one type of therapist may be better suited for you: 

Types of therapists 

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)LCSWs specialize in social systems and how they impact mental health. They can also help connect you with other resources, such as housing support, transportation, and more if you need them.
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) LMFTs specialize in relationships, couples, marriage, and family counseling. They are experts at understanding and treating issues that develop within relationship contexts.
Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselors (LMHCs) LMHCs specialize in individual psychology and human development. They can offer a range of mental health support. 
Psychologists (PhDs or PsyDs) Both PhDs and PsyDs have Doctor of Philosophy degrees. They specialize in testing and diagnosing. PsyDs specialize in more clinical techniques.
Psychiatrists (MDs) Psychiatrists have a Doctor of Medicine degree. They prescribe and provide medication management to treat mental health conditions. 

Tip: You can see more than one type of mental health provider at once to get the support you need. For instance, seeing a therapist and a psychiatrist who can prescribe medication simultaneously could be helpful. 

Is a coach the same as a therapist? 

Therapy and coaching are distinct. Coaches (aka life coaches) and therapists provide different types of support. Therapists provide mental health counseling and help people heal and develop healthy coping skills. They must have at least a graduate degree and state licensure that they need to maintain through continuing education and training. Coaches, on the other hand, help people achieve personal and/or professional goals. They may have a certification, but no education, training, or credentials are required. 

How do I find a therapist? 

If you have friends or family members who work in mental health or have been to therapy, asking them for help is a wonderful place to start. They can contact their network, recommend counselors they’ve worked with, or ask around for referrals. 

You can also search online using databases like GoodTherapy, TherapistLocator, and Psychology Today. The Psychology Today therapist finder allows you to filter your search by state, zip code, telehealth, and:  

  • Issues (anxiety, depression, grief, marriage counseling, etc.)  
  • Insurance (Medicaid, Medicare, Aetna, BlueCross BlueShield, etc.)  
  • Types of Therapy (cognitive behavioral, acceptance and commitment, family, etc.)  
  • Price (individual range, couples’ range, and sliding scale)  

You can also search by gender, age, ethnicity served, sexuality, language, and faith

After using the filters to narrow your search, read the therapists’ bios to get an idea of their approach, focus areas, personality, and style. If they aren’t currently accepting new patients, they will also indicate that on their profile. 

Then, you can email, call, or text the therapists you want to work with. Most providers offer a free, 15-minute consultation, typically over a phone or video call. During this time, you can ask questions and get a sense of the therapist before deciding whether to schedule an appointment. 

How do I find the right therapist for me? 

Finding the right therapeutic fit is essential—and it takes time- like searching for a place to live. Most people shop around before finding a therapist they connect with and can open up to easily. Research shows that a healthy, positive client-therapist relationship is essential for treatment success. 

On top of having therapeutic approaches, specialized training, and higher education, each therapist has their own style and personality. You may also want to consider other aspects, such as cultural alignment, shared identity, and personal experience. This overlap can help you feel seen and validated. 

Many people face challenges when it comes to accessing mental health care, such as stigma, language and cultural barriers, and more. The lack of workforce diversity in the field can also play a role, making finding a therapist with a shared experience challenging. 

The majority of mental health providers are white, and there is a history of structural racism in mental health care. These factors can impact how individuals and communities of color access culturally responsive care. 

Therapy resources for Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) 

If the first therapist you find doesn’t feel like the right fit, learn what you can from the experience and let it guide your search as you continue looking. “The client’s relationship with the therapist is the number one predictor of therapy success. If you have a couple of sessions, or even just one, with a therapist and you feel like you will be unable to connect with the person, just let them know,” says COE Senior Project Manager Sara Herrity Moscarelli, MS, LMFT. Therapists want what’s best for you and won’t be offended if you end up seeking support from someone else. 

Tip: Try three to five sessions to determine whether a therapist is the right fit. Trust your gut. Do you feel accepted and respected? Can you show up as your whole elf? 

In-person & telehealth therapy 

Most therapists offer both in-person and virtual (telehealth) options. You should consider this when searching for a therapist, especially if you strongly prefer one over the other.  

Many people like to meet with their therapist in person, which can help build rapport and provide a safe, private space to talk. It also makes non-verbal communication easier to pick up on.  

If you have a private space where you can do your therapy sessions at home, don’t live near a therapist you want to work with, and find it difficult to travel to appointments, telehealth can be a great option. It can make therapy more accessible and allow you to be more flexible with your schedule.  

Rules and regulations for seeing a mental or behavioral health provider through telehealth vary by state. Usually, you will need to work with a therapist in your state. Depending on where you live, however, you can see a therapist in another place who is licensed to practice in your state. Check with the therapist to make sure they can see you virtually. 

In recent years, telehealth-only platforms have also become popular. Compare some popular online therapy options

Tip: Check with the therapist to see if you can alternate between in-person and virtual sessions. 

How much does therapy cost? 

The average price range for a 50-minute therapy session is $100 to $200. However, some therapists offer sliding scale spots. The Open Path Psychotherapy Collective has a directory of providers who provide affordable in-office and online services at rates between $40 and $70 based on income or $30 for sessions with students. You can begin by searching for therapists in your city or zip code. 

Therapy funds are also available, like the Loveland Foundation, which provides financial assistance to Black women and girls seeking therapy in the United States. 

Free, low-cost, and sliding-scale options 

Depending on the county you live in, you may be able to access free or low-cost therapy from your local mental health department, Mental Health America affiliates, or community mental health agencies if you have Medicaid, receive social security benefits for a disability, or do not have insurance. You can also search this directory using your zip code for free and low-cost options through federally funded health centers

Does insurance cover therapy? 

Insurance may cover therapy depending on the type you have and the therapist you work with. 

NC Medicaid therapy coverage 

North Carolina Medicaid covers therapy for in-network mental health providers. Not all therapists accept Medicaid. Search online through Psychology Today or a similar site to find therapists who accept NC Medicaid (or Medicare).  

Some therapists who don’t accept insurance may provide you with a “super bill” that you can submit to your insurance for out-of-network reimbursement. Ask about this option when considering a therapist. 

Mental health insurance benefits  

Whether you have personal or employer-paid insurance, your insurance provider’s online directory is the best place to search for in-network therapists. You may need to call your insurance provider to verify whether a therapist is in the network. 

Some employers offer an employee assistance program (EAP) that you can use to connect with a counselor at no cost to you. They can support you for a set period, generally five to six weeks and help address life challenges impacting your work performance. You can check your employee handbook or speak with a member of human resources to find out if you have access to an EAP. 

If your employer offers a cafeteria flex plan spending account, you may also be able to use your savings to pay for therapy just as you would any health care reimbursement. 

If you feel concerned about privacy regarding your employer-paid insurance and mental health services, ask your insurance provider or prospective therapist during your consultation. 

Additional resources 

On National Rural Health Day, the North Carolina Rural Health Association (NCRHA), a core program of the Foundation for Health Leadership and Innovation (FHLI), will join the North Carolina Office of Rural Health (NCORH) for its 50th-anniversary celebration: Honoring the Past, Celebrating the Present, Embracing the Future

The hybrid event will highlight the incredible individuals and organizations striving to enhance the well-being of rural communities throughout North Carolina. Starting at 10 a.m., there will be an in-person celebration at the Bertie County Council on Aging/Senior Center located at 103 W School Street, Windsor, NC, 27983, as well as a virtual option via Microsoft Teams. 

During the event, you can participate in: 

  • Celebration of this year’s North Carolina Community Star, Dr. Karen Smith 
  • Presentation of the National Rural Health Day Gubernatorial Proclamation 
  • Keynote on Rural Social Drivers of Health by Patrick Woodie of The NC Rural Center 
  • Discussions on Healthy Aging in Rural, The Future of Rural Health Focusing on the Youth Voice, and Community Engagement and Power Building 

We will also hear from state and local leaders as well as federal partners, including Diane Hall, Director of the Office of Rural Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Tom Morris, Associate Administrator for Rural Health Policy at the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Maggie Sauer, Director of the NC Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Office of Rural Health (ORH), and Reginald Speight, NC Rural Development State Director of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). 

Join us in Bertie County or online on November 16th. Register today

The Work of Jim Bernstein & the First Office of Rural Health 

This year’s festivities are especially important for FHLI. Jim Bernstein, our founding director, created the North Carolina Office of Rural Health (NCORH)—the first in the country—in 1973. To do so, he collaborated closely with a hand-picked team of individuals dedicated to supporting the needs of rural and underserved communities in our state. 

According to those close to Bernstein, he saw challenges as opportunities for change.  

One of his many gifts was his ability to connect with people across lines of difference. He developed strong, trusting relationships wherever he went—from the heart of rural communities to the halls of Congress. 

Working alongside rural community and health leaders, he helped establish a roadmap for designing and implementing innovative solutions to address even the most complex health challenges. Under his leadership, the NCORH supported groups of local citizens in establishing nearly 85 rural-community-operated health centers in North Carolina.  

The NC Office of Rural Health Today 

The North Carolina Office of Rural Health provides funding, training, and technical assistance to improve the quality, accessibility, and cost-effectiveness of health care in rural and underserved communities. Approximately 3.9 million people currently live in one of North Carolina’s 70 rural counties (defined by an average population density of 250 people per square mile or less).  

Our rural communities have unique opportunities and challenges. Many have been historically underserved by our health care systems, impacting people’s longevity and quality of life. When it comes to understanding and addressing these disparities, all of us at FHLI know that community members have the best insights into how to support the health and well-being of their community. 

The National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health 

Thanks to the work of Bernstein and his team, all 50 states now have offices of rural health. In 1995, the National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health (NOSORH) was established to assist them in supporting the health care infrastructure for 61 million rural Americans

In 2011, NOSORH launched the first National Rural Health Day. Celebrated every third Thursday in November, this day honors rural health providers and organizations as well as the resourcefulness, ingenuity, resilience, and community-minded spirit that runs through our rural communities. 

A Legacy of Impact in Rural Communities 

Among his many contributions, Bernstein also advocated for more equitable Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement for rural health centers and hospitals nationwide. Both his NCORH leadership and legislative work helped carve a path towards more equitable, community-based health care across the country. 

In 1982, Bernstein became president of the nonprofit we now know as the Foundation for Health Leadership and Innovation (FHLI). Though he passed away in 2005, his foundational work and vision continue to have ripple effects throughout North Carolina and beyond. 

FHLI programs proudly carry on this legacy by pulling together vital resources to support community-driven, collaborative, and equity-centered solutions. Learn more about Jim Bernstein [PDF] and read about our programs

The North Carolina Rural Health Association 

One of FHLI’s programs is the North Carolina Rural Health Association (NCRHA), a co-sponsor of the NC Office of Rural Health’s 50th-anniversary celebration. This collaborative network consists of rural health and community leaders from various partner organizations with expertise in health care, education, economic development, local government, and more. 

Every member is committed to improving health outcomes and amplifying the voices of rural communities through education, strategic partnerships, and advocacy. You can read the 2023 North Carolina Rural Health Snapshot report [PDF] compiled by the NCRHA to learn about the current state of rural health, access gaps, inequities, and opportunities in North Carolina.  

According to the report, rural residents are 40 percent more likely to be uninsured and eligible for Medicaid Expansion, which passed earlier this year. When it goes into effect on December 1st, 2023, it will provide more than 600,000 North Carolinians people in the health care coverage gap with access to health insurance coverage. 

While a significant step, Medicaid Expansion is not the end of the road. The NCRHA and all FHLI programs will continue to advocate for policies that make health care more equitable and accessible for all North Carolinians. 

Join Us to “Celebrate the Power of Rural” in North Carolina 

We hope you will join us to “Celebrate the Power of Rural” in North Carolina at the Bertie County Council on Aging/Senior Center or on Microsoft Teams on November 16th, 2023!