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