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How to find a therapist if you've never had one before

Mental health professionals are in high demand right now. Given that we’re eighteen months into a deadly global pandemic, this is no surprise. Many of us are grieving the loss of loved ones, jobs, plans, and normalcy. And if that’s not hard enough, the stresses of our everyday lives haven’t stopped.

At Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC), your total health is our top priority, now more than ever. That includes your mental and emotional health.

If you’re struggling with your mental health and need some extra support, you’re not alone. Studies show that the rate of anxiety and depression has risen significantly among American adults during the pandemic. And our children’s mental health is suffering, too.

For some people, starting therapy can feel like a huge wall to climb. Where do you even start?

As a therapy veteran, I’ll share my experience and a few ideas for getting started.

See if your employer offers counseling

When I first started thinking about therapy, I remember feeling intimidated. Therapy felt like this big, long-term commitment (although it doesn’t have to be), and I didn’t feel ready for that.

But my employer at the time offered eight free counseling sessions through their Employee Assistance Program (EAP). That felt more approachable to me, so I finally talked myself into making an appointment. To this day, it remains one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself.

Lots of companies offer EAPs. They provide short-term counseling and referrals for personal and/or work-related stresses. And they can often provide a bridge to therapy that feels comfortable to you.

Check with your employer’s HR department to see if they offer something similar.

Talk to your primary care doctor

If you have a primary care doctor who you trust, that’s a great place to start. Your doctor can listen to your concerns and help you figure out your next steps. If therapy is something you’re interested in, many primary care doctors keep a list of local therapists and can give you a referral.

Not sure how to start the conversation? Here are four tips to talk to your doctor about your mental health.

Check out resources like Psychology Today

Psychology Today and other websites offer free directories where you can search for a therapist. Just enter your location, then filter by any of the following categories:

  • Insurance. Look for providers who take your insurance and are in-network. If you need help confirming that a mental health professional is in-network, you can call the mental health benefits number on the back of your insurance card.
  • Issues. You’ll want to find a therapist who specializes in or regularly works with similar issues. Whether it’s addiction, anxiety or depression, family or relationship conflict, trauma, disordered eating – look for a clinician who is well-versed in the areas you need help with.
  • Ethnicity served, sexuality, gender, language, and faith. Many people feel most comfortable seeing a therapist who shares their identities or understands their background. If this is you, you might want to filter by some of these categories. Reading a therapist’s bio can also help you determine whether they are a good fit for your preferences.

From there, you can email a therapist directly. Most therapists offer free phone consultations so you can learn more about whether you would be a good fit.

Whether or not you’re a Blue Cross NC member, you can also use our Find Care tool to search for a counselor, psychiatrist, or psychologist. If you’re a Healthy Blue member, there is a separate Find Care tool just for you, which includes behavioral health.

Therapy is worth it

It’s not uncommon to have some concerns about starting therapy. But don’t let these common concerns keep you from seeking care.

Remember that you’re in the driver’s seat. If you don’t click with a therapist, you can keep looking until you find the right fit. The relationship between you and your therapist is the key to success. Within that trusting relationship, you’ll be able to explore your feelings and thoughts safely and comfortably.

I can confidently say that I am a better person because of therapy. I feel safer in my relationships. I’m more empowered in my decisions. I am a better communicator. I have more and healthier coping skills. I’m healing from my trauma, and I feel more supported in my daily life.

Whatever you’re going through, there’s a good chance therapy can help you like it’s helped me.

authors photo

Emilie Poplett

Emilie Poplett

Senior Communications Advisor

Emilie is a senior communications advisor at Blue Cross NC. 

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