The [……]’s Guide to Getting a Therapist: Reaching Out


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Fun fact: searching around for creative commons licensed couches results in lots of couches on fire. Is this a Thing?

Note: For decreasing the amount of language confusion in this post, I’m using ‘therapist’ as a blanket term to mean ‘someone who practices therapy’. In fact, this is not precisely accurate, though it seems to be colloquial use. For sorting between psychiatrist, psychologist, and therapist, take a look at the Terms section in Part I.

Part II: In which emails are sent, scripts are given, and therapists are contacted.

I am not a therapist! However, lots of people ask me a lot of the time about getting therapy, and are often willing to keep me updated on what worked and what didn’t. This four-part guide, which is essentially the sum total of every bit of advice I could think of, and a few I didn’t come up with (thank you, proofreaders and feedback-givers!) aims to make the therapist-getting part less mysterious and more accessible. 

—-

So you have a therapist (or several) in mind:

An introductory email or phone call is your next step. I find emails take less activation energy for me, as I can use the same default text over and over, and send them at any time. (update: see this comment)

You want to convey these things in your initial contact:

Who you are. (Not the deep philosophical version of this–your name will suffice!)
What you’re looking for (presumably, an appointment, but possibly a referral)
A general sense of your schedule (particularly important if you only have a few set times you are free)
A general sense of what problems you have, if you’re comfortable disclosing
Your insurance type and any other payment concerns.

Optional other information:

Previous experiences (have you seen a therapist before? Do you have prior diagnoses? Are you currently on psychiatric medication?)
Did you get a recommendation from someone?
Specific parts of your identity that might be worth disclosing (language preference, if the therapist speaks several, sexuality, etc)

Therapists sometimes aren’t taking clients or might not have experience in your relevant issue. For instance, if you write that you have trouble with OCD, and the therapist knows they haven’t got relevant skills, they might not want to take you on as a client.

Further, since therapists have a set of people they see with some regularity, they might not have a free space to add you. I’ve found it helpful to think of the initial interaction as asking someone to dance. You say “Hi, would you like to tango?” and sometimes they say “Tango? Fantastic!” and sometimes they say “Mmm, you seem lovely, but I only know the waltz.” or even “I love to tango, but I only know how to lead, and you only know how to lead and this sounds like it would be a problem.”

Scripts for contact:

(As a general note, therapists are Mr/ Ms/Mrs., psychologists and psychiatrists are Dr.)

Sample email (feel free to duplicate)

Hi [therapist],

I’m [name] and I’m interested in an appointment. Are you taking clients? [Because clients often are seeing a therapist weekly or every two weeks, timeslots can fill up, and therapists occasionally aren’t able to accept new cases]

I am experiencing trouble with [issue, with as much or as little detail as you’re comfy starting with/previous diagnosis]. Do you take [insurance type]? OR Do you negotiate sliding scale payment rates?

I have [work/school] on [days] but could do [general sense of free time, such as “weekends” or “Monday-Thursday afternoons”] If you’re not accepting clients, do you have suggestions for other therapists who might serve my needs?

Please let me know,

[name] [additional contact info if you prefer a phone call, etc]

Here’s an adapted version of an email I’ve actually sent:

Hi [therapist]

I’m [Legal Name], and I heard about you from [Campus Service]. I’ve had previous problems with an eating disorder (anorexia, currently well-managed EDNOS), and I’m looking to do some additional work on my coping mechanisms. I’ve had lots of success with CBT, and you list this as a modality you use. I was seeing [therapist at location], but with the new school year, am in need of a new therapist.

I have school on Monday-Thursday from 8-3, but am free after that and Fridays and weekends if you take weekend appointments.  My insurance is [Name of Insurance], and you list this as one of the ones you take.  Do you have availability? If you’re not accepting clients, do you have suggestions for someone else who might serve my needs?

Please let me know!

Kate

Next post: Your First Session
<< Previous post: Getting Started


I am actively looking for things I’ve left out, so if upon reading any section, you have unanswered questions–even if you think they are trivial or might mean you’ve missed something, please let me know. I would much rather spend time responding with “no, that’s in paragraph two” than have a whole subset of people think they didn’t read properly and not tell me I was unclear. Further, many thanks to Rita Messer for checking over the advice within. 

Comments

  1. dmcclean says

    One thing that might make calling easier (which I use for dealing with all sorts of intimidating bureaucratic things…) is to call far after hours when you are sure nobody will answer and you will only have to leave a message. It helps with activation energy too, because then they (whoever they are) will call you back and it will be easier to deal with it than to come up with an excuse to procrastinate it.

    • Kate Donovan says

      I TOTALLY do this all the time, though I don’t think I’d thought about it explicitly. Adding a note about your comment in the post :)

  2. says

    These samples are great. The only thing I’d add is that a phone call sometimes gives you better feedback about whether you’re going to feel comfortable with the therapy. In this practice, if we get an a-mail we just send a pretty standard reply (although we answer any specific questions). But sometimes someone who is nervous about therapy has a five minute phone conversation and feels much more comfortable about the whole thing as a result.

  3. Gina says

    Thank you so much for the template e-mail! I finally started e-mailing therapists after putting it off for about a month, and this (as well as the other parts of your therapist posts) were extremely helpful!

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