Please note that any of my tips are just suggestions and not professional, legal, or medical help. If you are struggling with mental health, trauma, abuse, or any other difficult situation, I strongly encourage you to seek help. Check out this page for some mental health resources. Reaching out for help can feel scary, but it is one of the most important acts of self-love you can do.
Seeking out the help of a therapist for the first time can be nerve-wracking. Have depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses can make it difficult to reach out to anyone, let alone a therapist.
I’ve totally been there. Throughout college, I did my best to ignore my anxiety. My friends encouraged me to consider therapy, but I didn’t listen to them. The notion of talking about my thoughts and feelings to someone terrified me, and going to therapy felt like admitting defeat. I didn’t want to believe I needed help, so I bottled it up as best I could. I was also extremely focused on losing weight at the time instead of treating my body with love. By the time I was a senior, symptoms of depression were added to the mix. It was a painful existence that was hidden with a plastered smile.
My depression-anxiety combination was at its’ worst when I graduated in 2015. By this point, I was crying every day. Even a month-long trip through Europe, a dream abroad experience I had planned as a graduation gift to myself, wasn’t as amazing (or distracting) as I had hoped. When I returned stateside, I finally admitted to my parents that I was struggling and needed help.
I visited a psychiatrist first and was given a prescription, but she told me to quickly find a therapist as well. While Lexapro could alleviate some of my symptoms, I still needed to truly figure out my issues and learn coping mechanisms. Taking a pill wouldn’t heal me like therapy could.
So I embarked on my mission to find my first therapist. How did I end up finding one? My aunt, who is an administrator at a psychological hospital, sent me a few suggestions. I ended up picking Hannah Starobin, LCSW from her list. Hannah was an excellent match for me: she was LGBTQ+ friendly, experienced with food issues, and had a great understanding of the theatre industry (I was fully committed to my theatrical career at the time.) I booked my first session and began my first dive into therapy.
Three years later, I’m thankfully in a much better place. I can manage my symptoms more effectively using the tools I learned in therapy (meditation, grounding, paying attention to my thoughts, for example), and no longer have to attend on a regular basis.
I was lucky enough to find my first therapist with the help of my aunt, but there are other ways to find a therapist if you’re seeking one for the first time:
Use an Online Directory
The internet is your friend in terms of finding a therapist. There are numerous online directories that can help. Here are a few I’ve explored before:
- Psychology Today – a HUGE resource to help you find a therapist in the US or Canada, also lists psychiatrists, treatment centers, and support groups
- GoodTherapy.org – another large directory that also explores types of therapy on their blog. This article about warning signs of bad therapy is awesome!
- National Eating Disorder Awareness (NEDA) Treatment Search – A great reference for finding therapists experienced with eating disorders, also lists treatment centers
- Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA) Provider Directory – Helpful if you’re looking for an LGBTQ+ friendly professional
Once you find a couple that pique your interest, visit their websites (or profiles) and try to get a better feel for them. Let your intuition guide you through the search. If someone looks friendly or their writing just clicks with you, then reach out. Just make sure to find a few possible options: some therapists book up quickly.
Use Available Community Resources
If I could change one thing about my college experience, it would be to actually use the mental health resources that were provided. Why didn’t I go to therapy when it was freely available to me?? Hindsight is a drag.
If you’re a student, I suggest looking into the services your school offers before looking off campus. I can’t promise that all campuses provide the best mental health support, but you may be surprised to find a counselor you really like.
Some companies also provide mental health support for their employees (though not nearly enough businesses do.) Even if they don’t, check in with your human resources department. They may prove helpful in your search.
There are also community, city, and state resources that could help you find a local therapist. I’ve visited the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center in NYC in the past and know they have great information and numerous support groups running. Your local community center may also host support groups.
Try Online Therapy
I personally have never tried online counseling, but I have several friends who swear by it!
This could be an option for anyone who would prefer email/messaging/text-based therapy rather than talking face-to-face with someone. Another benefit is that some of these services offer instant, 24/7 therapy. No more waiting for next week’s session! Online therapy can also be more affordable than in-person sessions.
My friends have used the following online counseling tools and recommend them:
- BetterHelp – Offering messaged-based and video chat therapy. They’ll match you with a counselor based on your needs, and you’re able to switch counselors at any time. Services start at $35/week, but they do offer financial aid to those in need!
- TalkSpace – This service focuses on 24/7 text therapy, but audio and video options can be added at an additional cost. They also offer couples therapy
- Doctor On Demand – Video chat with any type of doctor through this site and app, including mental health care professionals. More expensive than the services above, but your insurance may be applicable depending on the professional
- Lantern – Based in cognitive behavioral therapy, this app matches you with a professional life coach who sends you exercises related to your personal needs. The most affordable option on this list
Searching for your first therapist can be intimidating, but taking that first step will be so worth it!
Please seek help if you are experiencing a mental health crisis. Check out this page for hotline resources.