What To Look For in An Online Therapist
Deciding to begin therapy is a process, and for some people, it can be more difficult than it might seem. Most people that are in search of a therapist are not waking up to rainbows and sunshine every day. Getting up, in general, maybe a huge task for you, let alone the many other things that make it hard to accept that therapy could benefit you.
Historically, there has been a stigma that going to therapy means you’re “crazy” or “weak.” There are familial or cultural beliefs that may minimize the effectiveness of therapy. There’s your own internal dialogue that may be convincing you that you’re not “as bad” as someone else or that you “should” be able to handle life on your own. All of that can build a thick wall between you and the opportunities for growth and healing that therapy can provide.
If you can overcome the barriers to seeking counseling and commit to the healing process, the next big hurdle is to find the right therapist for your unique needs and goals. In fact, this is the step that feels overwhelming for a lot of people and can deter them from the whole process. Some people may have even had a bad experience with a previous therapist. Instead of continuing their search to find the right fit, they throw in the towel until years later they’re at their wit's end and have no choice but to try again. It doesn’t have to be like this for you.
We’re lucky that we have options in this day in age and we of course have the internet! It’s a beautiful thing when used properly. You have access to tons of information to help you narrow down what you’re looking for in an online therapist AND now you can even meet with your therapist online via telehealth.
It might take a little getting used to, but there are a couple of key benefits to online therapy.
INCREASED ACCESS - One, you have access to way more options for therapists than those just down the road from your house. You can be more selective about the qualities and criteria you think will best fit your needs. You also may find that therapists offering online therapy have more flexibility in their schedules to support you at hours that typically wouldn’t be available in the office.
CONVENIENCE - The second significant benefit is getting to do therapy from ANYWHERE. You can sit comfortably at home for your session or even meet during your lunch break at work. It removes the challenge of getting to an office appointment when you have a busy schedule, and to be honest, some people feel more comfortable diving into deeper topics from the coziness of their own couch.
Let’s get into the nitty-gritty of what to consider when picking out who you’d like to work with for online counseling. The first reality you have to accept is that NOT EVERY THERAPIST IS GOING TO BE FOR YOU.
Here are some points to consider when searching for your online therapist via telehealth.
Types of Licensure
It’s probably not a shock that you should always consider a licensed professional that has legitimate training to support you and your mental health. But what do all of those letters at the end of a name mean? There are several different credentials and sometimes you’ll see variations from state to state, but here are a few of the most common in Florida.
Psychiatrists (MD): These are practitioners that have completed medical school. You’ll most likely see “Dr.” at the beginning of their name. They typically prescribe and manage medication and work with other practitioners that provide the therapy component of treatment.
Psychologists (PsyD; Ph.D.): These practitioners have completed doctoral-level psychology programs. As with many therapists in private practice, they may have expertise in a specific area or with specific conditions. They cannot prescribe medication but may work with a psychiatrist that can. They can diagnose, provide counseling and psychological testing.
Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW): These practitioners have completed a master’s level clinical social work program, which includes the study of both psychology and sociology. Those with an “LCSW” have completed all of the licensure requirements and can provide services independently. Those with a “Registered Clinical Social Worker Intern” status are still in the process of completing the licensure requirements and are overseen by a clinical supervisor. Social workers are found in many different settings within human services. They cannot prescribe medication but may work with a psychiatrist that can. They can diagnose and provide counseling.
Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC): These practitioners have completed a master’s level psychology or counseling program. Those with an “LMHC” have completed all of the licensure requirements and can provide services independently. Those with a “Registered Mental Health Counseling Intern” status are still in the process of completing the licensure requirements and are overseen by a clinical supervisor. They cannot prescribe medication but may work with a psychiatrist that can. They can diagnose and provide counseling.
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT): These practitioners have completed a master’s level marriage and family therapy program. Those with an “LMFT” have completed all of the licensure requirements and can provide services independently. Those with a “Registered Marriage and Family Therapist Intern” status are still in the process of completing the licensure requirements and are overseen by a clinical supervisor. They cannot prescribe medication but may work with a psychiatrist that can. They can diagnose and provide counseling.
Know what you want to work on!
This is probably the most important factor to have figured out when you begin searching for a therapist. Identify the top two or three areas that you’d like to focus on in therapy and have them ready when you make the call to talk to someone.
You might even want to do a bit of research about what types of therapy are most effective for the issues you’re going through so that you can find someone with experience and training to best support you.
If you’re struggling with depression you might want someone that utilizes cognitive behavioral therapy or interpersonal therapy in their practice. If you’re struggling with anxiety, you may want someone that uses dialectical behavioral therapy, psychodynamic therapy, or exposure therapy. Or maybe you’d like a more specialized approach with something like EMDR therapy for trauma, art therapy for depression or anxiety, or an alternative method like the emotional freedom technique for physical pain and emotional distress.
ALWAYS ask a new therapist what methods they are most familiar with and how they use them to help people like yourself. This will give you information about whether they are a good fit for you.
Insurance vs Self Pay:
Of course, you’ll want to consider how you are paying for the service. Just like going to the doctor, you’ll want to know what your out-of-pocket expense is going to be before you make your decision to move forward with a therapist.
Some therapists work with insurance companies, so if you have benefits look into what providers are available. This option is a little more limited depending on your insurance plan, so your other option is to consider self-pay. There are several reasons why a therapist would choose to only work with self-paying clients, but the most prominent is to avoid the limitations that insurance companies can impose on your therapy.
If you choose a self-pay-only provider, talk with them about utilizing your out-of-network benefits for reimbursement or sliding scale options if finances are strained for you.
Other Preferences To Consider
Now that you have honed in on the professional training, areas of concern, and the services available for your budget, you need to think about the human qualities that are going to be the best fit. This can be what makes or breaks the therapeutic relationship.
You don’t have to be identical twins with your therapist or even know every little thing about them to work with them, BUT if you don’t vibe right with the person, it’s going to create a major barrier in the success of your therapy.
Ask yourself a few questions…Is there a specific gender that you feel safer with? Are you concerned about the experience level that the person has? Are you looking for someone within your ethnic or cultural background? Would you benefit from working with a person that shares your sexual orientation? How did it feel talking with the person on the phone during your initial consultation? Check out their website. Do you like what you see?
It’s okay to talk with a few different therapists before making your decision. It’s also okay to have an initial session to explore any ambivalence that you have to see if it can be overcome.
Therapy is deeply personal. It can feel scary to approach. As therapists, we know this. Our primary goal is to be the support that you need to work through whatever brings you into therapy. You aren’t alone; we’re waiting for your call!
If you have questions about whether online counseling is right for you, give us a call at 954-391-5305. We provide online therapy throughout the state of Florida and in-person, face-to-face counseling in our Coral Springs and Fort Lauderdale offices.