Steps to Take When Seeking Psychotherapy

Before your first appointment with a psychotherapist, there are some things you should know and some things you should do. These will increase the chances that the person you end up seeing is the right person for you, and that there will not be any unforeseen problems in dealing with your insurance company.

Understand your Insurance Coverage

The limits and allowances for mental health coverage are often different than those for physical health coverage. To get the most current information about your policy, it is advisable to contact the insurance company. There is usually a toll free phone number on the back of your insurance card.

Ask your insurance company:

  • Do I have out-patient mental health coverage?
  • Does my policy have a deductible (a dollar amount you must spend before your policy begins paying for services)? If it does, have I met any or all of my deductible for the current year?
  • Does my policy have a co-payment (an amount you will have to pay per therapy session)?
  • Are there a maximum allowable number of sessions (or dollar amount) per year?
  • Are there a maximum per lifetime?
  • Can I see any therapist, or do I have to see someone on the insurance company’s panel (a pre-approved list)?
  • If there is a panel, am I allowed to go to someone who is not listed? If so, how much more will my out of pocket expenses be (deductible and co-payments)?

Choosing a Therapist

Regardless of what type of therapy you are seeking (individual, marriage or family) research indicates that finding the right therapist – one you will be comfortable with – is one of the most important elements of successful therapy.

Seek a referral. Ask trusted friends, your physician or a member of the clergy who knows you, for the name of a good therapist.

Ask yourself:

  • What are my goals in seeking therapy? What do I want to change? What do I want to accomplish?
  • Am I willing to work to accomplish these goals? Am I willing to be honest with myself and my therapist?
  • Am I willing to make the commitment – both in terms of time as well as out of pocket expense – to accomplish these goals?

Ask the therapist (on the phone, before scheduling your first appointment):

  • Do you take my insurance? (Ask this even if your insurance company has told you that this therapist does take their insurance. Insurance company lists of panel providers can be out of date.)
  • Will you bill my insurance company and wait for them to pay you? Or do I pay you your fee, and then submit your bill to the insurance company for reimbursement?
  • Give a one or two sentence summary of the reason you want to start therapy and ask if the therapist treats this problem.

Further Considerations

  • If you elect to utilize insurance benefits to pay for therapy, you should know that some otherwise confidential information will need to be released to the insurance company. This may include, but will not necessarily be limited to, a diagnosis (i.e. depression, anxiety, etc.), and, especially in the case of managed care, can include an initial summary of presenting problems and treatment plan, and subsequent updates on progress being made. If this is a concern for you, you should discuss it with your therapist during your first session.
  • If you can not afford the out of pocket cost of therapy, discuss this with your therapist, either during your first session, or immediately as your circumstances change (loss of job, loss of insurance, divorce, etc). Many therapists see some clients on a sliding fee scale.
  • If, at any time during therapy, you have questions about your therapy or the therapeutic process, do not hesitate to ask your therapist. He or she should be happy to answer your questions.

Resources for Getting Started

An excellent book describing the therapeutic process and what to expect is Deborah Lott’s In Session: The Bond Between Women And Their Therapists.

The internet makes a vast amount of information available to you. Unfortunately, it can be confusing to sift through it all and find reliable sources. The following links are considered to be reliable and offer useful information to help you as you begin therapy: