Dealing with a mental health condition can feel lonely and overwhelming, but you don’t have to struggle alone. There is hope. Seeking help from a good therapist is a powerful first step toward healing.

Experiencing emotions like sadness and worry from time to time is just a natural part of life, and for most, these feelings are temporary.  But for some of us, they are persistent and have a major negative impact on our quality of life.

Struggling with a mental health condition can feel downright isolating, but if you are one of the millions affected, know that you are not alone.  

In 2020, 21% of adults in the United States reported experiencing anxiety and depression, but those numbers have grown considerably due to the mental distress resulting from COVID-19.  One CDC report showed that as of June 2020, as many as 31% of adults reported symptoms of anxiety or depression.

In truth, these numbers are most probably an underrepresentation of the actual number of people living with anxiety and depression, as many who experience these do not report it.

The underuse of mental health treatment and its consequences

Despite the pervasiveness of mental illness and the acute need for treatment, only 46.2% of adults experiencing mental health disorders in the United States seek help.

Forgoing treatment can have real physical and financial consequences.

People with mental health disorders have a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and diabetes, and are more likely to suffer from substance abuse. Lost productivity in the workplace attributed to depression and anxiety costs the US economy as much as $1 trillion each year.

Living with an untreated mental health condition can come with significant social costs, as well. People will often endure their symptoms rather than seek help because they are afraid they will be judged. The stigma associated with those living with mental health challenges can lead to lower self-esteem, discrimination and difficulty in the workplace, and social isolation.

It is important to remember that there is no shame in reaching out for help. Sharing your story will help you realize that you are not alone. Finding others with similar lived experiences can go a long way in reducing the stigma and make it easier to seek treatment and get on the path toward feeling better.

A patient-therapist alliance is key

A first line therapeutic treatment for mental illness is a visit with a licensed psychology psychiatrist, social worker, or counselor. Fortunately, many conditions are highly treatable with the right type of therapy.

Therapists are specially trained to diagnose, treat, and manage a range of conditions using a variety of therapies that address the root cause of emotional distress.

Therapy is most successful when patients are ready and willing to acknowledge their need for help.  An essential component that best supports positive treatment outcomes is a collaborative and trusting relationship between the patient and therapist.

How to find the right therapist for you

In most cases, successful recovery from a mental health illness requires the joint collaboration between a patient and therapist. A good therapist will validate the patient’s emotions and experiences, clearly communicate goals, educate about the treatment process, elicit the patient’s opinions and involvement in self-care, and express confidence in the patient’s ability to get well. Finding the right relationship fit is crucial - and sometimes challenging.

With so many therapists available in many parts of the country, deciding on one can seem daunting.

Finding the right therapist can take a bit of time, but it is possible and well worth the effort.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when you are in search of a new therapist.

Know where to find a therapist. If you are not sure where to start, ask your primary care physician for a recommendation. Spending some time online is another valuable tool for finding a therapist. Websites like Psychology Today can help you locate psychologists in your area. Sometimes the best way to find a good therapist is from word of mouth. Friends and  family can be a wonderful resource. Just make sure any therapist you consider is licensed.

Interview the therapist on the phone. Speaking to potential therapists on the phone ahead of a visit can give you valuable insight into their presentation, as well as their training and philosophy of treatment. Ask whether they have direct experience in treating your concern and any other specialties they may have that might benefit you. How do you feel when you are speaking with them? Do you feel comfortable?

Look for evidence-based treatments. Just as there are a great number of therapists, there are also many types of modalities used to treat mental health conditions. Go with the most effective treatments which are scientifically shown to improve your condition based on published research using controlled studies. Common evidence-based treatment modalities include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Evidence-Based Brief Therapy, Problem Solving Therapy, Motivational Interviewing, and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy.

Learn your financial responsibility. Many providers will not accept insurance despite being listed as “in network” by your insurance company. However, some will cover a percentage of out-of-network costs or will offer their services on a sliding payment scale, where payments will be based on your income. Find out ahead of time what your therapist’s policy will cover. It is also a good idea to call your insurance company as well to understand how much of the visit you will be responsible for. Knowing exactly how much you will owe for each session will help you to budget.

Seek lower-cost mental healthcare options if necessary. Therapy can be an invaluable tool for the treatment of mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression, but health insurance or a sliding scale payment alone will not guarantee that your costs for treatment will be low or even affordable. Fortunately, there are a variety of lower-cost or free services you can use if finances are tight:

  1. Free or low-fee community health clinics, where psychologists, student psychologists, and student social workers provide family and individual counseling for a wide variety of care needs.
  2. Therapy apps allow you to connect with a therapist through text or online for a generally cheaper rate, which makes it convenient to receive care from anywhere. Betterhelp and Talkspace are two commonly used online therapy apps. Low-cost relaxation apps can also help improve mental health by providing breathing, relaxation, and meditation training to reduce stress.
  3. Support groups can be held either in person or online, and can be an effective way to connect with others who may be experiencing similar mental health symptoms, such as depression, grief, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Many groups are offered for a nominal fee, and some are even free. Support groups may be found in hospitals, community centers, and schools, as well as churches and synagogues.
  4. Many employers offer free confidential therapy services through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to treat anxiety and depression, stress, trauma, and substance abuse. Contact your human resources department to see if this service is offered.

Trust your intuition. One therapist may have worked wonders for your best friend, but the same therapist may not be suitable for you. The patient-therapist relationship is highly personal, and sometimes it takes a few visits with a variety of therapists and modalities to find the right fit. Stay encouraged and keep reaching out to as many providers as necessary until you find it.