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Mental Health

5 Tips for Getting Started With Therapy 

It’s never too late to seek help.


Carl Jung, one of history’s most influential psychiatrists, once wrote: “The shoe that fits one person pinches another; there is no one recipe for living that suits all cases.” Translation: everybody’s journey through life is different, and that’s okay. Getting started with therapy when your metaphorical shoe gets run down can help you to navigate that journey more comfortably.

A 2019 University of Michigan-AARP poll found that while almost 20 percent of the mature adult population suffers from one or more mental health and/or substance use conditions, mental health services account for just 4 percent of Medicare expenditures. Another study found that as many as 1 in 10 people over 60 experience major depression, but nearly 90 percent of them are never properly treated for it. 

Clearly, there’s a problem: Mental health services are failing to serve older adults who need them. Ageism may be partially responsible; some people view older patients as having a lack of mental flexibility that could impede their ability to benefit from therapy — in other words, it’s assumed they’re less likely to change. But it’s never too late to learn, grow, and seek guidance. To help you out, here are five tips to follow if you’re interested in beginning therapy. 

Decide what you want to accomplish

The first step is admitting you need (or want) help. But determining what you hope to accomplish in therapy is an essential second step: These needs will dictate the type of therapist who’ll be most beneficial to you. Studies show that when a patient and their therapist work toward an agreed-upon goal, the patient’s outlook improves.

If you’re not sure what type of help you need, check out GoodTherapy’s comprehensive list of common therapy types here. If you believe some type of medication may help with your symptoms, for example, look for a psychiatrist (a doctor who can prescribe medications). If you’re interested in a specialized approach like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, look for a therapist with the appropriate certifications and training. If you want to connect with others who share similar experiences or conditions, consider group therapy or an online support group

And if you’d rather seek help from the comfort of your own home, there are many opportunities for teletherapy, or remote sessions held over the phone and via video chat. According to the APA, online therapy sessions can benefit a person as much as in-person visits.

Get a referral 

Finding the right individual therapist can be a difficult task. It’s a little bit like dating; the chemistry and compatibility need to feel right. After all, you’ll be opening up to this person big-time. A referral is an easy place to start: ask your friends, family members, or doctor if they know any therapists they recommend. 

Look at therapy databases

If you’d rather do this research on your own, check out online therapist databases. Three great resources are Psychology Today‘s Find a Therapist tool, the APA’s Psychologist Locator, and the ZenCare therapist database. Type in your zip code to read a list of professionals near you, and narrow your search by selecting treatment methods, specialties (e.g. addiction or marital problems), age-groups (e.g. seniors), or cost per session. 

If you’re hoping to find someone who’s specifically trained in working with older adults, check out the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry, which lists over 500 qualified psychiatrists in the US. Many of these doctors provide medication rather than psychotherapy — but if you meet with one, there’s a good chance they can refer you to someone better suited to your needs. 

Contact your insurance

If you have private health insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid, call your provider to ask whether they cover mental health services. If they do, get the contact information for in-network therapy groups of individual therapists. If you need support for a specific condition, ask for mental health experts who treat that condition. 

Finding a therapist who accepts your healthcare plan is an ideal way to save money. Many therapy services take insurance, but double-check and confirm whether everything will be covered or if there are copay or deductible amounts you’ll need to shell out for. Your insurance plan may also allow you to work with a professional who’s out of network, but at a higher cost.

Seek out lower-cost options

There’s no getting around it: Therapy can be expensive. Luckily, there are several low-cost options you can try if you need to pay out of pocket. Open Path Psychotherapy Collective, for example, is a nationwide network of mental health professionals who charge between $30 and $80 per session. Unlike more extensive mental health directories (like those covered above), this database only includes “sliding scale” therapists (meaning their hourly fee can be adjusted, if necessary, to make therapy more affordable).

BetterHelp is another popular option, a strictly-online platform that allows people to connect with a therapist via instant messaging, phone, or video chat. As a new client, you’ll complete a mental health questionnaire and get matched with a therapist based on those results. BetterHelp charges between $60 and $90 per week.

Once you’ve found a potential new therapist — or several! — give them a call to ask whether they’re taking new patients. If they are, you can request a free consultation; use this opportunity to get to know the mental health expert in question, express your goals, and find out what kind of treatment they offer. Finally, don’t be scared to shop around a little; landing the right therapist can be challenging, but it’s definitely doable. Good luck!

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