Five Steps to Starting Therapy: The Beginners Guide

Erin Sesemann, Therapist, Boone, NC

Dr. Erin Sesemann, PhD, LMFT, CBIS (she/her/hers) takes a holistic approach to counseling with her specialized training in Medical Family Therapy, EMDR therapy, and certification as a Brain Injury Specialist. Her office is based in Boone, North Carolina, offering in-person and online therapy to people across North Carolina.

Five Steps to Starting Therapy: The Beginners Guide, Boone, NC

Are you feeling ready and motivated to start therapy but do not know where to start? If you answered “yes” then you are in the right place! Read on for a beginner’s guide to starting therapy. 

Step One: Figuring Out Your Finances

Now that you are ready to start therapy, the first step is figuring out how much you can afford to pay for services. Similar to other healthcare appointments, payment is due at the time of service. Looking at your finances and creating a budget is a great place to start to figure out how much you can afford to spend per week or month. If you do not have health insurance or are planning to not file claims for your therapy appointments, then you will be responsible for paying the rate for service. This can be often be done with cash, check, or credit card. If the therapist’s rate is higher than you can afford, it is okay to ask about options for reduced rates or referrals to other providers. Also, depending on how clinics or agencies are funded, some organizations do offer low-to-no cost services. For example, clinics associated with a college or university, non-profit agencies, or federally qualified healthcare centers. 

If you have health insurance, then your plan might cover mental healthcare. You can learn more by reviewing your explanation of benefits or calling your insurance provider. To avoid any surprise costs, be sure to ask about co-pays and deductibles. Some therapists will indicate they are an Out of Network (OON) provider. As a client, this OON status means that you are still responsible for payment at the time of service but the therapist will provide you with a “Superbill” (similar to an itemized receipt) that you supply your insurance company to be reimbursed. 

Questions to ask your insurance company:

  1. What are my mental health benefits?
  2. What is the coverage amount per session?
  3. How many therapy sessions does my plan cover?
  4. What is my coverage for online therapy?
  5. Will I have a co-pay?
  6. How much does my insurance pay for an Out of Network provider?
  7. Is approval required by a primary care physician? 
  8. How much is my deductible?
  9. How will meeting my deductible change my cost per session?
today is the perfect day to be happy, Scheduling Therapy, Boone, NC

Step Two: Know When You Are Available for Appointments

When scheduling an appointment, it is helpful to know in advance whether you have any restrictions on when you can see your therapist. For example, you might need to plan around work or school. You might need to consider other doctor’s appointments. Having a list of appointments with you when you are scheduling an appointment can be helpful to either schedule all of your appointments on the same day or to avoid scheduling over an already existing appointment. 

Step Three: Decide on a Location 

After you know how much you can afford and when you are available, the next step is deciding whether you need in-person or online therapy. Historically, most counseling was in-person at a local office. However, many therapists now offer online therapy after nearly all services moved online at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. If you are utilizing insurance for payment, please note that online therapy may not be covered by all insurance providers. As such, it is important to know about your health insurance coverage if you are interested in online therapy.  

Step Four: Specialist or Generalist 

If you have a clear reason for starting therapy (and you may not), then you might consider seeking out a therapist who is specialized in that particular area. Examples include trauma therapy, sex therapy, grief counseling, play therapy, parent-child therapy, and marriage and family therapy. Therapists will often list their specializations, certifications, trainings, and educational background on their websites. If not, then it is okay to call to ask about their background, training, and specializations. 

Not having a specialty listed could also mean that the therapist is a “generalist,” which means they are familiar with a broad range of presenting issues. It is appropriate to ask a generalist (or any therapist) about their experience with your presenting problems and their level of expertise in providing care for what you need.  

Step Five: How to Find a Therapist

Many people start searching for a therapist with a basic search in their favorite online search engine (for example, Google or Yahoo). They might search “counseling near me” or “family therapy for depression.” You can also go to online therapist directories, such as Psychology Today, Therapy Den, or Good Therapy (I receive no personal benefits from these companies from this blog). These therapist directories allow you to filter your search by location, specialty, accepted insurances, language, type of therapy provided, and other characteristics (such as age, gender, faith, etc.). Therapist directories are also provided by professional organizations including American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, American Counseling Association, or American Psychological Association. Therapists who are listed on directories from professional organizations are included because of they are members of that organization. 

woman on computer, Online Therapy, North Carolina

You can also go directly to your insurance company to find in-network providers who are in your area. They typically have a portal where you can access their listing of therapists who are contracted with your insurance provider. Your local healthcare provider could be another referral source for you to seek recommendations for a therapist, such as your general practitioner, family physician, physical therapist, or speech language pathologist. If you feel comfortable, asking friends, family members, or colleagues can also be a great place to get a recommendation.

Now You’re Ready to Start Therapy!

After completing all five steps, now know how to answer the who, what, where, why, and how questions of starting therapy. You are well prepared to call a therapist’s office! This initial call to a therapist’s office can be for an initial consultation (which is often a free 15 minutes call) or to schedule your first appointment. 

On the other hand, if you reviewed the Five Steps to Starting Therapy: A Beginners Guide and are still feeling hesitant or uncertain about starting therapy, then you might like these two other blogs: 

I would be happy to help you at Dr. Erin Sesemann Counseling, where I offer individual, couples, and family therapy in Boone, NC. Call today for an initial consultation or to schedule your session.

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