5 Steps to Find a Therapist

& How to Start Therapy (from a therapist)

5 Steps to Find a Therapist (How to Start Therapy) | Alaska

Alt text: white background with scattered letters around the centered word therapy  

5 Steps to Find a Therapist & How to Start Therapy | Alaska

Starting therapy is hard. 

People don’t tend start therapy by saying, "I've never been better."
Being at a personal low point makes the prospect of being vulnerable (in potentially new ways) with a *literal stranger* even more daunting.
If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume you: 

1) already believe (or are questioning) you need help, 

2) are rejecting stigma against going to therapy (yay you!), 

3) are curious what this “therapy” thing is about (or) you’ve been to therapy before and need a new therapist, and 

4) something needs to change in your life.

My next assumption would be: you don’t know where to start, possibly asking yourself, “How do I find a therapist?” "Will they be able to help me?” 

Maybe you've perused Psychology Today once, or seven times. Perhaps you're tired of googling, "How to find a therapist?"

Are you wondering what to do, what to expect, how long therapy may last; or, is the entire therapy process  all vague and you want a clear outline?

Well, I got you!

How to Find a therapist the Right Therapist

It might be time to transition from searching, "therapist near me," and reaching out to a therapist instead.

Alrighty. Here is the lowdown on a process I get asked about regularly whether from potential clients, new clients, friends, or the occasional random encounter: it’s a popular question, and I understand why!

First, I need to emphasize the difference between finding “a therapist” vs “the right therapist.” 

One of the major lessons I learned in graduate school was that the client-therapist relationship has a significant role in determining the outcome of therapy (DeAngelis, 2019).

That means clients who rate having a better relationship with their therapist have better outcomes from therapy, than do those who have a weaker relationship with their therapist.

This relationship is often called the “therapeutic alliance” or “therapeutic rapport” and it generates a lot of research because it grabs attention (rightly so).

Wouldn’t the type of treatment matter more? Nope, not as much!

If you’ve been to therapy before and saw a mental health counselor who you did not click with… you knew. 

You could tell. Something just felt off, not right. Perhaps the relationship between client and clinician changed over time. 

Feeling that type of way towards a therapist happens, and it’s not personal. That feeling does get in the way of therapy, though, which is why it is so important.

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How to Start Therapy:

Go from “I need help” to completing your first session 

1) Acknowledge that you need help

The hard part is done, congratulations! This is the cliché first step for a reason. Therapy doesn’t work well with clients who are unsure if they want to be in therapy.  

Unless a client has to be in therapy, a desire for change and commitment to at least 2 months of sessions are going to be almost necessary for this stage (though, 3 months would be better).

2) Check what your insurance network covers

a. Provider

You likely live in the United States if you are reading this, and you know that dread of checking insurance coverage. 

Unless you considering or are able to pay for therapy out-of-pocket (AKA: "private-pay," using cash, or getting reimbursed later if your insurance provider has that option available*), you will need to find a therapist who is in-network, meaning a therapist who is an approved provider by your insurance.

*This is not advice or true for each insurance company, please speak with your insurance company directly
(If you are able to or are considering to pay for therapy out of pocket, you can skip to #3.)

You can find therapists covered through your insurance network by checking their website of preferred providers. Checking larger agencies like community mental health centers may help if you have a slightly less common insurance company.

Internet searches with the keywords: “*insert your insurance network,*” “therapist,” “counseling,” "Alaska," and other preferences such as “telehealth,” “in-person,” "trauma therapist," "Autism/ ADHD," "parent training," "women's health," "men's health," "wilderness therapy," and "Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)" will generate leads on a potential therapist. 

Note on telehealth: most insurance providers have increased telehealth access following the initial onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, but do check their specific coverage.

a. Sessions

Some insurance plans may only cover 4-8 psychotherapy sessions a year. It is important to be aware of how many therapy sessions your insurance provider will cover. 

Suppose your hypothetical insurance company covers 10 sessions: that means you would hypothetically be responsible to pay for sessions exceeding that limit for the remainder of the year.

If you aren’t sure how many sessions you may need, a potential therapist should be able to give you a rough estimate; or at least be receptive and understanding of the amount of sessions your insurance covers. 

A potential therapist will gladly discuss the length of treatment with you up front, as much as they are able to!

If you are limited in time or insurance coverage, you may want to look for therapists who provide Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT). SFBT is a short-term goal-oriented treatment over the course of 8 sessions or less.

3) How to look for the right therapist

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This stage usually comes with some questions and can stir up uncomfortable feelings. It’s okay that this can feel scary or uncomfortable, that is actually pretty normal! 

Questions clients should consider:

  • "What do I want from therapy?"  Or, "What are my goals?"
  • "Do I want therapy in-person, online, or either?"
  • "Do I want individual, family, group, or couples therapy?"
  • When are you available for therapy: mornings, weeknights, weekdays, or weekends?
  • "Do I care if my therapist is a man, woman, or non-binary?" (it is okay if it does matter, and it is also okay if it doesn’t!)
  • "Do I want a therapist who looks like me?"

What are my goals?” is an important one, and your future therapist is sure to ask you that question during your first session.

About therapists

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Mental health professionals are a wide range of humans who all bring different backgrounds, cultures, perspectives, and experiences into the therapy room. Therapists want to work with clients (or populations, issues, diagnoses) they have experience and training on, which is a good thing.

You want your therapist to be trained on the issue you need addressed; or have experience working with people similar to your identity/cultural group. Ideally, your therapist has both.

Almost every therapist is equipped to treat depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and trauma/PTSD (almost, not all, and there are exceptions of course), so you want to find a therapist who has training relevant to who you are as a person.

You can ask the therapist if he/she/they have experience working with clients who share an aspect of your identity such as: being queer, trans, an immigrant, your ethnicity, cultural group, being a college student, being in a non-monogamous relationship, having a blended family, being a cancer survivor- there is a loooooooonglist of identities, and those are just some.

how to find a therapist and how to start therapy alaska therapist online

Whichever your identities or problem you want to work on: don’t hesitate to ask if your therapist has experience. 

Similarly; if the therapist says no, they may still be able to work with you. This means they may need to seek additional training or professional consultation. 

If a therapist cannot or will not elaborate on how they will ensure their training/experience is appropriate for you… maybe try a different therapist.

Honestly, go with your gut: if they seem compatible, made you feel seen and heard, go for it (and be ready to possibly share with the therapist later if that changes). If you feel uncertain, it’s okay to move on to a different therapist.

Because remember: the client-therapist relationship matters.

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Time to go “Therapist Shopping”

Therapy is healthcare. That is a fact. And, therapy is a unique type of healthcare due to the vital role of the therapeutic alliance. 

What I mean by "therapist shopping" is that clients have agency in choosing their therapist. So evaluate what you want in your ideal new therapist and go "shopping" — more on that in a moment.

Before I forget to add this point: the right therapist (and a good therapist) will challenge a client. 

Therapists balance between providing the appropriate amount of challenge and support with each client. Mental health professionals are going to say things that are difficult to hear, or things you may not have considered (which, is kind of the point).

A good clinician will challenge you, but will do so in a way where you feel safe and supported; not judged, shamed, or meant to feel bad for the sake of it. 

Back to this idea of “therapist shopping.”

If you have the options and ability, it is a good idea to check out a few different therapists’ websites. Start to get a feel for which therapist might be the easiest to talk to, or whom you believe has the experience to treat what you need.

It tends to take more than a glance at a website and picture to know if that person will be the right therapist for you. But you could probably rule out at least one or two options.    

4) Make the call (or send the email/text)

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Let’s say you’ve narrowed it down to three therapists: now you are not sure who would be the best fit. Call those therapists.

Most therapists offer a free initial consultation; if you want to learn more about that process, read here. 

But in short: the goal of that call is to know if you two are a good fit: does the therapist have the training to treat your issue(s), is the therapist in-network or out-of-network, do you each have compatible schedules, and most importantly: do you have a good vibe?

If all of those answers align and you believe this therapist is someone who is compassionate, competent, and doesn’t make you wonder “hmmm…,” then congratulations: you are starting to find the right therapist!

a white hand holding a sparklerImage Caption: a white hand holding a sparkler

5) The First Session: What to expect

Often referred to as, “the intake” by many clinicians, the first session is different than traditional weekly sessions of psychotherapy. The intake session is about 60-90-minutes.

Expect paperwork. Some clinicians ask clients to fill out intake packets prior to the start of the session, and to review various documents. This doesn’t take too long, but it will come up.

This session is where you and the therapist are first getting to know each other. The therapist will ask you a fair amount of questions: where you grew up, why you’re seeking treatment  (see also: “what are your goals?”), do you have satisfying relationships, questions around your health and activities, and more. 

And, your therapist will answer any questions you have (don’t be afraid to ask)!

Many clients tend to think the first session is when therapy starts; it does and it doesn’t. 

Intake sessions do not necessarily feel like therapy, because your new therapist is trying to develop a treatment plan, go over paperwork, review confidentiality, identify a diagnosis (which is almost always required for insurance), while being incredibly invested hearing about your pets, hobbies, interests, habits, and all of the things that make you “you”.

(please, tell me ALL about your pets)
Black German Shepard/ Australian cattle dog looking to the left, behind him is a mountain and lakeImage Caption: My dog, Sparky (a black German Shepard mix in front of a nearby lake and mountain).

This session allows the therapist to assess what services you need, and identify at what point you will be done with therapy. 

I like to discuss what the end of treatment will look like during the intake session to help guide us every week: therapy is not just coming in and talking it all out (okay, sometimes it is, but there is still a larger picture).

Therapy is healthcare, and identifying what the end of treatment looks like isn’t just up to the therapist to decide: it’s a collaborative process from the first session.

The intake session can feel like a lot, and it is not what a typical counseling session feels like. The following sessions you and your new therapist will continue building your rapport, assess the struggles in your life, try new habits or skills, and ideally improve.

I share with clients that the goal of therapy is to stop therapy.

Don't get me wrong, I am pro-therapy. 

Nonetheless, I remind clients therapy is a defined relationship in purpose and time; counseling is a temporary support and the goal is to get clients to get better.

Therapy can last for years, though it is not always that long.

I know that the intake session does not always leave clients feeling helped- they feel exposed, or that they didn't get anything. This is especially true for people struggling with depression, anxiety, panic attacks, or PTSD. 

I like to share at least one skill or tool with clients at the end of the intake session, so they don't leave feeling quite as "empty-handed." 

If you feel like you need or want something more from the intake session, let your therapist know. Therapists love to share coping skills.

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Alrighty, folks:

That is how to go from “How do I find the right therapist?” to completing the first session. Success!

If you have never been to therapy before, I hope this was helpful. If you have been before but didn’t have the sense of “getting something” from therapy, perhaps this will help you find a new therapist.

I have enjoyed building therapeutic relationships with clients who have ranges of history with therapy: Some clients may have seen quite a few therapists, and some have been firrst time therapy seekers (along with those in between).

First time therapy seekers: 

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There is a first for everything! Everyone is going on about therapy these days, aren’t you at least a little curious what goes on there? (: 

If you find “the right therapist,” therapy is worth it. I’ll write a separate blog post about first time therapy seekers in the future; first time therapy clients have been some of the most fantastic therapeutic relationships I’ve been able to experience.

If you are scared, nervous, worried, anxious, or having any other feelings associated with starting therapy: those feelings are valid. If you’ve experienced trauma before, the idea of starting therapy can be unnerving. I will not tell you those feelings are silly.

Starting therapy can be overwhelming. Perhaps you may be the first person in your family to attend therapy (which is powerful: you’re breaking generational cycles).

If you are apprehensive about therapy for whichever reason, yet part of you has an urge to seek help, and a curiosity about what therapy is all about: try calling a potential therapist for a free initial consult. 

You don’t have to commit to anything by the end of that call, because you’re therapist shopping. When you feel ready: the right therapist will be delighted to work with you.

Happy "therapist shopping" out there!

Additional Resources:

If you live in Alaska and want to learn more about the services I offer, give me a call or send a message today,

or keep scrolling to read my therapist bio.

Click here for a free 15-minute initial consultation

I am thankful to live, work, and play on lands traditionally cared for by the Dena’ina Ełena cultural group             


DeAngelis, T. (2019). Better relationships with patients lead to better outcomes. Monitor on Psychology 50(10). https://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/11/ce-corner-relationships

Meet Nicole Zegiestowsky, M.S.

My name is Nicole (she/her), and as a therapist I believe that each client is the expert in his/her/their own life. 

I actively incorporate our relationship, the “therapeutic alliance,” into sessions which may look like: 

  • • checking in on how a moment felt to you, 
  • • or asking questions like, “Do you feel I am understanding what you’re going through?”

It is a privilege to enter a healing relationship with another person and share the process of psychotherapy; I hope to be part of your recovery.

Prior to private practice, I’ve provided outpatient and residential psychotherapy services to individuals across the lifespan through community mental health, interdisciplinary family medicine, and tribal health agencies.