The Ultimate Guide to Finding the Best Therapists in NYC
by The Zencare Team
Finding a therapist in New York City can be a long and frustrating process. Most individuals start their therapist search on health insurance websites, but find much of the information to be outdated and inaccurate. In fact, less than one-third of individuals who contact therapists on their health insurance website receive an appointment.
But don’t give up! Knowing what questions to ask, and what resources to use can significantly speed up the therapist search process. Read below for tips on how to find the best therapists in NYC.
And once you’re ready, get started by finding the right New York City therapist for you!
Finding the best therapist in NYC
Price and affordability: Search beyond in-network therapists
Why is it so hard to find an in-network therapist in NYC?
More specifically, here are some reasons why it’s so hard to find an in-network therapist:
Many of the best, highly trained therapists in NYC are not in-network with health insurances due to low pay, logistical challenges, and privacy reasons. Those who are in-network are hardly ever accepting new patients because their services are so in-demand.
Health insurance websites are often outdated and inaccurate. Availability and address information may be off. Therapists who have practices in large hospital or community agency systems are sometimes wrongly listed. Lists may even include retired or deceased therapists.
It’s not uncommon for therapists to falsely indicate health insurances that they are not in-network with on their websites.
Deciphering which clinician might be a good fit for you based on a list of names and phone numbers is nearly impossible. Finding a therapist is less like finding a dentist, and more like dating: For some, figuring the right fit just takes time. It’s common to have try out a few clinicians before finding one that clicks.
Many New Yorkers work long hours. This can severely limit the pool of available therapists, especially if you are looking in-network. It doesn’t help that most lists of therapists online don’t share scheduling information, or keep it up to date.
What are the benefits of seeing out-of-network therapists?
There are many benefits to seeing out-of-network therapists, including shorter wait times and ability to prioritize fit.
Expanding your search to out-of-network therapists allows you to:
Decrease wait time to begin therapy. Therapists who are in-network with health insurances frequently have months-long waiting lists. Out-of-network therapists are typically able to accommodate new clients sooner, and may be more flexible with your scheduling and clinical needs.
Focus your therapist search on personality fit and expertise. Broadening your search beyond your health insurance network gives you the opportunity to focus on other criteria, such as finding an expert in a specific approach or challenge you are experiencing, or seeking out a therapist you feel an immediate connection with. When you have more choice, you are more likely to find someone you click with.
Broaden your therapist search pool. If the primary criteria of your search is insurance, you may immediately eliminate the vast majority of available therapists, leaving you with few options and little choice.
Here is an explanation of how to use your out-of-network benefits to pay for therapy.
How much does therapy cost in NYC?
Therapy sessions in NYC tend to range from $125 - $250+ per session if you are paying out-of-pocket.
This is how much you pay at each therapy session; you can also apply for reimbursement from your health insurance company. For more details, check out our guide to using your out-of-network benefits.
How can I find affordable therapy in NYC?
If your preferred therapist’s fees are above your therapy budget, consider asking for a sliding scale fee. You can also seek therapy services at institutions that offer low fee services.
“Sliding scales” refer to the range of fees that a therapist is willing to accept for clients with limited resources.
For instance, while a therapist's standard session fee might be $150 per session, they may list a sliding scale of $80 - $150. This means that when possible, they will work flexibly within your budget and offer lower fees to help you receive mental health care.
If sliding scales are still above what you can afford, there are institutes that offer need and income-based affordable therapy in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Invest in your mental and emotional health
We know therapy isn’t an inexpensive endeavor, but investing in your mental health can have a ripple effect with long term benefits.
If you go out to restaurants, bars, and coffee shops, could you allocate some of that to a biweekly therapy budget?
You might think of going to therapy as a comparable expense to a gym membership: You’re making an investment in your mental health that will benefit you today and for the rest of your life.
Therapeutic alliance: The most important factor for successful therapy
While great therapist share common characteristics – such as empathy, communication, and listening skills – the ultimate key to successful therapy is a strong personal fit between you and your therapist.
This includes your level of trust, comfort, and openness with the therapist, as well as your ability to agree with your therapist on the objectives of therapy.
Assessing a personal fit
The emotional bond between a client and therapist is called the “therapeutic alliance.” Studies show that the quality of the therapeutic alliance is a reliable predictor of successful therapy outcomes.
How do you assess fit prior to the first therapy session?
Prior to an in-person session, try to gather information about the therapist’s style online.
Ask the following questions as you look through their website:
Does their written content speak to your struggles?
Do they seem knowledgeable and professional?
If they have an introductory video, watch how they talk about their practice. Would you feel comfortable in a therapy room with them?
If a therapist offers a free initial call, take the opportunity to learn more about their practice, too!
What questions should I ask a therapist on the initial call?
Use the initial call as an opportunity to ask further questions about a therapist’s approach and expertise, assess personal fit, and determine logistical feasibility.
These can include:
What is your experience working with clients who are encountering this problem?
What does a typical therapy session with you look like?
Are you in-network with my insurance?
If not, can you offer a sliding scale?
How often would I need to come in for sessions?
Do you typically give long-term or short-term treatment?
Additionally, ask yourself:
Would I feel comfortable sharing more with this therapist?
Do I feel like this therapist can really help me and knows what they're talking about?
At the end of the initial call, think about whether you want to set up an initial appointment. Be honest with yourself and the therapist: If after the call you don’t think he or she is the right fit, you can say so.
If you’re not sure, you can say, “I’m considering a few options, but can I get back to you by phone or email?” Just make sure to follow up and let them know your decision!
How do you assess fit after the first few sessions?
It’s often easy to tell when a therapist is not the one for you. But other times, knowing if you want to continue seeing the therapist can be more nuanced and difficult to tease apart.
Do I feel a connection with this therapist?
Do I look forward to attending treatment sessions with him or her?
Am I content with the balance of talking and listening that I do in this therapy session?
Do I feel symptom relief?
Have I learned a tangible skill for my mental wellbeing?
Have I gained useful insight into the experiences I’m having?
If, after four to five sessions, you feel you haven’t gotten much out of the sessions, it’s okay to let your therapist know it isn’t working.
While it can be daunting to start over with a therapist, too many people stay with a therapist for years with no significant change. Seeking out a new therapist can help you start making progress sooner.
Check availability: Make sure the therapist’s hours work with yours
New Yorkers’ long working hours can also contribute to the challenge of finding therapists in NYC. It’s difficult, if not impossible, for most working adults to take a two-hour break in the middle of the day on a weekly basis.
Long working hours may limit New Yorkers’ options for going to therapy to early morning, late evening, or weekend hours, and most therapist websites and directories don’t share this information or keep it up to date.
How to find morning, evening, and weekend therapy appointments
If you have limited availability, search specifically for therapists with evening appointments, and ask them upfront if they have openings at the times you need. You can also consider expanding your search to include therapists who offer remote therapy sessions.
The summer and the month of January tend to be slower times for therapists and they may have more availability, too. Consider establishing a relationship with a therapist during these months so you can call on them if anything arises in the future.
What are the benefits of remote therapy?
Remote video therapy can be a great option if you travel often, need flexible hours, or simply want to expand your search beyond your immediate neighborhood.
While there are pros and cons to remote therapy, here are a few of the benefits:
You can see your therapist when you’re traveling. If you travel for work, your options for hours to see your therapist are even further constrained. Knowing you can see your therapist remotely during work travels can give you peace of mind, and allow you to continue seeing a therapist who is a great match for you.
You can schedule sessions at more flexible hours. Eliminating the travel time to the therapist’s office can give you more flexibility in the potential hours and days you can see your therapist. Therapists may also have greater flexibility when it comes to remote sessions because the sessions can happen from their home office.
You can broaden your search beyond your immediate neighborhood. Part of the challenge with finding available therapists is limiting your search to your immediate vicinity. Expanding your search to therapists within your entire city or state can multiply your options for therapists and increase your chances of finding a great match. (Note: Therapists can only work with clients who are in the state in which they are licensed to abide by ethical guidelines.)
Studies have demonstrated that remote sessions can be just as effective as in-person sessions for therapy, and therapists now conduct therapy through secure video platforms, which reduce concerns around privacy of your sessions.
Training and expertise: Do I need a specialist?
Therapists tend to list dozens of specialities online – even though no therapist is trained in every possible area of mental health. Ask therapists about their training and areas of specialty to ensure they can help you with your unique needs.
Also, make sure to check off the basics. In conducting interviews for Zencare’s NYC therapist network, we’ve encountered many unlicensed therapists, therapists who haven’t taken continuing education courses or trainings for years, and those who will see clients for decades on concerns that likely could be resolved in shorter periods of time.
The best therapists receive advanced training, continue to hone their skills, participate in peer consultation and supervision, and know when to refer out clients to experts in their specific issues.
What qualifications should a therapist have?
Look for signs of quality, training, and basic licensing when searching for a therapist:
Is the therapist actively licensed in the state in which they’re practicing?
What advanced trainings have they received in the specialty you’re seeking?
Can they identify the mental health topics they don’t have experience in and need to refer out?
Make sure to check these basic requirements as you conduct your research.
What specialties exist in therapy?
Certain mental health challenges call for specialized trainings in evidence-based care. These include, but are not limited to, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder, couples therapy, sex therapy, and major mental illnesses.
While most therapists can help with common concerns – such as general anxiety, depression, stress, life transitions, and relationship issues – seeking out a specialist for concerns like these can save you years of therapy and potentially thousands of therapy dollars.
What is the best therapy approach?
Outside of specialized areas of mental health, the best therapy approach is based on what’s most effective for you.
Therapists will often integrate more than one approach, and understanding different therapy approaches can help you make an educated decision as you consider different therapists.
The big schools of thought in therapy can be divided into psychodynamic therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
Psychodynamic therapy focuses on gaining insight into how your early life experiences (for example, your relationship with your parents) affect your present day relationship patterns, interpersonal struggles, personality, and emotional development. The goal is to use this insight to reshape your understanding of yourself, heal emotional wounds, and perhaps shift relationship patterns and behaviors. Psychodynamic therapy is longer-term, lasting from several months to many years, depending on your need.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) focuses on recognizing negative thought patterns and changing thoughts and behaviors through concrete skills. The focus is on finding practical solutions to your present-day challenges. Sessions may involve homework assignments for you to try outside of session, and therapy is typically more short-term, often eight to twelve weekly sessions, over the course of two or three months.
There are tons of other types of therapy approaches, including holistic therapy and couples counseling. Most therapists, however, use some combination of the approaches and skills they’ve learned through various trainings.
It’s likely that some of these therapy approaches appeal to you more than others, and that some are more relevant to your reasons for seeking therapy. Ask potential therapists how they approach treatment to gain greater insight into what therapy with them might look like.
Accessing mental health care in NYC as a person of color
For black, brown, Asian, Latinx, and other persons of color (POC), finding a therapist of color, or someone who shares their ethnic, racial, or cultural background, can be one of the most valued factors in the therapist search process. This can be especially important for clients who want to discuss topics of intergenerational trauma, discrimination, and oppression, or for whom these experiences have led to adverse impacts on their mental health.
While therapists of color are not by default the best clinicians to serve clients of color, they may be able to better identify and understand the reality of their clients’ circumstances.
Tips for finding therapists of color in NYC:
Try searching therapist directories specifically designed to find therapists of color in NYC, including Asian American therapists and African American and black therapists. If you are struggling to find a therapist of color who fits your schedule, therapy budget, and/or specific mental health needs, try looking for therapists who explicitly address these topics in their online presence.
Key words to look for include:
Multicultural counseling or culturally-sensitive care
Affirming practices for people of color and marginalized identities
A focus on first-generation challenges, acculturation, and racial identity
Addressing issues of power, privilege, and the impacts of structural oppression
If a therapist indicates that they work with clients from “all cultures,” you might ask more specifically on your initial call:
What cultures do you have experience working in?
Would the therapist be willing to learn more about your background?
Finding therapists in NYC on Zencare
Zencare.co was started to help New Yorkers find therapists more efficiently and effectively. We’ve focused our solutions on addressing each of these hurdles to accessing great mental health care:
Our therapists go through a five-step screening process, including an interview with our clinical team to ensure quality care.
We maintain accurate and up-to-date information about fees, insurances, availabilities, hours, and office addresses.
You can search by therapists who offer sliding scale fees if you are struggling to find in-network therapists but have a limited therapy budget for out-of-network therapists.
We provide therapist photos and videos so prospective clients can get a better sense of the therapist and increase chances of finding a great fit before an in-person appointment.
Our system for booking initial calls make it easier for clients to reach out to therapists and reduces the risk of phone tag.
Wherever you are on your therapist search journey — whether you’re still considering therapy, or are fully invested and in the midst of your search — know that it’s not an easy process, but that the rewards can be immense if you find a great therapist match.