Come November, the days are short, the college workload is heavy, and the end-of-semester finish line seems awfully far away. Not surprisingly, some students find themselves looking for more support than their parents or friends can provide. If your son or daughter needs to find help, these questions might arise in finding a therapist for college students.
Finding a therapist for a college student: FAQs
How do I find a therapist?
College counseling centers are staffed by well-trained, seasoned clinicians who are excellent at supporting undergrads. If your student is facing a crisis, this should be the first stop. Counseling centers offer walk-in appointments, are free of charge, have clinicians who are plugged into relevant resources at the college and know how to collaborate with faculty and administrators, if needed, to help students who have hit a rough patch.
In general, college counseling centers are terrific at providing short-term support — usually fewer than ten counseling sessions — and are not designed to offer ongoing psychotherapy. If forming an ongoing therapeutic relationship makes the most sense, you may want to consider clinicians in the community surrounding your son or daughter’s college.
How do I locate a therapist near me?
Phone the college counseling center! All college counseling centers are familiar with the local resources and happy to connect you to them. Call the main number, tell them what you are looking for, and you’ll get a quick call back, often from the counseling center director, with suggestions of clinicians who are known by the college to be excellent at addressing the needs of college students.
If you’d like, you can call anonymously; you need not disclose your name or your student’s when connecting with the counseling center. Alternately, use your own resources to track down a reputable therapist near your son or daughter. Phone your child’s pediatrician, trusted clinicians near you, or psychotherapists you know elsewhere. Many clinicians have broad national networks and can spare you the trouble of picking a name blindly from a web directory.
What therapy am I looking for?
When seeking a psychotherapist, there are several variables for your college student to consider in order to secure a good fit. Does your student have a preference for working with a man or a woman? Does the clinician’s age matter? What about the clinician’s theoretical orientation? There are many traditions within the world of psychotherapy and different approaches suit different clients. Here’s a quick primer:
- Psychodynamic psychotherapy: This brand of psychotherapy takes an open-ended, supportive, and exploratory approach. The emphasis centers on unconscious processes, interpersonal relationships, and understanding the origins of repeated, unhelpful patterns.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy: This brand of psychotherapy is problem-focused and solution-oriented. It illuminates how patterns of thought and action contribute to psychological distress, and how they can be changed to bring about relief.
- Dialectical behavioral therapy: This relatively new form of therapy aims to help clients develop healthy skills for managing difficult feelings. It’s especially appropriate for clients who turn to self-destructive behaviors — such as drinking excessively or harming themselves — when distressed.
- You can learn more about these and other brands of psychotherapy here.
Don’t worry about the letters behind a psychotherapist’s name. The nature of a therapist’s graduate training often says little about his or her quality as a clinician. Just make sure that the clinician is licensed by the state and comes recommended by a trusted source.
What about specialists?
Any seasoned clinician should be able to help clients with depression, anxiety, or relationship challenges. If you’re unsure about whether a clinician will be a good fit, you or your college student should feel free to ask prospective therapists if they address the concerns at hand. Some challenges call for a specialist in a particular treatment area. If your college student is struggling with substance abuse, an eating disorder, or trauma, let your referral sources know.
How does confidentiality work in therapy?
In general, psychotherapy is like Las Vegas: what happens there, stays there. Your college student has the option of signing a consent form that will allow you to speak freely with his or her clinician if you, your student, and the clinician deem that appropriate. If your son or daughter chooses not to sign such a form but you feel that there is pressing information the clinician should know, you have an option: you can call the therapist and leave information in a voice message.
Ethically, the clinician cannot return your call, or even acknowledge that your child is a client. Most therapists, myself included, would alert the client to the call and address the information, and how it arrived, as a part of the psychotherapy. Accordingly, you’ll want to weigh carefully the costs and benefits of making such a call before doing so.
Can I use my health insurance for therapy?
Here’s the short answer: it depends. To save yourself, and your college student, some trouble you might start by calling your insurance carrier to see what coverage they provide for in-network and out-of-network clinicians near your student. In general, insurance coverage of psychotherapy is stacked against the consumer: insurers usually offer limited coverage for a limited number of clinicians. And therapists who can maintain vibrant practices without taking insurance (usually the more skilled and seasoned clinicians) have no financial incentive to belong to insurance panels. If your resources are tight, you can ask clinicians who are not covered by your insurance if they offer a sliding-scale fee.
Finding a therapist can make things better for your college student when the end of the semester can’t come fast enough. Good psychotherapy helps young people build their independence, learn to take excellent care of themselves, and consider healthy choices and possibilities that previously seemed out of reach. By the time your son or daughter seeks psychotherapy, things are already moving in the right direction.
What about virtual appointments?
Virtual psychotherapy appointments became far more common during the pandemic and opened up a new way for college students to meet with clinicians outside of their immediate area. As with in-person appointments, you will want to work with a licensed clinician who comes recommended by a trusted source.
While the details differ by state and by profession (e.g., psychologists, social workers, clinical counselors), therapists are generally required to care only for clients who are physically in the state where they are licensed. That said, psychologists can now apply for a national license that allows them to practice in the states that have enacted the appropriate legislation (currently 28 states and counting). It may be possible for a student who does not attend college in his or her home state to have virtual meetings with a clinician from home so long as the therapist has a cross-state license or has received permission from the relevant state boards.