How can I find a counselor?
Before you look for a counselor, think about what you would like help with. You may have mental stress, such as depression or anxiety, that does not get better with time. In that case, you might need to see a psychiatrist, clinical psychologist, or psychiatric nurse practitioner. Or you may be looking for practical advice or general support for your mental health. In that case, you might need a clinical social worker, oncology social worker, or a support group guided by a counselor. Also, consider whether you would prefer in-person, online, or phone counseling. Here are some ways you can find a counselor
- Explore counseling services provided by your hospital or cancer treatment center by asking at the facility’s library or learning resource center.
- Ask for referrals from your doctor, nurse, or other cancer care team members to counselors in your area.
- Find a list of counselors covered by your health insurance plan by calling your insurance provider or looking on its website.
- Investigate whether there is an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) at your workplace that includes counseling services.
- If you are a part of a support group, ask other group members if they may have suggestions.
- Contact the local health department staff or local library staff about mental health services nearby.
You can also use the internet to search for mental health and cancer services organizations. Many of these organizations can refer you to a counselor. Some also offer limited free counseling by phone or online as well as offering support and services for people with your type of cancer. Other organizations that can help you find a counselor include:
American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy
Association of Oncology Social Workers
How do I choose the right counselor?
You might feel nervous about starting your relationship with a counselor. It might feel strange to talk about personal issues with a new person, even if they are a professional counselor. Before your first session, talk to different counselors you have researched by phone so you can get a feel for how you would work together. Ask the counselor beforehand if they charge for this first phone call. Often, there is no charge for a short call. Here are some things you might want to ask:
- Describe your situation briefly, and explain why you are looking for counseling.
- Ask if the counselor has experiencing treating people with cancer or other serious conditions. It is important that your counselor have this background.
- Ask the counselor to describe the approach they might use to help you. Ask for more details if there is something you do not understand.
- Ask the counselor to explain their professional, degrees, training, and licensing.
- Ask about office hours, fees, billing, and what insurance plans the counselor accepts.
How much counseling helps can depend on how well you work with the counselor. Not every counselor or type of counseling will be a good match for you. If you do not feel comfortable after a few sessions, or think counseling is not helping, talk to your therapist about your concerns and consider finding a new provider.
How can I pay for counseling?
Counseling can be expensive, so it is important to consider the costs before starting. The cost usually depends on how much training your counselor has and where they work. For example, psychiatrists and clinical psychologists often charge more than licensed social workers or licensed counselors. This is because they have more extensive training. Counseling in a private practice often costs more than at the clinic. Group counseling often costs less than 1-on-1 counseling, and most cancer support groups are free.
Most health insurance plans cover some of the cost of counseling. Many will pay for a certain number of visits with a licensed counselor. You may have to pay part of the cost of each visit. This is called a co-payment or co-pay. Some insurance companies only pay for visits with certain types of counselors. Or they may only pay for treatment with specific counselors in your area. Contact your health insurance company to see what they will cover for counseling services. If you are having a hard time paying for your counseling or you want to start, but do not think you will be able to afford it, here are some options:
- Some hospitals and cancer centers offer free counseling to patients.
- Local health departments or social services agencies may offer free or lower-cost counseling if you qualify.
- Some local clinics and counselors allow you to pay based on your income. People who earn less money pay less for each visit. This is called a “sliding scale.”
- Medical schools may offer lower-cost counseling. Your counselor may be a student doing advanced training, with a licensed professional supervising them.
Questions to ask the health care team
You may want to ask your cancer care team the following questions about counseling.
- Who can I talk with if I’m feeling sad, anxious, or distress?
- What symptoms and side effects of my cancer treatment could affect my mental health?
- Are there counseling services at this medical center for patients?
- Who can I talk with if I need free or lower-cost counseling services?