If you’re just beginning your search for a therapist, there are a variety of factors to consider and I know the process can be overwhelming. One mistake, though, that I see people make all the time is agreeing to work with a therapist located far away from them. This might not seem like a big deal initially, but I want to give you a few main reasons you are better off working with therapists who match your needs and are also located near you. Finding the nearest therapist who is also a good match for you can be a challenge, but I like to think of it like dating -- would you choose to be in a long-distance relationship if you had the option? Wouldn’t it be easier if you were dating someone who lived in a nearby neighborhood?
Now, let’s first define what I mean by “near you.” This definition can be a bit different for everyone because you also should consider where you work and what your schedule already looks like in terms of commuting time. If your therapist is located 30 minutes away, that might not seem like a big deal. But consider this: You are giving up an hour of your week at this point just going to and from your therapist -- that’s excluding your actual session. Last week, I spoke with a woman who was desperately seeking a therapist for herself. She said that she used to see a therapist who came highly recommended to her in Westchester, but after going there for six weeks she realized it was impossible to keep up with the appointments without missing almost two working hours each week, plus spending extra money that she didn’t have on the commute. I was so disheartened to hear that she completely lost hope in therapy as a result of her experience because she said finding someone who would take her insurance nearby proved challenging and she just couldn’t justify the time each week for the one so far away. I highly recommend finding someone 30 minutes or less away from where you live or work.
When we go to match our clients to therapists, one of the most important criteria we have is finding the right person within a close proximity. This is not always an easy task. Obviously, the most important criteria when matching a client to a therapist is that the therapist is the right fit for the client’s needs. The matchmaking of a client to therapists is an art that I have learned while working in the therapy word. With any client, I identify their specific needs, personality, location and ethnicity, among other characteristics, and then, I make sure that the therapist’s specialty, orientation and personality align. Before you dismiss location as not being as important as the other criteria I just mentioned, let me outline two big reasons you could be setting yourself up for failure by selecting someone too far away.
Reason # 1: Sticking with it.
When I was trying to graduate from my second masters program, I felt overwhelmed and confused. I knew that I needed to get back to going to therapy myself, but there were several factors that accounted for the break I had taken. First, I had three young girls. I was also a full time student (once again) and was working part time. Between school, family work and other life events, I needed to speak with someone who could help me stay centered and calm. I asked one of my professors for a recommendation for a therapist that she thought would be a good fit for me. She gave me the name of her colleague Dr. Rubin, and after speaking with her on the phone for 10 minutes, I knew she was the right psychologist for me. The only challenge was that she wasn't located near me. At the time, I decided that the fit was more important than the convenience and convinced myself it was a good investment. Once a week, for the next six weeks, I found myself schlepping down to Union Square from the Upper East Side either via a taxi (because I was able to get some work done while resting in a taxi) or a subway (which we all know at times can be seriously delayed). All in all, the round-trip commute was costing me close to two hours a week!
By week six, I realized that while I loved Dr. Rubin and I thought she was extremely helpful, the whole process around getting to therapy and back and the time away from my girls was causing me extra stress and anxiety that I didn’t need. So, I decided to stop seeing Dr. Rubin and tried to find a therapist near me. I will say, the process of finding someone I connected with near me was not easy. Some were extremely expensive, while others simply weren’t taking any new clients. But my search eventually led me to someone located within walking distance of where I live. While the change to a new therapist wasn’t easy, after just a few weeks, I realized that taking away the stress of the commute and all that time away from my family was allowing me to benefit from therapy in so many more rewarding ways.
I can personally attest to the fact that you are much more likely to stick with therapy if the process surrounding it is simple. We can all talk ourselves out of things, especially things that cost money and precious time. So why not make therapy a more seamless part of your schedule? Taking more time on the front end to find someone located near you will save you much more time and energy in the long run.
Reason # 2: It’s more cost effective.
Going back to my example, I realized I was spending close to $100 (between paying the babysitter and the actual cost to commute) each week just getting to and from therapy. This was all in addition to the cost of paying for therapy, which I had decided was an investment I wanted to make. I firmly believe in prioritizing your mental health and think it is one of the best financial investments you can make in yourself if you are able. However, you need to factor in the commute and childcare when deciding on which therapist to choose. Perhaps someone near you might be more expensive, but will the cost of childcare/time away from work/taxis or subways to and from make up the difference? Make sure to plan out the costs not just of therapy, but in your transportation and childcare as well, when making your decision.
Reason # 3: Get the most out of it.
Working with a therapist for weeks on end and seeing no results or changes in your own well-being is one of the most frustrating things that I see happen to people who try out therapy. In order to get the most out of therapy, you need to find someone you connect with, but you also need to make a conscious decision to listen, learn and grow from each session. Sometimes, the circumstances around therapy become so challenging that they negate what is actually going on between you and the professional you are working with. I have seen this happen with many people surrounding travel. A lot of adults experience anxiety on public transportation. A more severe case of this is known as agoraphobia, which is a type of anxiety disorder where you fear and avoid public places that might cause you to panic, feel trapped or embarrassed. Whether or not you relate to this level of anxiousness, if you find your commute to and from therapy is causing you significant distress (whether it’s the time away from work that is causing anxiety or sitting in traffic or taking the subway) it’s going to deter the progress you are actually making in therapy. Consistently going to a therapist you connect with and having that therapy not add major inconvenience to your life are two huge elements in helping you achieve results.
I want to be clear in that I am not advocating that you should compromise and work with any therapist JUST because of the location. I have also had bad experiences with therapists who lived in my neighborhood. Spending money on a therapist who isn’t actually helping, but is located near you and seems cost effective, is no reason to stick with it, either. Location is just one aspect that can dramatically alter your experience with therapy -- but it’s one I often see dismissed. If all of this seems beyond overwhelming, I urge you to reach out.
Matching you with a therapist who checks all the criteria (location included) is something we pride ourselves on here. If you would like me to connect you with one of our expert therapists, please contact me. I look forward to hearing from you!