Therapy is helpful for anyone in need of a space to process life experiences. However, sometimes finding a therapist can be the hardest part of deciding to start therapy – especially if you live outside of a sizable city or town.
Living in an area where there are few therapists (or none at all) can make the already difficult steps to beginning therapy even more difficult. Not only are we challenged to make a decision to seek care, but following up on our choice with action requires more work than it would if we lived in a metropolitan area. For therapy seekers in small towns and rural areas, it may take work to locate a therapist or a larger commitment in time to commute to therapy, but good therapy often makes these hurdles worth it in improved symptoms, more satisfying relationships, and fewer poor mental health days.
Below, I have gathered my suggestions for how to find a therapist if you are in a small town or rural area with no therapists:
Keep Asking for Referrals
Just because there aren’t Google business pages or Psychology Today listings doesn’t mean there aren’t great mental health therapists in your area.
Believe me, I get it- I’m from rural Kansas – but I also know plenty of therapists who are off the radar. Many good therapists don’t need to advertise, don’t have Psychology Today listings, aren’t on insurance panels, and don’t have websites. If their practice is thriving via word-of-mouth, that visibility isn’t necessary.
Find these therapists through referrals: ask your doctor or speak to a religious leader about a therapist referral.
Check the State Department of Health
Another option to locate a therapist in a small town or rural area is to go to your state’s Department of Health, either in person or online. In most states, there’s transparency about licenses to practice.
Therapists with valid licenses will usually be listed in a directory or database where you can view their professional addresses and phone numbers. (Bonus: this system will also alert you if their license has been suspended, revoked, or if there has been disciplinary action against them by the Department of Health.)
Roadtrip: Driving a Long Way to See a Therapist
Sometimes, it is often worth driving for good care. When I lived in Kansas and was just starting my own journey into recovery, I started driving 1 hour 15 minutes each way for therapy. It sucked. And it may have saved my life.
Over time, I realized that a long drive to therapy appointments actually was actually helpful. Having to spend an hour in the car on the way there created mental space to prepare for sessions, and an hour on the way home was a great way to process before having to jump back into my ordinary life and responsibilities.
Another option for therapy if you are in a small town or rural area without therapists could be online therapy, aka telehealth. As a provider and as a client, I have mixed feelings about video therapy sessions. Video-based therapy can close a gap in access and help people in small towns and rural areas access specialized care.
As a psychodynamic and relational-neurobiology-informed provider, though, I also have to acknowledge that neurologically, online therapy is different. In fact, some studies demonstrate evidence that video therapy is less effective than in-person therapy, particularly for therapy that moves beyond manualized treatments like CBT and into relationally-informed depth-oriented treatment.
TIP: If you opt for online therapy, reach out to a telehealth provider in your state directly. Avoid corporate-owned video therapy providers – they’re not held to the same ethical or privacy standards as an individual therapist (see sources: consumer reports and this New York Times article). Additionally, because these platforms are essentially gig work for therapists you may find yourself suddenly assigned a new therapist and barred from speaking to the therapist you bonded with. Connecting with a therapist directly for telehealth sessions is a better way to ensure your information is private, you won’t get switched to another therapist abruptly, and the contents of your sessions are held to clinical, rather than corporate, ethical standards.
It can be an overwhelming task to start therapy or even find a therapist when you live in a rural location away from large cities (or even medium-sized ones!). However, just because you are located outside of a major area does not mean that good care is too far away.
Whether in-person or online, there is an option out there for you and these tips can help you navigate through the searching process.