Guide to Finding a Counselor

Find the mental healthcare you need

  • Feeling anxious? Overwhelmed? Unhappy? Not sure what you're feeling at all? These might be signs that your "check engine" light is on and seeing a counselor could help.
  • Some feel that going to counseling means there’s something wrong with them and others will look at them differently. But a counselor can help you stay emotionally and mentally well, whether you’re dealing with a mental health condition, grief, or the everyday challenges and stressors we all experience.
  • If you’re concerned about privacy: counseling is confidential. Licensed mental health professionals are bound by law to protect your privacy, just like your doctor.
  • Many put off seeking treatment, try to ignore symptoms, brush it off as not urgent, or think that the problem isn’t “big enough.” They’ll wait until they’re having the equivalent of an emotional heart attack before reaching out. But putting off seeking support often allows the problem to grow and fester—making for a longer road to recovery.
  • The process of researching and scheduling that first appointment can be an emotional burden on its own. Providers may not be taking new clients, may be out of network (and costly), or might not return your calls at all.
  • Despite the obstacles, there is help available. It can feel a bit scary, but just having an appointment with a counselor can provide some relief. Here’s a guide to help you navigate the mental health care system.
Decide what you want in a counselor

Identify what you need help or support with and make a list of the things you struggle the most with. Is it depression? Parental burnout? Debilitating anxiety? Once you’ve identified your concerns, you can search for counselors who have experience with those specific challenges.

Consider what other preferences you might have for a counselor. You may feel the most comfortable with a counselor of a certain gender, race, ethnicity, religious background, or even personal experience. Maybe you want to talk to someone who can speak a particular language. Or perhaps you’re looking for someone who has experience working with veterans—or is a veteran themselves.

Decide if you want to see a counselor through the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or the medical plan.

  • EAP is intended to be short-term and does not usually focus on completely resolving mental health conditions. Rather, they help to identify and assess the concerns affecting your work or home life, provide solution-focused counseling, and refer to other treatment options if needed. You have six sessions every six months at no cost.
  • Counseling through the medical plan can be short-term or long-term to help you resolve issues affecting your mental health or your daily life at work and home. You pay a 10% co-insurance and there is no deductible.
Take time to search for a counselor who fits your needs

Make a list of potential counselors.

If going through EAP:

  • Onsite EAP counselor: Make an appointment to see an onsite EAP counselor. Onsite counselors are available to employees onsite (virtually/telephonically during COVID-19) and available to adult dependents virtually/telephonically. Household members can make appointments to see EAP network counselors in their community (see below).
  • EAP network counselor in the community (four options):
    1. Schedule an appointment through the EAP online scheduler (you can choose in-person, telephonic, or video): Go to the EAP website > Get emotional support (access via Chrome, Edge, Safari, or Firefox).
    2. Request guidance from an onsite EAP counselor: Call your local onsite EAP counselor and ask if they can refer you to a trusted in-network counselor in your community. Call the counselor to whom you were referred to confirm they are accepting new clients. You’ll then need to call the EAP hotline at 1-888-445-4436 to get an authorization prior to your appointment with the counselor.
    3. Get help from the EAP 24/7: Call the EAP hotline at 1-888-445-4436 to request a referral to an EAP Network counselor in your community. You can choose from in-person, telephonic, or video appointments.
    4. Do your own research: Find a list of in-network providers on Beacon Health Options’ online tool (under Product, select EAP only). Once you’ve selected a provider, call the counselor to confirm they are available and accepting new clients. You’ll then need to call the EAP hotline at 1-888-445-4436 to get an authorization prior to your appointment with the counselor.

If going through the medical plan:

  • Anthem (four options):
    1. Telehealth: With Anthem’s telehealth program, LiveHealth Online, Anthem members can use a computer or mobile device to virtually meet with a board-certified psychiatrist or licensed therapist from anywhere. Visit mypgebenefits.com/anthem > TELEHEALTH – VIRTUAL DOCTOR AND MENTAL HEALTH VISITS for more details.
    2. Find a list of in-network providers on Beacon Health Options’ online tool (under Product, select MHSUD only).
    3. Call your local onsite EAP counselor and ask if they can refer you to a trusted in-network counselor in your community.
    4. Call Beacon (1-888-445-4436) for a list of in-network referrals.
  • Kaiser: Reach out to Kaiser at 1-800-390-3503 for a list of in-network referrals. Usually, Kaiser will select a provider for you, but you also have the option to go to kp.org > Doctors & Locations and search for your own.

Research the counselors on your list and narrow it down to about nine or 10 candidates that meet your criteria.

  • Check counselors’ websites, profiles on Psychology Today or HelpPro, online reviews, or even social media (e.g., LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram). Look for clues to find out what kind of person they are and if they’d be a good match for your needs.
  • The additional search tools listed here may be helpful in finding a culturally responsive counselor.
  • You may also consider asking trusted coworkers, friends, or family members for recommendations, then you can check to see if they’re in-network. Alternatively, PG&E’s onsite EAP counselors can provide recommendations and referrals.
Narrow down your list

Once you've identified a list of potential counselors, call or email them.

  • You can use this script: My name is [name]. I’m dealing with feelings of [sadness, lack of energy, confusion, stress, whatever applies] and I’m trying to find someone to talk to. I would appreciate it if you could [call/email] me back so we can set up a consultation to find out if we’d be a good fit. Thank you!

They won’t all call you back (this is a common problem), but of those who call you back, ask for a free consultation with up to five of them. Many providers offer free 15- to 30-minute calls to help you determine if they're a good fit for you.

  • Tip for Anthem members: If the counselor(s) you are referred to are not accepting new clients, do not return your calls, or are unavailable for any reason, please call Beacon back and request a Provider Search. The staff will conduct an outreach to find counselors that are available.

Interview your counselor. Come up with some questions to ask when you interview the counselors over the phone. Here are some suggestions to get you started:

  • How long have you been practicing?
  • Do you have experience or expertise treating my issue/concern/symptoms? How do you usually approach my particular concern?
  • Have you ever worked with someone of my ethnicity, race, or other identity? This list of questions may also be helpful if you’re particularly looking for a counselor who is affirming of specific aspects of your identity.
  • Describe your experience supporting clients who are from my community or are survivors of racism. Can you share an example of how you’ve helped someone with race-based trauma?
  • How is working with you going to help me?
  • What is your style? How does a typical session with you work?
  • If transportation, access, or motivation are a challenge or you prefer virtual services: Do you offer virtual sessions?
  • What is your scheduling availability?

After each call, write down three words about how you felt during your conversation. After you’ve completed your consultations, review what you wrote.

Select the counselor with whom you feel most comfortable and make an appointment. Reminder: if you’re going through the EAP, you’ll need to call the EAP hotline at 1-888-445-4436 to get an authorization prior to your appointment with the counselor.

Meet for an appointment
  • Asking questions before a visit can help you know what to expect, but the visit itself is the most important piece. You're not really going to know for sure if it's the right fit until you're sitting in a room (virtual or otherwise) with that person.
  • Don’t settle. It’s important to find someone who you feel actually gets you. If after three sessions you don’t feel connected, it’s ok for you to “break up” with them.
    • After all that work of finding a counselor, it might feel daunting to have that uncomfortable conversation and start over.
    • Counselors know these kinds of things happen and they just want you to get better, even if it's not with them.
    • They may even be able to help identify a colleague who would be a better fit for you.
  • Try one of the others on your list, start looking for someone new, or try a different kind of counseling altogether.
  • It may be a good idea to keep seeing your old counselor until you’ve found a better one—unless your counselor is making you so uncomfortable that it’s hurting your mental health more than it’s helping.
Don’t give up!
  • You might not find the mental health services you need right away. The first counselor or service provider you go to might not be the right fit—don’t stop trying.
  • Think of it like this: If you go to a restaurant and don’t like the food, you wouldn’t say “I’m done with food.” You would try a different restaurant next. Or if you get a bad haircut, you wouldn’t say “I’m done with haircuts.” You would just find a new hair stylist. It shouldn’t be any different when it comes to your mental health.
  • Counseling is like trying on new clothes. You may have to try a few different sizes or styles before you find a good fit. Not every counselor will be a good match. Find someone who is.
  • When you’re going through a mental health concern or crisis, it can feel impossible to go through all of the work required to find a counselor. Find a trusted friend who can help support you through the process. It will pay off when you find the right counselor.
  • You deserve the help that you require. It’s unfortunate that those services are not always at our fingertips, but you can find them if you’re persistent.
  • Recovery happens. Give yourself what you need to achieve your best mental health.
Additional Notes

Not having any luck with in-network providers? As a last resort, if you have Anthem, you can seek services through out-of-network providers. Most out-of-network providers will provide you a superbill so you can request reimbursement through Beacon yourself, although some may bill your insurance for you.

  • NOTE: If you go this route, you generally will be charged fees that are higher than the rate charged by an in-network provider. Discuss this carefully with your provider as, in addition to your co-insurance, you’ll be responsible for the portion of fees that are over the reasonable and customary limits, any ineligible expenses, or even the entire bill.
  • If you can't afford your preferred counselor's rates, it's worth asking if sliding scale payments are an option.

Questions? Call the PG&E Benefits Service Center at 1-866-271-8144.