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Many of us are currently living through the most challenging, emotionally taxing time of our lives. There's no shame in admitting that we need help—and luckily for us, there are people out there ready to give it.

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If you're currently feeling like you're at the end of your rope, and thinking about hurting yourself—DON'T. You are not alone. If you're having suicidal thoughts, or just need someone to talk to, there's help. Call the Multnomah County Mental Health Call Center at 503-988-4888, or toll free at 1-800-716-9769. If you're Deaf or hard of hearing, dial 711. Stick around; we need you!

But let's say you're having trouble navigating your emotions right now, but just need a little help getting back on the right path. Even though therapists have temporarily suspended normal office visits, most providers have switched to online counseling or "telehealth"—and if you need someone to talk to, now is the time to make it happen.

Nate Bagley is a licensed professional counselor and director at Bridge City Counseling, a outpatient mental health clinic in Southeast Portland, who agreed to answer a few of our questions on how to find a good online counselor—especially if this is your first time.

MERCURY: Is working with a counselor online more challenging than a regular in-person office visit?

NATE BAGLEY: As a counselor—and as a client seeing my own therapist—the transition to telehealth has been smoother than I expected. For both the counselor and client it's probably a little more tiring, as our brains are working hard to connect with someone who's in a different location. But it still works and is helpful—it’s still a place for clients to be able to talk, process, and be heard. It's still a place to feel some level of normalcy when nothing around us feels normal, to process the losses and fears we're experiencing, or the old traumas that this pandemic is bringing up for us. It can also be a place to talk about and work on stuff that isn’t COVID related.

Okay, let’s say I’ve never had a therapist or haven’t been to counseling in a while. How do I go about finding one?

Finding the right fit for a new therapist is important. A few great places to start include asking your friends if they have recommendations, contacting your doctor for a referral, getting some names from your insurance company, or using therapy search websites like Psychology Today.

In the midst of this pandemic, some clients are taking breaks or decreasing the frequency of their counseling—so a good number of therapists have openings and it may actually be a little easier for you to find a therapist right now. Many therapists will do a brief phone call to help you determine if they're a good fit for you. There are a lot of really good therapists in the Portland area, and if you contact someone who doesn't have an opening, they'll often be able and willing to get you a referral to another clinic or therapist who will have time available.

[Editor's note: There are also low or no-cost counseling options for people in Multnomah County who don't have insurance.]

What if I can’t wait to talk to a therapist or counselor, who should I call?
If you find yourself in a more urgent or crisis situation, or you feel unsafe, there are more immediate resources to get you support. You can call the Multnomah County Mental Health Crisis Line at 503-988-4888, the Lines for Life crisis line at 800-273-8255, or if you're experiencing domestic violence or don’t feel safe with the people in your home, Call to Safety at 1-888-235-5333 is a very helpful resource.

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Anything else our readers should know about finding a therapist online?

If you are considering starting counseling, please reach out. We, as the mental health community, want to support and help you as much as you need during this time. Many of us have expanded our schedules to make room for new clients who need to get care, and most are already set up and ready to see new clients via telehealth for their first appointments.

We've also seen insurance companies, licensure boards, and federal regulatory agencies quickly adapt their policies so that barriers to telehealth care and video sessions were minimized. Some commercial insurance companies have even reduced or waived copays for telehealth. So if you need us, don't be shy. We're here for you.

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Related reading: "How to Trauma-Proof Yourself for the Traumatic Days to Come" by Bridget Geraghty.

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