Are you struggling to find a therapist? Maybe it’s your first time trying therapy, or perhaps you are looking to work with someone new. Yet there are so many therapists out there, how do you choose? It’s not a decision to be taken lightly. And unfortunately, it’s fairly common for people to stay with therapists who they do not feel comfortable with. Let’s look deeper into how to find a connection with a therapist who is right for you, so you can get the most of your experience.
I ask my new clients to be honest with me if they don't think we are a good match, because in therapy personality is extremely important! If your doctor, attorney, or financial advisor annoys you, no big deal. You only see them once or twice a year. But if your therapist talks too much about their family, or makes uncomfortable jokes, your weekly sessions quickly become agonizing. When choosing a therapist, keep in mind that this person will be alongside you as you explore your biggest challenges. The quality of your relationship is the most important part of that process.
So what makes for a healthy therapy relationship? Well, that leads to the next thing I tell my clients. Although I think I’m likable, you may not like me. And that's ok. But if you don’t like me, how can you trust me? Trust is the foundation of a healthy relationship, and our ability to grow is limited without it. It doesn’t matter if your therapist is a total 'expert' with two PhD’s, if you cannot trust them, then you cannot grow with them.
Now, choosing a therapist would be less problematic if all therapists were good at their job. But like every job, there are good and not so good people. Aside from being adequately trained, your therapist ideally would have a good balance of empathy, respect, intelligence, attentiveness, and creativity. But this often isn’t the case, and honestly there are plenty of poor therapists out there. Anyone can become trained to be a therapist, but the real qualities of interacting with clients are much more difficult to develop. Not only that, but due to burnout, therapists can get stuck in their ways and even become jaded. Remember, therapists are people too.
So, if I haven’t scared you enough, how should you go about finding the right therapist?
Know what you are looking for
This begins with knowing what you are dealing with. Depression, Anxiety, Bipolar disorder, PTSD? There's a variety of issues you may be facing, and there are even more treatment approaches a therapist may use. There are likely hundreds of these different treatment “modalities." You don’t need to be an expert, but it may help to know the basics, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Exposure Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Eye Movement and Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), etc. Each of these are different treatment approaches. Whereas medical issues are relatively simple to treat, psychological issues are not. Therapists cannot even agree among themselves of the best way to help clients. It can be worth doing some research to find the treatments that resonate most with you, and if you have a therapist you are interested in, ask which treatment approaches they use.
Unfortunately I’ve had clients contact me because they're drawn to both my treatment approach and personality (the two pillars of good therapy), only to find that I do not accept their insurance. If paying cash is a dealbreaker for you, then be sure to find clinicians who take your insurance. You can do this by searching on the provider list of your insurance company, or looking for a therapist who accepts your insurance type on Psychology Today.
You should meet for a 10-15 minute consultation with the therapist before starting. This is as much for them as it is for you, to find out if it may be a good fit. Not only should they be able to answer any clinical questions you may have, and get an understanding of your unique situation, but it is also for you to get a feel for their personality, and to determine if you could potentially trust this person. Do not see a therapist if they do not offer a consultation.
When it comes to identity of your therapist, it is completely up to you. Male clients often seek me out because males make up less than 25% of therapists, so we are harder to find. It is normal for people to seek out therapists whose identity they feel comfortable with, and it's important to be able to relate to your therapist. However, it could be helpful to challenge yourself by seeing someone outside your comfort zone. I have had brave female clients with past trauma involving males who consciously decided to see me despite my gender. By working through their discomfort in our sessions, they become better prepared for doing so in the real world. So, when finding a therapist, think about the age, race, gender, etc., and how important or unimportant those are to you.
Trust your intuition
It’s entirely plausible that you may find a therapist who specializes in a treatment approach that resonates with you, who takes your insurance, and fits your identity preference, and they could still be an awful fit for you. Remember, there are no black and white answers for how to heal yourself in therapy, and every therapist will have a different version of the answer. If you get a bad feeling from a consultation or first appointment, you have no obligation to continue. Maybe they are not a good listener, maybe they are totally off target, or maybe their energy is too high or low for you to feel comfortable with. Trust what you feel when you meet with this person.
Finding a therapist can be a tedious process, but it is totally worth it once you find the right fit. Stay open and mindful during the process, and keep in mind that you may find a good connection in unlikely places.