Choosing the best therapist for you can be difficult. This is the person you hope to share your deepest darkest secrets with!!! You might ask, “How can I know if I will be able to trust him or her!” “How do I know if this person is right for me?” “How can I know they can help me?” or “Can they really understand what I am going through?”
It’s important to ask yourself these questions and find someone that you feel understands your needs and that you can trust to help you. Many people seeking help can go through several therapists until they find the one they are comfortable with. A good therapist understands this and will respect your choice to find safety. As a practicing therapist, I have functioned in both the capacity of someone’s first therapist as well as someone’s last.
Research has shown that the best outcomes in therapy come from two very general dynamics (Cooper & Lesser, 2011, p.33; (Teyber & McClure, 2011):
- The client’s comfort and connection with the therapist and
- The therapists sense of hope in the client’s progress.
In practical terms, this means to attend one or two initial sessions and trust your instincts on whether there is a good connection. You may need to explore different therapists – but it is worth it.
Here are some other thoughts to consider:
- We Don’t Sell!
- Be aware that a good therapist will be inviting, but will not try to sell you on their treatment….you may feel motivated to continue with a therapist after the first session(s), but you won’t feel pressure.
- We are All Unique!
- Every therapist has a different personality and a different style of practice. For example some may be skilled at listening and letting you come up with solutions, some are more directive. Choose the person that you feel will suit your needs and personality. Ask your therapist what his/her process of change looks like in dealing with your issues. Understand your treatment plan.
- We Don’t Give You Fish….We Teach You to Fish!
- Both the therapist and the client need to be working together towards the issues that the client feel are important towards him and her. A therapist doesn’t force the client to change or make a habit of telling the client a specific course of action to resolve a dilemma. They should however, help you develop skills and perspectives that allow you to own and solve your own issues effectively. In this way you continue to grow long after therapy is over. Assignments and opening your heart and mind to new perspectives are important in this regard, not necessarily advice giving. Over time, you will learn to both trust yourself and work with others in getting answers.
- There is No “Right” Way!
- There are many different theories of practice out there (e.g. cognitive-behavioral therapy, emotional focused therapy, etc.) and many different types of therapists (LMFT, LCSW, CMHC or LPC, Psychologists, Psychiatrists). Ask your therapist what theories they practice and how they view change and progress with individuals and families. Ask them to give you a basic outline of these theories.
- Be Committed to the Process!
- Most therapists will do a 15-30 minute consultation for free to find out all of these questions and get to know them more; here at Connections, we offer a 30 minute consultation. Don’t be afraid to shop around. But when you do choose a therapist, spend more than a few sessions with them. Therapy can take time. If you find yourself not progressing or feeling uneasy in your session, or if you are concerned with how your therapist is handling certain issues, talk to them about it! A good therapist will be open and helpful with this information. They will be respectful of your issues and seek to come to an understanding of your needs if you feel they don’t already.
- We Don’t Need our Ego Brushed. Be Honest with Your Feelings!
- There have been many times clients have been concerned with how I say something or do a certain therapeutic process, but will be afraid to speak up. If I don’t catch it right away, the client will not receive the amazing benefits that come from working through relationship concerns with someone skilled in this process. When a client opens up about some of his/her concerns, these can be some of the most uplifting, growth inducing processes in a session. It is necessary to have a safe and open dialogue with your therapist. If you feel that you can’t, you need to be direct and honest with them.
- If you feel that you aren’t understood or heard when this happens, be honest and seek to find a therapist you feel that you can be honest with and that you feel will validate your concerns. Often times this isn’t about the therapist or you as the client nearly as much as it is about the therapeutic style, personality compatibility, and your current motivations for change and growth. Don’t be afraid to be honest with your feelings towards your therapist. A good therapist will be able to emotionally handle any feedback they are given. You are paying them to help you. They understand this. Don’t waste your money on unsaid and unspoken language.
- Not all Therapists Are Trained the Same!
- There are different types of therapists that are best suited for specific issues. Ask your counselor what they are trained in. Therapists have been trained on most client issues but their training and approach is particularly suited to some issues more than others. Ask your therapist about their experience in the areas that are of interest to you. As an MFT (marriage and family therapist), people will often assume that I only specialize in family and couple counseling but not individual counseling. This is a mistaken assumption. Most MFTs work mostly with individuals with a variety of issues. They are just trained to view many problems in the context of the relationship and family system. Psychiatrists and psychologists are often misunderstood as well. Psychiatrists attend medical school and most of their work consist of diagnosing and prescribing medication. Psychologists don’t prescribe medication but can diagnose and test. Most therapists have the training to diagnose, but might send you to a psychiatrist or psychologist for further testing or medication.
A Few Final Points…
Recognize your expectations with the therapy process and open up to your therapist about them. Clients will often expect their therapists to lead the counseling sessions. Meier and Davis discuss a few important factors to consider when starting counseling:
- The pain can get worse before it gets better, so consider with your therapist if the pain you are experiencing in therapy is legitimate pain of growth, or if it is making things worse.
- Therapists take confidentiality very seriously but you should talk to your counselor about the exceptions to confidentiality.
- People who go to counseling are those with the courage and capacity to seek and consider input in helping them function more happily and effectively in their every day lives. Getting help is not a weakness….
Kyle is a Marriage and Family
Therapist, specializing in individual,
relationship, and family work.