Happy New Year! Many people use this time of year to make resolutions or start something new. If finding a therapist is on your list, take a look at these tips on what to look for in a therapist.
Look for a therapist who…
- Is easy to talk to and feels genuine. As mentioned in my previous blog post, a strong client/counselor relationship is a key element in predicting positive change and success in therapy. In my experience, it seems most people prefer a therapist who is empathetic, accepting, and compassionate who can also offer an honest third party perspective that is often needed at times in order to achieve personal growth and a better understanding of self. Someone who is genuine and easy to talk to will make opening up about the tough stuff a little easier.
- Sets appropriate professional boundaries. I’ve heard far too many stories from my clients about previous therapists who talked about themselves and their own issues in session more than the client’s. Yikes! All of us in our personal friendships attempt to “take our turn in the spotlight”, so to speak, so that each friend has a chance to share their current struggles and hear their friend’s thoughts or opinions. The benefit of the counseling relationship is that there’s no need to share the spotlight! Your therapy session is your time to truly focus on you and your struggles and not someone else’s. Of course, a little self disclosure from your therapist isn’t necessarily a bad thing and can, at times, help strengthen the therapeutic relationship. For example, most of my clients know that I’m married with two young kids, and I might share some other trivial aspect of my life, like “I’m exhausted from being up too late on New Years Eve,” but then I turn my focus back to my client and their life. We licensed counselors are encouraged to first think “How does sharing this with my client aide in the strengthening of our professional relationship and/or help them in their healing?” I hope your therapist asks themselves this question as well.
- Aspires to understand and work towards your goals in counseling. Before you come to your first appointment, take some time to really think about what you want to get out of therapy, i.e. “I want to be more assertive and express my thoughts and feelings” or “I want to feel less anxious at work”. This way, your therapist can ask some follow up questions to get a better understanding of your goals in order to hit the ground running. It’s good practice to discuss and review treatment goals during the counseling process (and at the end of treatment as well) to be sure that you are still on the right track or to assess if some goals and objectives need to be modified or changed.
- Gives you tools that you can use in “real life” to work towards your goals. I’ve also heard from some of my clients that it felt like all they did in therapy was talk about the problem instead of moving towards trying to fix or change it. Processing your thoughts and emotions about certain stressors or issues is certainly important and a large part of why counseling can be helpful, but most people also come to counseling to get help and make changes. A therapist should do their best to suggest coping skills and help you learn to use tools in life that will help you grow, change, and heal.
- Is willing to search for the tools that would best suit you, consult with another professional, and/or refer out if need be. Phew, that was a mouthful. Let’s break that down. So, sometimes we therapists feel stuck and aren’t quite sure what skills or tools would help you in your particular situation. Or perhaps we notice that whatever we’re doing doesn’t seem to be working that well. It’s important that your therapist be willing to do some research or seek consultation from another counselor on how best to help you. It’s also imperative that we therapists know when we’re not best suited to help a client because the issue is out of our scope of practice. For instance, I do not possess enough training and experience to feel competent in helping someone who is currently struggling with addiction. This is why I have a referral list of professionals near me who specialize in this area. Ask a potential therapist what their specialties are and what experience they have in helping others with your presenting issue.
If you’re interested in finding the right therapist for you, ask your friends and family for a referral. You can also search for clinicians in your area on www.psychologytoday.com/us and read their biographies, or you can look a clinician up on www.healthgrades.com to view their rating. If the therapist offers a free phone consultation, take advantage of it so you can start to get a feel for if this therapist is a good fit for you. Then, if you do end up scheduling a counseling session with them, go to your first session to be sure that they still feel like a good fit. If it doesn’t feel like the right fit after your first session or even your sixth session, then seek out another therapist. I tell my clients that the most important thing is that they get the help and support they need and not that I am the one providing the help and support. I’ve heard too often from my clients and others who say that they stayed with a counselor because “I felt bad leaving”. Therapy is an important investment and you deserve to find a therapist who meets your needs.
Above all, trust your gut, listen to it, and I guarantee that you’ll find the right therapist for you.