Many who have never done therapy before can easily have preconceived notions on what it is, who it’s for, and what it means to go see a therapist. If you were considering finding a therapist because of a certain painful situation going on in your life, or wanting an outside perspective on what you are going through, that’s great. Those are certainly situations where you would want to find a good therapist. But it’s natural to still have questions.
How do you start to look for one? What can you expect? How can you benefit the most from it? There are so many great resources for finding therapists, but how do you know which therapist is right for you? How do you know you will get the most effective treatment with them? Here are a few tips to help you if you are considering when finding a therapist for yourself. These are things to consider before you send that email, or pick up that phone.
What Do You Want to Achieve in Therapy? Are you going through a painful breakup and want sound help from an expert who’s helped other clients dealing with the same issues as you? Do you want to get tools to help you move past the emotional pain? Are you trying to figure out how to repair the relationship? Are you struggling from insomnia and want help to make the symptoms go away? What are your reasons for going to a therapist, and what kind of benefits do you want to see from that? These are questions you need to ask yourself before you decide who can best help you achieve those things.
Begin your search. Are you dealing with long-term depression? Codependency? Anxiety? Many therapists have specialties and have worked with many clients who have been in your situation. They are equipped and experienced to help you with your particular journey. You’ve narrowed down your search by identifying what you really need. I’ve had inquiries from those who are under stress and don’t really know how they want to benefit from their therapy work. I’ve asked them specific questions to help them identify the answers, but also to determine if it makes sense for us to work together.
Let Go of a Timeline. Even a trained, experienced clinician cannot tell you an exact time line. If finances are the issue for a time constraint, it’s good to tell your therapist up front, so there is a time frame you are working with. A therapist might also offer alternatives that work for you, like group therapy, or a community counseling center. If you do choose to work with them, they should be equipping you with helpful tools to cope better with your situation with the time constraints you know you have.
You may be asked why you are imposing an end date on your therapy. You can cap how often you go to therapy, but that doesn’t mean the issues you wanted to address will feel resolved. Imposing an end date on therapy may result in misplaced expectations and leave you disappointed.
It’s understandable to have financial constraints, even around priorities like our health. But be mindful of any other psychological resistance you have about going to therapy. For example, you could also imposing a time limit in your own mind about how long you want to talk about the issues, especially if they are painful. Nobody likes to feel pain, so it could understandably be affecting why you are putting a time limit on how long therapy will take. A good therapist will inform you of that it’s difficult to put an exact time frame, but will also give you the freedom to terminate when you feel you’ve gotten what you needed out of therapy to help you.
Go with Your Instinct. It’s not always about the amount of education a therapist has — It’s the level of connection you have with them when you talk to them, either in person or by phone, when you are trying to gauge whether it’s the right fit for you. Don’t ignore your gut when you are initially engaging your therapist by phone or in person to decide if you want to work with him or her, even if the therapist was a referral by a doctor or a friend. This is a person you may be revealing some very intimate details about your life. If you’re feeling uncomfortable or uneasy from the beginning, that may be a clue that as you delve into issues more personal, it will hinder your therapy progress because you simply felt uncomfortable with your therapist. It doesn’t mean that the therapist doesn’t do good work, or that something is wrong with you. Sometimes the connection simply wasn’t the right one for you.
Look for a Quality Connection. Generally, you ought to be able to feel your therapist genuinely cares for you and the situation you are in. You can feel the therapist empathize with your pain or your desire to see your circumstances change for the better. Good therapists will give you their undivided attention during sessions. They won’t be distracted with checking their phone if they hear a text message alert. Do they try to understand you? Do you feel safe to reveal information without feeling judged or critcized? Do they accept you?
Ask Questions. As you are discussing the issues with your therapist, he or she should have some ideas of what interventions they will be using to help you reach the goals that you discuss in your first meetings. You may need to revisit your initial goals from time to time to see how you are achieving them through your therapy work with them. Don’t let your therapist stay silent; keep inquiring about the methods they will use to help you progress.
Has Your Therapist Experienced Therapy? It’s surprising how many therapist don’t do their own therapy work before becoming a therapist. It’s like a Toyota dealership owner driving a Honda. To me, this says that those therapists don’t believe in the work they do enough to go through it themselves. Doing their own therapy work can actually make therapists more effective in their work with clients, because they are not operating from blind spots. They are more likely to be aware of any of their own issues and not let those concerns hinder their work with clients. They can perhaps empathize even more with you. If you ask a therapist if he or she has done therapy before and you get a defensive response, that might be a clue for you.
These are just a few tips to help you identify how to make therapy the most effective for you, and also tips on finding a therapist you are comfortable working with. Effective therapy can be a very wonderful blessing that helps you in many areas of your life. I know that it’s been a tremendous blessing in mine.
© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Gracie C. Lu, LCSW, therapist in Irvine, California
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