So, before I share some tips on how to find the right therapist for you, I wanted to share a story that illustrates part of the dilemma in trying to find the right therapeutic fit. Years before I became a therapist myself, I was discussing therapy experiences with a new roommate. New roommate, (who I’ll call Unique because she has a very unique name) and I both raved about what a difference therapy made in our lives.
“I really feel I wouldn’t have made the same progress with just anyone,” I said. “My therapist is amazing. I’m so glad I connected with someone who is experienced with my issues and has an approach that works for me.”
“I agree,” said Unique. “Before I found my therapist, I saw another therapist, named ___, a couple times. But I didn’t get much out of it and the whole experience was pretty meh. I’m so glad I didn’t give up then!”
So, guess who Unique’s “meh” therapist was? If you guessed my “amazing” therapist, you guessed right! The process of therapy is highly personal, and no one therapist is the right fit for everyone. However, research shows that the single most important factor in therapeutic success is the quality of the relationship between the therapist and client, so it’s very important to make sure you’re finding the right fit for you.
There are 2 important steps for finding the right therapist: knowing where to look, and knowing what questions to ask potential therapists. Here are some tips for both:
Where to Look for Therapists
Ask Friends/Family for Recommendations. Many of us use this as our go to strategy for finding new service providers. However, you want to find a therapist who is a neutral party, and that can’t happen if they are already treating your close family member or friend. So my suggestion would be to avoid asking your inner circle and stick with asking acquaintances whose name you don’t anticipate coming up in your therapy.
Shop Online. Google is, of course, an option, or you can use online therapy directories, such as the Psychology Today Therapist Finder: https://therapists.psychologytoday.com/rms to search for therapists by location, specialty, gender, theoretical orientation, etc. Each profile contains a short personal statement, link to the therapist’s website, and details about specializations, rates, etc. There are also online directories for different specializations or modalities, such as https://openpathcollective.org/ for therapists who accept sliding scale fees, or https://ncsfreedom.org/resources/kink-aware-professionals-directory/kap-directory-homepage for finding a kink/poly friendly therapist.
What to Ask Your Potential Therapist
My problem is ________ and the ways that it is affecting me are _______. How would you go about treating this? The therapist should be able to explain how they work in non-technical terms.
What is your experience and training with my issue? What is your specialty? Are you licensed? I would not recommend seeing an unlicensed therapist. Also, be weary of the therapist who claims they treat “everything.” You want someone who has expertise in your area of concern.
Do you tend to lead, or follow my lead? There are lots of different therapy modalities out there, but this is a good way of gauging whether someone tends to be directive (they lead) or non-directive (you lead). Different approaches work for different people, and most of us have a sense going on which we prefer.
Do you tend to focus on present symptoms, or the deeper issue? Some people come to therapy wanting brief, solution-focused or issue-specific therapy and some want to dig deeper. You want to make sure your therapist is aligned with your therapeutic goals.
What are your strengths as a therapist? This is a really subjective question that can give you valuable information on whether that particular therapist’s strengths speak to you.
Are you, or have you ever been, in therapy yourself? This is a HUGE one. I would never see a therapist who hasn’t done their own work, or has only done therapy to complete a certification requirement.
While therapists have different backgrounds and licensures, all licensed therapists have ethical standards and professional guidelines they adhere to, and I strongly urge you to steer clear of any therapist who exhibits any of the following behavior:
Lack of professionalism: Repeatedly not returning your phone call as promised or being significantly late or no-showing to scheduled appointments, stopping your session early to see another client the therapist double-booked, wearing extremely unprofessional clothing (e.g. bunny slippers and pajamas) to a session.
Inattentiveness: Checking emails or texting during the session, persistent clock-watching, looking bored or disengaged.
Violations of confidentiality/boundaries: Calling your work or emergency contact to ask why you missed a session, introducing you to another one of their clients without mutual permission, acknowledging your therapeutic relationship to others or out in public, friending you on their personal social media accounts, having any other relationship outside of the context of the therapeutic relationship.
Judging/Shaming your beliefs, culture, lifestyle choices, sexual orientation/practices, etc. This is a bit of a tricky one, because part of a therapist’s job is to help you examine aspects of your life and work with you to determine what is not working well and find healthier ways of coping or expressing yourself. A skilled therapist will help you address your issues using the framework of what is best for you as the client without imposing their personal beliefs.and sometimes how we hear a statement isn’t how it was meant. This is especially true because we often shame or judge ourselves. However, how a therapist responds if you have the courage to express that you felt shamed or judged will tell you so much.
Dismissive or unresponsive to feedback, criticism or requests. Of course, none of us are perfect, but therapy should be a safe place where you can practice skills that we often struggle with in our relationships. A skilled therapist will validate your point of view and be open to hearing how they can improve.
As you are vetting potential therapists, notice how you’re feeling. Seeking help is vulnerable and scary, so it’s normal to feel a bit guarded or nervous, but I also strongly suggest trusting your gut, especially during the first session. Do you feel listened to and understood? Do you feel you can trust her or him? Are you feeling hopeful that together you can successfully address your issues? Answering yes to these are all good signs that you’ve found a good fit.
If a particular therapist isn’t the right fit for you, you can ask for recommendations on clinicians who may be a better fit, which any therapist should happily provide. It may take more than one conversation or meeting, but taking these steps upfront can help ensure that you find the best fit for you.
Call me at (512) 763-7002 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule your free 20 minute consultation to help you determine if I’m the right therapist for you.