The first time I went to therapy, my parents chose a psychotherapist quickly (an easier decision than which mechanic to use). The way they found this nutter-butter-can-of-cashews: My first pediatrician didn’t know what to do for my all-night, every night nightmares, and so he sent me to a therapist. He thought she was good because of her seemingly impressive pedigree. And let me let them tell you as they told everyone who asked: “She did therapy on the Prime Minister from Israel.” Even at age 10, I found this bit of information troubling and logistically dubious, as we lived in a beachside suburb in Los Angeles and the Prime Minister from Israel lived in Israel.
Here are a few examples of her wacky behavior:
1. She ate cottage cheese with her mouth open during our sessions. I feel sure that her mouth full of curds gave me more nightmares.
2. She read her mail during our sessions. While I get that my 10-year-old chatter was not very stimulating, she was getting paid to listen to me and not to read what the latest edition of Readers Digest said about how to declutter your desk. Good God, do I wish I was making this stuff up.
3. I have since learned that she asked patients for rides to the airport. She never asked me for a ride, but I was only 10 and I didn’t even own a bike.
I thought, as a public service of sorts, and because I am a therapist and I write about being in therapy, it might be a good thing if I shared some thoughts about picking a therapist—should you ever find yourself in need of one—as they can be harder to find than a good mechanic.
1. Ask friends and family
Ask friends who are in therapy if they like their therapist. If they do, find out what it is they like about them and ask your friends to ask their therapists for referral lists.
2. Shop online
Google is very effective these days, in addition to Psychology Today’s Therapy Directory. When therapist shopping I would look for therapists who are not selling themselves but rather those telling you about their work and their philosophy of working with patients.
3. A picture tells a story
Take a look at therapists’ pictures on their website or Psychology Today’s Therapist Directory. Red lights for me: Therapists who use glamour shots or whose portraits seem in any way seductive. I would also steer clear of therapists who use a photo of themselves partaking in a favorite hobby or recreational activity. If you have any doubts about a therapist based on photos, I would listen to your intuition. See if you can find someone who you could easily sit across from. I am not saying your therapist needs to look like a supermodel; you just want to look at the therapist without feeling any concern or apprehension. I would heed any intuition.
When choosing a therapist, almost all people have an instinctive idea on gender they would prefer to work with. I don’t think there is a right or wrong when it comes to choosing which gender you prefer to work with. However, I think it can be clinically valuable to notice which gender you absolutely wouldn’t want to work with. I would make note of that and let my therapist know about my strong feelings of “no way” when considering a certain gender for a therapist.
5. Theoretical orientation
This one is really tricky. There are many theoretical orientations and I certainly cannot explain them all in one single post. Here is what I can say in a huge and gross oversimplification:
-If you believe there is an unconscious motivation for your behavior, you might want to go to a psychodynamic therapist.
-If you want to change your thoughts and you think doing that will change your life, and you don’t believe in an unconscious, then you might want a cognitive therapist.
-If you don’t ever want to talk about mom and dad and you only want the here and now then maybe narrative, behavioral, or solution-oriented therapies are something to consider.
-If you want to work on your family and not just on you, then try a family-oriented systems therapist.
-If you still have no idea at all about what orientation you might want, I would then ask the referrals you found and ask about orientation. If the therapist says, “I am an existentialist” and leaves it at that, then have her explain what that means and how you would experience that orientation. Keep asking until you find someone whose style resonates with you.
6. Contact them
When you find a therapist to contact, then reach out to them. It sounds easier than it is; I have had the numbers of therapists in my possession for weeks before I dared to reach out. Email them and ask to schedule a complimentary consultation. When you meet with this therapist, think about asking these questions:
-What is their specialty?
-Have they worked with people with your issues? Share a little about your presenting issue and see how the therapist responds.
-What is their training?
-Are they licensed? Feel free to look up the license and make sure.
-Are they now, or have they ever been, in therapy? This is a big one. Do not, repeat, do not, get into therapy with someone who hasn’t done her own work. Seeing a therapist who doesn’t do her own therapy is like going to a priest who has no relationship with God. This is a big one for me. Unless one has done her own work, she is likely to have issues that create an increased chance of boundary issues, unmanaged counter-transference, and blind spots.
-How much do sessions cost?
Notice how you feel during the consult with the therapist.
On your first appointment, notice how you feel when you are in the room with your new therapist. Do you feel heard when you speak? Notice how you feel in that person’s presence. Notice everything. You might not decide on the first session if the therapist is for you. It may take some time to determine if you have picked the right therapist.
If you’re feeling like the therapist you chose isn’t the best fit, it’s best to tell them what it is you’re looking for and why they aren’t the best fit for you. The therapist might have some ideas for a referral that would work for you. And sometimes that desire to not go back is motivated by some more unconscious anxieties about being in therapy. Best to discuss those, too.
Want more help finding a therapist that’s right for you? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a COMPLIMENTARY 30-minute consultation. Let us help you “Live A Life You Love!”
Article by: Traecy Cleatis of Psychology Today