Finding the right therapist wins you half the battle, writes Vinita Alvares Fernandes
How to find the perfect therapist “for you”
If you’re considering therapy, whether it’s to help you cope with a major change in your life, an adjusting period, to restore a relationship, recover from a traumatic event or improve your mental health — finding the right therapist wins you half the battle.
The bond between you and your therapist needs to be rock solid. This bond is likely to have a huge impact on you so it is vital for you to do your research, ask the right questions and most importantly trust your gut when you’re looking for the right therapist for you. Its a chemistry that blends.
- Ask someone you trust — A referral from a friend, colleague, doctor or family member you trust is a great way to find a therapist who might be a good fit for you. While a referral is a good place to start, it may not necessarily be the right fit. It’s important to recognise that you may have different needs than the person giving you the recommendation. Do not feel compelled to use their recommendation.
- Think about your goals and what you would like to achieve through therapy — When you and your therapist work together in tandem toward the same goals you’re guaranteed a great outcome. Your goals may change as time goes by and as you work with your therapist. Make sure your therapist is willing to adapt to these changing goals.
- When looking for a therapist make a note of the issues you want to address. These can be specific or vague.
- If you have any specific requirements of your therapist be sure to address those before choosing your therapist — For example you may be more comfortable with someone who is of the same gender or someone with more experience or some people might be inclined to a person of similar age.
- Ask questions, the important questions while choosing a therapist —
- How much can you realistically afford to spend per session?
- Where will therapy fit into your schedule?
- Do you need a therapist who can see you on a specific day of the week?
Most importantly remember that it is totally normal to change therapists or types of therapy, if one isn’t working for you. Keep trying until you find the right fit.
Signs your therapist and therapy is working —
- They actually listen to you — Feeling heard and understood means that your therapist is doing their job correctly. A good therapist doesn’t just sit back and listen to what youre saying, they take in your words and understand them. You should feel like you have your therapist’s undivided attention.
- You feel validated — Your therapist should validate your thoughts, emotions, actions and experiences. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they agree with everything you say or do. There is a big difference between validation and approval. Validation is about acknowledging that this is what you are feeling and going through. Approval or disapproval is a judgement which is a bright red flag. A good therapist tries to avoid making judgments.
- They want what’s best for you — A good therapist gives you the tools to make a positive change in your life. They genuinely want to see you doing better and feeling better, even if it’s something they don’t necessarily agree with. A professional therapist will accept your decision, even when it might not serve them personally.
- They give you the tools to do the work and offer you varied solutions — Therapy is challenging and at times painful. You have to do the dirty work if you are seeking powerful changes. Seeking help is just the beginning. While your therapist can’t do the work for you, they are there to give you the proper tools, support and guide you. There’s no one-size-fits-all treatment plan. What works for you may not work for someone else and only a good therapist will recognise this.
- You notice a change in yourself — Meaningful change is an indication that therapy is working and your therapist knows what they’re doing. The first few changes will be small, but noticeable by you. After a while of regular therapy you will notice purposeful and positive results which means you’re on the right track.
- They challenge you — Your therapist can recognise when its time to challenge you to spur growth. They support you but aren’t afraid to challenge you, question you, make you dig deep and ask you tough questions. Whatever tools your therapist uses, make sure it’s done in a manner that makes you feel safe and respected. If you ever feel stupid, damaged or guilty, it’s time to reconsider the relationship.
- You view them as an ally and trust them — Your therapist isn’t your best friend, your mentor, guru or boss. They are your trusted ally. Someone who guides you and is in your corner. Your therapist’s role is to guide you but not tell you what to do. They give you the tools to get there, but you reach your goal on your own. You relationship with your therapist is based on trust and mutual understanding- therapeutic alliance. Trust is what keeps the relationship with your therapist going.
What if it’s not a good match?
Sometimes you may not gel with your therapist and feel that they’re not a good match for you. This is completely fine. It can take some time to find someone that you feel completely comfortable with. It’s all a process of trial and error.
At the end of your first session, if you aren’t sure how you feel about your therapist but would like another session to figure it out- this is totally acceptable.
If you know that you do not want to meet with them again, thank them for their time and let them know that you don’t think that it’s a good match.
The first step while forging a relationship with your therapist is openness and honesty.
A bad therapist isn’t necessarily one who’s running around breaking all the rules of therapy, the vibe between the two of you may not be right and it all varies from person to person.
However there are a few red flags that will point you in the direction of change… changing your therapist.
- You don’t feel heard- If you feel like you aren’t being heard, aren’t receiving a solid, or helpful response from your therapist or find your therapist distracted, they may not be the best choice for you.
- Trust should be a foundation- People forget that trust is the foundation of this relationship. If you do not trust your therapist- you are doomed. It takes a minimum of three to four sessions to start feeling comfortable with your therapist but if after this you don’t feel like you can trust your therapist it’s time to move on and look elsewhere.
- They judge you or make you feel inferior- If at any point during therapy you feel like your therapist is passing judgements or making comments that don’t make you feel good or simply don’t sit right with you, you need to find a new therapist. Any kind of judgement or negative comments that add to your issues rather than ease them is a red flag waving in your face. You are meant to be empowered by therapy, not belittled by it.
- You are the driver- The therapist’s role is to give the client back their autonomy right from the start. Your therapist should be asking things like, ‘What would you like to focus on in your session?” You need to be the leader and driver of the session. Your therapist is simply your co-passenger, someone who helps you interpret the map of your life. If your therapist has taken over as driver- its time to drop them off at the next stop and find a new co-passenger.
- Your therapist makes your session about them- While it’s nice to have a level of resonance with each other, your therapy session isn’t going well if you start talking about your therapist more than you talk about yourself.
- You still can’t cope in real life- Therapy is not a straightforward process, some days you might feel better and other days you might feel worse. But overall, you should feel like you’re moving in the right direction. IF you dont feel this way, you should be moving in the direction of finding a new therapist.
Just remember: The key to figuring out how to utilize a therapist starts with understanding your therapists purpose, while the therapist can serve you in many ways, know that they are principally there to help you hone your problem-solving skills, offer feedback and push you along towards your goals.