Newsflash: I may have seen one or two, or, errr…several therapists over the course of my life.
Some have been immensely helpful. They have been exactly who I needed at the time, and propelled me that much further down my healing path.
Others have, well, frankly sucked. They probably didn’t suck for everyone, but we did not click. It took a great deal of surrender and pain for me to even ask for help. So when I became ready, I wanted someone who got me and knew how to help me move in the right direction ASAP.
I remember feeling supremely frustrated and disheartened when that did not happen.
Many of my clients come to me with the same experience of their prior therapists. Perhaps you can relate as well.
Or maybe you are seeking therapy for the first time and want to avoid a mismatch right out of the gate.
I got your back.
I’m about save you countless hours Googling local therapists by sharing some tips on how to find a therapist who is right for you. Let’s get started!
Do you feel safe with this person?
Safety means they understand you, or at the very least want to. It means that they have your best interests at heart. It means you feel seen by them, that they “get” you at a very deep level. It means they hold what you share with them in a sacred space and will not use it against you. It means they can handle your big emotions like rage and grief and stay with you while you express them. It means they don’t take your stuff personally and make it about them. It means they have done their own healing work so they don’t put their issues on you. It means that you are not afraid to disagree with them, or have a different opinion or your own experience. It means the therapist believes they don’t have your answers for you, but knows you can find them for yourself.
Feeling safe with your therapist is crucial. If you don’t, listen to yourself and find someone else. Or discuss it with them and see how they respond. You will make minimal or no progress with any therapist, no matter their method, if you are not free to bring all of you into session and have it witnessed in a compassionate and non judgmental way.
Do you trust this person? Trust is a close second to safety. A therapist shows they are trust worthy when they do what they say they will do, most of the time. We are human after all, but if you see a pattern of not following through on their word, it may be time to move on. Another part of trust- Do you believe that they have the skills and experience to guide you where you want to go? After all, if you could figure your shit out on your own, you wouldn’t need us.
Here’s a different way to think of trust. Does the therapist own up to their mistakes when they make them ( see the note about us being human above)? Are they able to admit fault, or do they blame you? I had one client tell me that her previous therapist told her she had completely misunderstood his remarks, even when she repeated his words verbatim from her notes.
Therapy is a little tricky in this sense, because we are supposed to be the “experts”. And frankly, most of my clients have spent years being told that black is white, which creates tremendous self doubt.
I’m here to tell you that you are the expert on you. So trust yourself. If something does not feel right, listen.
What do you need from the therapist? Do you prefer to engage with someone who is more direct and does not pull punches, or do you want a bobblehead who will nod and agree with everything you say? Neither is bad or wrong, but it’s important to know who will help you thrive. If you desire a therapist who will challenge you and call you ( lovingly) on your bullshit, you will be sorely disappointed with a bobblehead. On the other hand, you may need someone who will be soft and non-confrontational. Seeing a balls to the wall therapist will feel like nails on a chalkboard to you. Either way, it’s a misalignment, and you will never feel safe to bring all of you into the therapy arena. It’s also worth noting that what you want and who you need may change over time and that’s ok. It did for me, and it has for most of my clients as well.
Do they walk the walk? Have they done their own work, or had any experience in the modality they use with clients? There is a huge difference between reading about a technique in a book vs. having experienced the healing from that technique personally. It’s like hiring a swim coach who has only read about swimming but never actually gotten in the water.
This personal experience is so valuable in therapists for two reasons. One, we get how hard and painful it is as the client, so are going to extend that same compassion to you. Two, we have already traveled the path ahead of you, so we know how to guide you. We remember where the pitfalls and traps are, as well as the scenic overlooks and rest spots. It helped me tremendously to know my therapists had blazed this trail before me and had made it to the other side better for the journey.
Do their values match yours? As in any relationship, things will flow much more smoothly if your values are similar. If you value promptness, you are not going to be happy with a therapist who is chronically late for sessions, or does not return messages in a timely way. If you value conservative language, you will be appalled with a therapist who curses every other word ( fair warning- that’s me!). If you value transparency, it will be hard for you to work with a therapist who never lets you in on their thinking or reasoning. Get the drift?
There is nothing wrong with you for valuing what you value. You don’t have to feel like it’s your fault or you have done something wrong if there’s a mismatch. It’s just a sign that it’s time to terminate the relationship and find someone more in line with who you are.
Have reasonable expectations of therapy. We are not there to fix you or tell you what you should do. We are there to reflect yourself back to you so that you can make your own decisions. We are there to help you heal so you know what is right and true for you. We are there to point out different perspectives and frames for you to consider. We are there to support you in where ever your process takes you. We are not there to dictate what your process looks like. Knowing this going in can prevent a crap load of disappointment.
Credentials. This is last for a reason. To me, it is the least relevant factor in picking the right therapist for you. Sure, the alphabet soup after someone’s name ensures that they have training and education. What it does not do is ensure they will be a good therapist for you. I have been tremendously helped by guides and mentors with no formal education or training. And I have seen therapists with licensure and certifications out the wazoo who did not resonate with me at all.
I will also say that I don’t use anything that I learned in grad school. And I mean not.one thing.
Anything of value I have to offer is from walking my own meandering road, or from completely fucking it up with clients, and course correcting mid-stream. I have also learned and grown a tremendous amount from being vulnerable and gut level honest with my own therapists. You will get as much out of the experience as you bring to it as well.
Interview prospective therapists to see if they meet the above criteria. Ask us questions. I love inquiries from potential clients because it lets me know they are serious about healing and will be committed to working with me. Another great source of info is polling your friends about who they have seen. Your values and beliefs are similar to theirs, so if they benefitted from working with someone, you probably would to!
You can stop googling now. You’re welcome.