What to Look for in a Therapist
It is important that you get exactly what you need from a therapist. This is your journey, your healing, your time, your money, your effort. I want to make sure you choose the right therapist for you. As such, there are some things you need to think about when you are looking for and engaging with a therapist.
Have you ever met somebody for the first time and felt like you’ve known them your whole life – that they get you? This is similar to what you want from a therapist. You want to feel comfortable with them. You want the therapist to understand what you are going through. You want to feel connected to them on a personal level. You may feel more comfortable with someone who is a similar age, gender, or has experienced similar concerns as yours. If you are a 50-year-old woman who is going through a painful divorce and you choose a 20-something therapist who has never been married, this may not be the right fit. That’s not to say that a therapist needs to have experienced everything you have to be a good therapist, but it may feel more genuine and easier to open up with those who get it.
A therapist is required to provide you with an informed consent, which typically outlines the type of therapy they do, risk/benefits, your rights as a client, confidentiality, fees, payment, and cancellation policy. When you are coming in for therapy, you are giving your consent, and you get to withdraw your consent at any time without prejudice. What does without prejudice mean? It means they will in no way block you from receiving other therapy. If you don’t feel connected to a therapist, or like how they do therapy, you can withdraw your consent and request they give you names of other therapists or agencies that would be a more suitable fit. However, you don’t even need to tell the therapist that you are no longer coming to see them. You have the right to ask any questions about any aspect of your work together. You may refuse any intervention, treatment strategy, or model suggested.
If a therapist works with a specific cultural group, they usually provide this information on their website. However, that being said, there are still some things to ask the therapist to ensure they are the right fit for you. Have they had cultural training in your specific culture? Do they understand your customs and cultural beliefs? Have they personally experienced working, living, or participating within your culture? For example, if, in your culture, family decision making is done with all involved and for the good of the family as a whole, then it is important your therapist understands this, so as not to tell you to individualize yourself from your family and do only what is right for you. Ask as many questions as you feel is necessary to ensure the therapist is culturally aware and sensitive. Unfortunately, there may not be a therapist who knows and understands your culture. If this is the case, ask a potential therapist if they are willing to learn more about your culture. Maybe they would be open to attending a cultural event or going to a church service to experience your social customs in person.
When you are speaking about experiences that are deeply troubling to you, it is important the therapist is right there with you, able to feel your pain, acknowledge what you’ve been through, and be compassionate about those things as you discuss them in session. You should be able to talk about anything without feeling judged or invalidated. The therapist should have attentive listening skills. You can usually tell when someone is truly listening to you. Your words are the only thing that matter. Are they making eye contact? What is their body language telling you? Is their response appropriate for what you just expressed? Do they appear distracted?
Fee and Session Length
You should be immediately informed about how much the fee is before starting therapy and know how long a session lasts for that fee. Many therapists have 50-minute sessions and use the 10 minutes to complete notes before the next client. You should also be informed about how they like to receive payment. Not every therapist may have the option to use a credit card. Typically, payment occurs at the end of a session, but it may happen before you attend or at the beginning of a session. Some therapists charge by the minute after the initial session has elapsed, but don’t often tell you when the actual session has ended. Ask the therapist to inform you when the session has ended, so as to not go over the fee and keep you on budget.
Location, Location, Location
Find out where they are located. If you need to take transit, is there a bus stop close by? If you are driving, where can you park? Is parking free or is there a charge? Is it in a house or a building? If you have a disability, what floor are they on? Is there an elevator, or only stairs, which make it impossible for you to get to the office? Sometimes therapists will put pictures on their website, so you get a feel for what the office looks like. This can help you feel more at ease and know what to expect. When I was searching for office space, I checked out an office where I would have to share whatever office was available that day. There were stacks of books and papers everywhere in all the offices. There were bags of open nuts in one office. I had to go through one office to get to the other office. I know I’m a bit of a neat freak, but this was chaotic. I felt anxious and claustrophobic. I can’t even imagine what a client with anxiety or PTSD would feel.
Some practitioners will use therapeutic touch in sessions, and if they do, it should be noted in their consent form. Touch when used therapeutically is always respectful and never sexual in nature. Touch is only used with your cooperation. It is not massage nor does it involve any removal of clothing. Even if you consent to the use of touch, at any point during the session, you have a right to withdraw that consent and ask the therapist to not touch you.
Type of Therapy
There are 100s of different therapies and not everyone will be right for you. Understanding a bit about the type of therapy the therapist does is helpful to ensure the right fit. Sometimes you may not know until you try it. Also, you may like a specific kind of therapy, but don’t like how the therapist does it or don’t feel connected to them. Having a phone consult and asking the therapist the type of therapy he/she does, and how a typical session goes, will give you some insight about what to expect. Also, checking out a therapist’s website and reading about the therapies they engage in will be informative.
Oftentimes, when we are growing up, we are invalidated, over, and over, and over again. “Don’t cry.” “Don’t talk back to me.” “You’re okay.” “Dust yourself off.” “Grit your teeth.” “Grin and bear it.” A good therapist will validate your experiences and feelings and tell you that your feelings matter. You get to have to feelings. Feelings are important. It lets you know when something is or is not right for you. Ensure you are getting validation for something you’ve gone through, or something you’re currently experiencing, when speaking with your therapist.
I may have missed a few, but I believe I’ve touched on some of the more important factors to consider when choosing the right therapist. Hopefully, this gives you some insight about what to look for and what to ask a prospective therapist. I wish you all the best in your search for the right fit!
Now that you know what to look for in choosing the right therapist, check out Part 3, which will give you the lowdown about what it will be like working with me.
Want to know if I’m the right therapist for you? Call me at 403-891-1384 for your free 15-minute phone consultation. I look forward to speaking with you!