After six sessions I knew she wasn’t the right therapist for me. In fact I can recall the exact moment I figured it out, it was when she yet again started drawing a diagram on her white board. This was something she apparently did frequently, I had told her in our previous session that I didn’t find it helpful and wanted her to stop. She didn’t stop, so that was the last time I saw her. I’ve happily had therapists before and after that fit with me much better.
The work of finding the right therapist can be a difficult task. It can be even more difficult to go through a bunch of crappy ones. It may start to feel like therapy is a bad idea, or an even worse outcome– the flaw is with you! Well I’m here to say it’s not your fault, and it’s highly likely that you just haven’t found the right match, at least not yet.
I thought it might be helpful to share the signs that have shown me I’ve found the right one. It’s my hope this list can guide you towards a good connection, because we all deserve to find the right therapist and to have good therapy.
1. You are equals.
In order to work well with someone, I think we need to be considered as an equal. In the therapy context this means your thoughts, ideas and beliefs are respected and considered. You are the expert on you and the therapist is the expert on counseling– together you are a team of experts.
2. You feel seen and heard.
The right therapist will make sure you feel seen and heard. This means being an expert at understanding others inner experiences, having great listening skills and much more. It may even be hard for you to pin down exactly how it is they are conveying this, yet regardless you find yourself feeling okay showing up as your true self. That’s what good therapy is all about.
3. You sometimes leave feeling worse.
Therapy is an activity that can be a difficult and even a painful process. This means some sessions are going to wipe you out. While that can be tough, it can be a positive sign of growth. The key though is balance, and understanding the reasons behind why you might feel “worse.”
Are you exhausted from working hard with your therapist or are you thinking and doing some deep diving into your emotions? Are you being given the tools to recover? Are there plenty of sessions where you do feel great? These are probably good signs. Or, do you feel worse because you don’t feel heard, respected or seen? Then it may be time to move on.
4. The therapist is affordable and accessible.
When it comes right down to it , you have to be able to afford your therapist and be able to get to your sessions. This is a huge piece that needs to be considered, because without this, no matter how good they are, it will be a hindrance to your ability to do the work.
It’s important to realize that a therapist who encourages you to see them knowing you are struggling in either realm is likely being unethical. When searching for your right fit keep in mind a lot of therapists do have sliding scales, and there can even be programs in the community that help with the cost and accessibility!
5. You are changing and growing.
Change and growth may happen slowly, but it should be happening! The right therapist will make sure you are moving forward, while keeping in mind that some of that growth is up to you and what you do in and out of session. If you feel stuck or like you aren’t noticing any progress, at the least this warrants a conversation.
6. You feel safe.
What it means to feel safe in therapy will vary from person to person. For some it can be about feeling physically safe, for others it can be about being certain regarding confidentiality. Regardless of exactly what it is that helps you feel that way, the right therapist will ensure you do feel safe. They will also be open to conversations around this and making any adjustments needed.
7. Competency In the areas that are important to you.
The right therapist will be the one that is competent in all the areas you need. Not all therapists are created equal. They can vary widely based on their training, experience and many other factors. A therapist trained only in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) when you are interested in attachment therapy is not the right one. A therapist that is competent in your culture and other similar factors is also equally important. These are great things to ask a potential therapist about even before you get started. Just know you shouldn’t have to settle for someone not equipped to meet your needs.
As Goldilocks once said, there are a lot of things that once added together, make the therapist that is “just right.” (I’m pretty sure that’s a direct quote.) Your signs may look a little different than what I’ve listed here, and that’s okay! This just speaks to how we all have different needs and ways of fulfilling them.
There can be times where you have to work with what you can get. There may be a lot valid reasons that you stick with a “not so perfect therapist,” even if it is frustrating. It could be your town has exactly one therapist, that your insurance only covers so much, or that a program you’re utilizing takes a “you get who you get” approach. Just know that even imperfect therapy can still be helpful, though I of course still wish everyone could find their perfect fit.
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