I recently stumbled across an article by a woman who detailed why therapy didn’t work for her. Throughout the article (you can check out the original article here) https://psychcentral.com/blog/why-therapy-didnt-work-for-m the author (Amber) identified two different therapists she had worked with and why the therapy hadn’t been helpful for her. My heart felt so heavy as I read about a therapist who wrote her a letter terminating therapy after three months because she (the author) wasn’t “devoted enough to the process”. She also discussed an experience as a teen where she felt bullied by her counselor and unheard. I was so impressed that despite these experiences she was still open to trying therapy.
Reading Amber’s article also made me reflect on my work as a counselor as well as think about my own experiences of choosing a therapist. It also reminded me how important it is to find someone that is a good fit. In my own life I’ve worked with several therapists over the years and although I didn’t run into the challenges that Amber identified, I definitely had a few therapists that didn’t last more than a session or two. The therapists who didn’t make it past 1 or 2 sessions were great people and skillful counselors-they just weren’t for me. Our personalities didn’t gel and I couldn’t really get comfortable with them. I can be a little goofy and I needed someone with a sense of humor. But when I did find a counselor, I clicked with it was worth the wait. What I remember about my own therapist was how comfortable I felt with her. I was always genuinely happy to see her and looked forward to our sessions-even the tough ones.
Considering all of that I’ve put together a loose guide of what to look for when you’re searching for a counselor. Through my experience as a client & counselor I think these are some important things to consider when you’re looking for a good fit;
Choosing a therapist is (kind of) like dating. You may need to go on a lot of “first dates” (or first sessions) until you find “the one”. Each therapist has a unique personality and style and it’s important that you feel comfortable with whomever you choose. A good therapist will develop a relationship with you and get to understand your needs better but for that to happen you’ll need to like and feel comfortable with your counselor. If you don’t click with a particular counselor, that’s o.k. Don’t feel obligated to schedule another session or keep seeing someone that isn’t a good fit. Just keep looking until you find a good fit.
Check out your therapist’s website before you meet. Feel free to do a little snooping. You can get a sense for a counselor’s personality, professionalism and specialties through their blog posts, social media pages and bio. Do they seem like a food fit? Do you like their style of communication and feel comfortable with how they’re presenting themselves? This can also help you get a little clearer about what you’re looking for. Is there a particular issue you want to talk about? Do you want to speak to a male therapist or someone who seems really direct? It’s o.k. to be a little picky.
Ask for a phone consultation before you schedule an appointment. Most therapists will offer to do a phone consultation before meeting to see if it’s a good fit. This is a great chance to get a sense of their personality, see if you feel comfortable with them and ask any questions. I always like to talk with clients before we schedule. It helps me get a better sense of who you are and what you need. I’ve also been a client so I know how nerve racking it can be to meet a stranger (new therapist). And wonder, what do I have to talk about? Are they going to judge me? Hearing a friendly voice on the phone and making a connection can make that initial session way less scary.
Does a counselor have expertise (training or experience) in the topic you want help with? Many therapists will explain their specialties on their website. But you can also ask a counselor any of these questions during a phone consultation. If you want to address a certain issue it’s important to know what experience your counselor has with that topic. Feel free to ask your counselor how long they’ve been working as a therapist and what special training or experience they have. Remember that your counselor is there for you. Don’t feel obligated to schedule an appointment with someone that doesn’t feel like a good fit. But please do ask as many questions as you need. Most counselors love their work and will be happy answer any of your questions.
In the end choosing to work with a counselor is deeply personal. Hopefully these ideas can help guide you toward a good fit. But please always remember you know better than anyone else what you need and who the best fit for you will be.