All therapists are not created equal. When you are struggling you need the right help
Are you my therapist?
Unlike finding a good mechanic or dentist, finding the right therapist requires more than simply finding someone in your neighbourhood who is competent, honest, and professional. You also need someone with whom you can feel comfortable sharing the important matters in your life, someone who can help you in a more personal way based on your own unique experiences and perspectives.
Here are some tips to get you started:
1) The right fit between you and your therapist is more important than the model of therapy or the therapist's credentials (assuming that the therapist has appropriate training and is qualified to be practicing psychotherapy in your jurisdiction). The right fit comes down to a sense of comfort and trust. Do you feel like you are being heard and understood? Did you finish the consultation with a good impression of the therapist? Do they seem warm, caring and competent?
2) Since you may need to shop around before finding the right therapist, short phone consultations can be helpful as a starting point. A phone consultation isn't a substitute for a face-to-face meeting, but it can help you decide if you want to meet for an in-person consultation or a first session and saves you some time and possibly money if it becomes clear that it isn't a good match.
3) Prepare questions before meeting or speaking on the phone with your prospective therapist for the first time. It is easy to go blank and not remember what you wanted to know.
4) Ask friends or people you trust for referrals. While the right "fit" for your friend may not reflect what will feel right for you, it gives you a starting point with a therapist who has already been vetted by someone you trust.
5) Have a sense of what you are looking for. Spend some time thinking about what you are hoping to get out of therapy and what type of therapist might be most helpful for you given what you know about yourself.
6) While credentials do not guarantee that someone is a good therapist, or right for you, credentials can be indicators that a therapist has appropriate training. If you are not sure what training your therapist has, ask. You are entitled to know that you are seeing a qualified professional.
7) A therapist is not a friend. You need to feel relatively comfortable and safe with your therapist, and trust their integrity, but you do not need to think "this is someone that I would want to hang out with". While the therapeutic relationship is a relatively intimate relationship, it may also involve hearing things that you do not want to hear. A good therapist is someone who you will feel safe with but who will also challenge your unhelpful assumptions and beliefs in a way that friends will not.
8) The therapeutic process does not need to be a mystery. After all, therapy is about YOUR life. If your therapist is not comfortable being asked about what they do, or why they do what they do, this may be an indication that therapy won't be very collaborative or tailored to your needs. For some people that is okay and they don't want to be in the loop. However, if it matters to you to be involved the process I encourage you to inquire early on about anything that you are curious about and pay attention to how forthcoming the therapist is.
Nat Roman is a Registered Psychotherapist with a Master of Science in Couple and Family Therapy and a BA in Psychology and additional specialized training in Nonviolent Communication (NVC) processes, community based restorative conflict circles, and fifteen plus years studying, practicing and teaching mindfulness meditation practices and Buddhist psychology. In an earlier stage of life Nat worked as a professional musician and strongly believes that creativity is an essential part of life, whether one is engaged in a formal creative discipline, problem solving, or attempting to get kids off to school in the morning.