Finding a therapist who is the right fit is the first part of what you need to do once you’ve decided to come to therapy.
Many mental health professionals go through similar training, but at the end of it all we have our own unique styles and ways of helping.
Different Styles to Look Out For
Some of us like to tell clients what they should and should not do. Me? I don’t really believe in “should”ing on you (see what I did there?).
Other therapists like to spend a fair amount of time connecting your current struggles to your childhood. Picture those cartoons with a guy laying on the couch while the man in glasses murmurs, “tell me more”.
While others focus on changing your thought patterns and the behaviors they lead to.
Which style sounds like the right fit for your needs?
The Right Fit: Green and Red Flags
Finding a therapist who is the right fit is kind of like choosing who to date, only without the romance. Notice I said date, not marry.
Which means you’ll want to start with a few good matches and pick the one who is the right fit.
Try to keep in mind that a good therapist’s goal is not to make a lifelong client out of you. Rather, they want to get you to a point where you don’t need them anymore.
One way to tell if a therapist is a good fit for you is if you feel as though they are listening to nonjudgmentally, and with compassion.
But what happens if you choose a therapist who is a little too empathetic? What if they start to cry during your session?
How would that make you feel? Would that turn you off from seeing that person again?
Therapists are people too after all (shocking, I know!) and maybe your story struck a cord with them that they weren’t expecting. There’s actually a term for this: “countertransference.”
Countertransference is just a fancy way of saying the therapist inappropriately internalized something the client said or did and had some sort of reaction to it, i.e. crying.
If something like that were to happen to you during a session, know that it would be ok to bring up how you felt about their reaction with them. Or just choose another therapist instead.
Where does Gender Fit into Finding a Therapist?
Gender may play a big role into why you choose the therapist you do. Maybe you are a woman looking for a female therapist because you don’t feel comfortable talking to a man about certain things.
From personal experience I spent countless hours in intake sessions with different female therapists because I felt like this until I finally gave up and tried a male therapist. The male therapist was actually the one who I worked with long term, and I recommend him to many people in my NYC social circle.
I don’t say this to alienate any potential female clients or to invalidate how you may be feeling. I just want to show sometimes finding a therapist who is the right fit really is more about therapeutic style than it is about gender.
Ask yourself, what made you choose the therapist(s) you have or are considering reaching out to? If you can’t decide on just one to start, take the time during your consultation to interview them first.
Questions to Ask During Your Consultation Call/Email
1. Do they have a direct approach or do they consider themselves more of a guide?
People are different and often require different approaches in their sessions. Knowing yourself and what kind of style you’re looking for will help you match with and choose the right approach for your needs.
2. How often do they, or ever, seek consultation from their peers?
This is important because no one should operate as an island. Therapists have limitations to what we are exposed to; that’s just the nature of the job. For example, I have limited interaction with adolescents.
However, my sister has extensive experience with that group. If I have an adolescent client I may consult with her if I experience a challenging session as the helping professional. Appropriate peer consults can only benefit you as the client.
3. Have they ever been to therapy?
This may seem surprising, but if a good therapist knows what it’s like to be a client it’s because they’ve been on the other side of the couch at least once. Now, I know I said I don’t like to “should” on people, but we (mental health professionals) should be practicing what we preach, right?
The therapist may not tell you if they are currently in treatment (that’s their business just like your business is yours) but it’s alright to ask if they’ve ever been a client.
But What if My Therapist Does Start Crying?
By the way, that “what if” scenario about the therapist crying? That actually happened to me!
I was a new client, telling my story about why I was coming to therapy and my therapist started to cry.
Thankfully, I knew what countertransference was and I didn’t give up on trying again with someone different.
But when I think about that encounter and imagine if I was someone new to therapy, I can imagine feeling discouraged from trying again. That experience might have turned my finding a therapist who is the right fit into a one and done kind of experience for me.
If something like that happens to you, know that’s normal and ok to feel discouraged. And also know that one bad session doesn’t mean therapy isn’t for you, just like one bad date doesn’t mean love isn’t for you.
It just means you can take some time for yourself. When you feel safe and brave enough, start looking for a therapist again.
Whatever else happens, try to go into therapy knowing what you hope to get out of the experience.
Envisioning the kind of person you hope to be speaking with will make finding a therapist who feels like the right fit for you easier.
And, if you’ve established yourself with a therapist and all of a sudden your sessions “aren’t working,” tell them! After all, it’s your weekly 50 minutes and they really do want to help you.
Glad to see you’re searching for a therapist. I hope you’ll give me a try.
Keep on keeping on!