How To Find The Right Therapist: The Art & The Science
Yeah, so, I’ve never really liked therapy. All my therapists sucked. If I knew how to find the right therapist, maybe I’d get something out of this?
How many times have I heard this? How many times have clients sat across from me, eyes glazed with disbelief, calculating and relatively disconnected, still lost in their journeys of how to find the right therapist?
As a professional, it’s maddening. As someone who really, really cares about helping others, it’s just incredibly sad.
You already know my passion for therapy. It connects people, creates solutions out of whirlwind problems, draws parallels in dynamics that seem entirely unrelated. It’s as mundane as it is magical, as painful as it is pleasant.
Anyone who has ever been a client or a therapist knows this feeling: there’s nothing like a good session.
But, if you don’t know how to find the right therapist and if you find yourself feeling judged, unsafe, stagnant, or irritable in therapy, this is for you.
How To Find The Right Therapist
The Science Side of Things
First of all, the journey towards becoming a therapist requires an arduous and grueling process. We’re talking graduate degrees, thousands of thousands of clinical, supervised hours, board exams, and a lot of that good ol’ blood, sweat, and tears. Or, maybe just the tears. Ya know, cause it’s therapy.
Bottom line: Therapists must be educated.
Actual bottom line: Education doesn’t mean much.
How many people do you know who buried themselves in textbooks and successfully passed tests…but don’t have much of a clue in life? It’s not the prettiest truth, but it’s my perception.
What Are Your Goals?
Some people enter therapy with a to-do checklist, with a detailed itinerary of what they hope to accomplish. Others meet sessions with a whimsical approach, open to the process, open to whatever unfolds. And some clients fall somewhere in the middle.
Each therapist handles each of these clients differently. Typically, theoretical orientation determines the path.
Theoretical orientation refers to how therapists conceptualize human behavior and how they intervene to facilitate change.
Sounds confusing? It can be. But, think of it this way. It’s like exercising. Some coaches prefer yoga. Some dig Crossfit. Others blend various approaches. All of these “treatment plans” can get you to your goals, but you may resonate with one approach more than others.
For example, cognitive-behavioral therapists typically focus on changing negative thoughts and replacing maladaptive behaviors with more appropriate ones. They might have highly-structured sessions based on completing homework and assessing different thoughts.
I work from a psychodynamic and humanistic framework. That means we’re going into childhood. We’re going into trauma and family-of-origin and all the messages you received in your past and how they play out in your current daily living.
Diagnosis & Testing
You don’t need a diagnosis to get help. Promise! However, if you already know you have a certain condition, you might want to look for a therapist with expertise in that area.
One caveat: just because you want treatment for your depression doesn’t mean you will agree with the depression treatment the “expert therapist” believes in. Kind of like the yoga-Crossfit example. If you love yoga but you’re only getting Crossfit, you might feel slighted.
And, if you want testing, you want a psychologist or neurologist!
The Art Side of Things
Many professionals might disagree with this, and that’s okay. The “art” of therapy will always be why I do this job. The quest for how to find the right therapist lies in the messy and unscientific art, in the beautiful and chaotic calamity of human connection.
It’s in the unexplainable, the connections, the beauty and untangled mess. This is the Soul of Therapy (yes, that’s my blog name)
The Relationship Above All Else
How does therapy differ from the content of a self-help book? How does it differ from the well-intentioned advice from your mother or spouse or trusty coworker?
The difference lies in the inherently unique one-of-a-kind relationship therapy offers. When in life do you have someone who believes in you, who devotes unfiltered time to understand you, who can give you unconditional positive regard?
When in life do you have someone who has no other existing relationship in your life- who doesn’t work with you or live under your roof? Who has no other obligation other than to help you and just be with you?
The relationship feels unlike anything else. Seriously. The right therapy makes you think. It might also make you feel challenged and irritated and triggered, but it always leaves you wanting more.
We Don’t Always Know What We Need
Ever date someone completely different than you? For some reason, he understood your needs and knew how to have fun with you and made you learn new things about yourself? You almost dismissed him, almost wrote him off because he wasn’t your type, but you were eventually grateful you took the risk?
Therapy can actually just be like that. Like dating. How to find the right therapist is kind of like asking how to find the right partner.
We can have checklists and ideas and outlines and pre-planned expectations, but sometimes we just need to go on the date. We need to “feel” the other person out and see what connects and what doesn’t.
Be open. Anyone can look good on Psychology Today. Anyone can look good on a professionally made website. Real connection works on a different wavelength.
Give It 2-3 Sessions
With that said, therapy can feel like a first date. Awkward, stiff, relatively uncomfortable, and maybe you’ll leave still feeling hungry.
That’s because it’s a stranger. Even if she dresses nicely and uses a sweet and compassionate voice and offers you extra Kleenex, it’s a stranger, and opening up to a stranger feels scary. Getting vulnerable feels scary.
First impressions matter, but second impressions solidify. The first session is a meet-and-greet, a basic intake, a question-and-answer dialogue. It stays relatively shallow, just like a first date. Be prepared for that.
By the third session, you will feel the momentum if it’s the right therapy. You will feel a change in the conversation, in the way you connect with the professional across from you. If you don’t, pay attention and reassess.
Don’t Give Up
Good therapy awakens the soul and rejuvenates the spirit. It may not cure problems, but it creates pathways for change and healing.
The journey in how to find the right therapist doesn’t come with an exact formula. Just like how finding the right hairstylist, personal trainer, primary care physician, or doctor doesn’t come with one, either.
Stay curious. Stay on the course. Something will click.