The Therapist Dilemma: Finding A Therapist That Actually Makes A Positive Difference For You
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Health and Wellness

The Therapist Dilemma: Finding A Therapist That Actually Makes A Positive Difference For You

Do you want to see a therapist, but don't know where to start?

The Therapist Dilemma: Finding A Therapist That Actually Makes A Positive Difference For You
Mama & Baby Love

Beginning therapy is a valuable step toward taking care of your mental health. But it can also be a scary process to figure out which therapist makes sense for you. While your friend may be making steady progress with their therapist, this doesn’t guarantee the same professional will be able to meet your needs. A therapist should have your best interests at heart, even if it means recommending you to someone else.

To be honest, the first three therapists I met with were not suitable matches, because I did not feel listened to or understood. I walked out of every single session in tears, and thought that was the way therapy was supposed to be. There’s nothing wrong with tears, but the problem was that nothing else accompanied it.

It was in my senior year of high school when I met my perfect match, a person who is still my favorite therapist to this day. The noticeable difference was the way I felt after each and every session. I barely cried at all (but that alone says little). The outstanding factor was that I always felt like I had made an accomplishment or come to understand myself better after every single meeting. I felt relieved and lighter. The feeling of progress -- of moving forward and not being stuck in the same place -- was what I felt when I finally knew that I was seeing the right therapist for me. I didn’t feel perfect, but I did feel better.

With that said, here are some tips to help you find a therapist who suits your personal needs.

1. Check if the therapist or office accepts your health insurance. This is the boring part, but doing so will prevent many headaches down the road. It could be frustrating to show up at the office only to realize you have to pay full price instead of the copay. I recommend calling ahead of time, talking to the receptionist and having your insurance card handy. Whatever the answer, write down the names and phones numbers, because it can be easy to confuse them with one another -- even if it’s only a handful of choices. I’ve personally made this mistake and had to dial the offices a second time, which requires more spoons than I can afford.

2. Consider a phone consultation/pre-interview, if it is available. I didn’t know this was an option until I tried to switch therapists. Some will offer a 10-minute phone consultation before meeting in person to see if they’re a suitable fit for you. In my case, the therapist did not charge me for this phone call. But it’s probably best to ask just in case. This is your chance to inquire about the therapist’s training and background, as well as what types of techniques they use. This may include a range of methods: cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is extremely common, but it is not the only option. It can be worthwhile to choose a therapist who specializes in your areas of need, such as depression or eating disorders. After the 10-minute consult, consider delaying the first appointment and taking time to think. A common line I use is, “Thank you for your time. I might call back later to set an appointment.” Of course, it can be difficult to gauge compatibility in such a short period of time. Do what feels right to you. I typically decide after weighing at least three options.

3. Schedule the first session with an open hour before and after the appointment. By this, I mean: make the day of your appointment a more relaxed schedule for yourself. You’ll want to leave time before the appointment for travel, and time afterwards to simply have space for breathing. Both are extremely important. It’s not enough to have only one or the other. I can’t recall the number of times I regretted rushing from place to place, with two events back to back. Breathe. Some days you’ll have to jam pack your schedule. This should not be one of those days.

4. Arrive at least 30 minutes early on the day of. This point is related to the previous one, but is worth its own section. You’ll need time to fill out all the necessary forms, and it’s better to arrive early so you feel more relaxed, or at least less stressed. Only giving myself 10-15 minutes is not enough, and often results in staying after the session to finish the paperwork. This does horrible things for my self-esteem, especially since I then worry about my first impression.

If you find yourself habitually running late, you may want to ask a friend or family member to keep you on track. They might even be willing to accompany you, if you think you could benefit from loving support. My anxiety was once so bad that I showed up 50 minutes late to the first meeting. Basically, I got lost and then felt incompetent for making the mistake in the first place. It made for a horrible experience and made me dread future meetings.

5. Consider cultural nuances. This could mean so many things to so many people. For me, I realized talking to Chinese women with similar values as my mother was the opposite of helpful. I eventually prioritized women of color, but not those whose values contradicted mine. But culture is more than just race or ethnicity. For me, it also meant finding someone who understood my thinking, my line of reasoning and my sense of humor. It is not my place to tell you what or from where your culture stems, and your therapist should take the same stance. If you feel like they don’t understand your experience and background, I encourage you to search for someone else who can.

6. Evaluate and re-evaluate the therapist for the next one to five sessions. You’ll hopefully build a sense of the relationship after just a few sessions. You don’t have to decide right away whether to stick with that therapist, but it would be helpful to ponder if they’re actually making a positive difference or striking the right chord for you. This isn’t about being mean or judgmental. It’s not a personal offense to the therapist. Rather, it’s about choosing yourself as your first priority. It’s hard, I know. I still struggle with this because I want to please people and avoid hurting people’s feelings. But therapists are trained to help, even if that means losing a client.

I personally find it helpful to talk to friends and family about my experiences if I’m checking out a new therapist, but that might not be your first choice. Journaling or even writing a pro/con list might help, too. You might have to try different methods before you figure it out.

7. It’s OK to change therapists. This part is tough and it’s absolutely OK to feel upset. It’s hard to think about this option because it means going through the whole process again. Hopefully it’s a bit easier the second time around, because you’ve inched closer toward understanding what you want and need. Both are important. And you are important.

8. Read different sources on this. Just like it’s helpful to consider different therapists, it’s also beneficial to be open to more advice. Whether or not this helped you out, check out other resources. Friends and family -- or, more likely, acquaintances -- can give you their recommendations.

I wish you all understanding and love. Please support yourself no matter how few or many people are backing you up. The rest comes after.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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