How to choose the therapist who is right for you
No therapist is the right therapist for everyone who walks through his or her door, so it’s essential that you trust your “felt sense” in choosing the right therapist for you.
However, many of us have learned to override our innate knowledge of what’s best for us, particularly if we’ve had relationships in the past–whether with parents, friends, romantic partners, or colleagues at school or work–that were confusing. Often, in fact, that’s exactly why we finally come to therapy, because something in our relationships doesn’t make sense, doesn’t fit with a subtle but increasingly insistent feeling that we’re not letting ourselves know, from our deepest place of knowing, who to trust, who to love, who to keep at arm’s length.
Thus, choosing a therapist can be as confusing as knowing who can be trusted and who to love or be loved by.
Here are a few guidelines.
Do you have a sense that this therapist can come to understand you and can help you come to understand yourself better than you do now? As in any relationship that’s healthy and deeply satisfying, do you have a sense that it’s possible that–with time–you’ll like the person you’re becoming as a result of interacting with this person?
Does the therapist seem to seek a balanced life for him- or herself, whether that information is explicitly disclosed or you merely have a sense of it? This isn’t so much about how much the therapist self-discloses (which will vary a great deal from therapist to therapist) but whether you’re comfortable enough with the amount of interaction. Does he or she respond to you as much as you need, asking useful questions of you, answering the questions you pose, but not so much so that the attention is no longer on you? Keep in mind that what makes you completely comfortable may not be what’s best for you in the long run–but you need to be comfortable enough to keep growing.
Does this therapist seem to interested in growing him- or herself? That ought to include continued professional growth–involvement in professional organizations, keeping abreast of new understandings in the field, adding new skills, teaching or mentoring younger professionals are all ways to keep oneself growing professionally–but ideally there should be a sense of growing as a person, an active inner life, satisfying connections in the world. Again, these may not be things you hear about explicitly, but you’ll likely have a sense of the general aliveness you feel in this person you’re considering spending a good deal of time with. Will you want to spend time with this person? Not as a friend, of course, but as a fellow traveler on your journey.
Most importantly, trust your felt sense, and allow yourself to tune into that felt sense over time. Pay attention to what your gut, your heart, and your head all have to say during your initial phone conversation, your initial meeting, your initial few sessions. Perhaps the most important thing you’ll learn from a therapist is how to listen to yourself, so if you meet with me and come to realize I’m not quite the right therapist for you, you’ll have practiced that most important skill. Notice how it feels to take care of yourself that way. Is that something that’s unusual for you, a choice-making capacity that you feel a bit uncomfortable exercising? Well... welcome to your own growth!