You’ve finally made up your mind and are looking for a therapist? Good for you. For many, it takes years and years of pros and cons lists, of going back and forth between “I am a disaster, I need some help” and “I am awesome, look at me rocking my life!”
I wish therapists were like guardian angels, always there by your side, but visible, tangible and responsive. I wish I was born with one in tow. My life may have been much more boring – I mean, all the fun episodes courtesy of my craziness would be erased, but I would probably have made it to farther places had kookiness been kept under control.
Unfortunately I had to come to the land of dreams, the United States of America, to finally bring mental help to the rescue. At least in California, everybody has a dog and a therapist, so it wasn’t long before I became fully socially integrated in this regard. There is and should be no shame in needing and seeking psychological counseling. You may need someone neutral to have a talk to about your marriage, your personal relationships and their effect on you, your personal struggles, your professional struggles. Go and find that person professionally trained to help you out of the rut you’re in.
So, there you are with a dozen sheets of paper in your hands. Names after names of therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists your health insurer mailed you. What are you to do? Ini-mini-miny-mo? Pretty much. Unless you have a referral from a family or friend, you will have to go through the displeasing process of trial and error. Even with referrals, if your friend’s counselor was a perfect match for her, it doesn’t mean it will be for you.
Encouraged by my years of experience with testing and evaluating therapists, I put together a mini-list of assessment points for you to consider when grading the service you receive.
1. Is there a nice, smooth flow to the communication between you and your therapist? You do not want a therapist who likes to hear themselves talk. You do not want a therapist you does not talk at all. You are indeed there to do the talking, but make sure they are engaged throughout your ramblings (more often than not, you will be rambling) even if they show you that through mere nodding or “ahum”s. You do not want a therapist who does not talk, and who is okay with you not talking. You are not there to look out the window and count the pigeons landing on the window sill, you are not there to clean the scum under your nails, you are not there to nap. Been there, done that; the therapist told me he was giving me time to become comfortable enough to open up to him. I actually trusted him but five or six sessions later I realized that was crazy and fired him. He was not doing his job. Therapists should be asking questions, probing and digging until you do have things to say; after all, you are there for a reason.
2. Do you feel the communication is guided by the therapist and revolves around issues you deem less relevant, and have a hard time shifting focus? The therapist is there to guide you through the process of processing what you are going through, however you should be the one holding the reins as to which direction you’re headed. My first therapist’s first question each session was, more often than not, “How has your husband been?” Uhhmm… he’s been fine… I’m here to discuss… me…? This girl was having a front-row seat to my reality soap-opera; she was completely engrossed in the intricate plot my marriage had become at that point. I had troubles bringing the attention back to me, and discuss -my- non-relationship related issues. It is easy to lose your focus especially when pulled into a certain direction; don’t forget what you are there for, what your struggles are, and stay in control of the conversation. (Use your judgement: there will be situations when the therapist will need further information in order for them to get the whole picture, you should however be able to see the relevancy of their digression.)
3. Does your therapist take sides? Your therapist’s job is not to play referee, nor judge. Their job is to ask tough questions and guide you towards your own answers. If your therapist ever sounds like this: “Oh, my God!! Did he DO that? Men are a**holes!”, RUN! Yep, I did see this therapist, too. I was working hard on forgiving and forgetting an act of my Hubbyloo’s and she almost made it worse for me.
Make your pick off the list, figure out what your goals and expectations are, and go in there and have fun. Assisted self-discovery is awesome. Make sure your therapist is a fit though. I read this somewhere, they say that when it comes to the effectiveness of the therapy the credentials and techniques of a therapist do not matter as much as the quality of the relationship you have with them. Do not stop looking until you find the therapist that is right for you, the one with whom you feel most comfortable and safe, with whom conversation just flows. Give yourself two or three sessions with a new therapist, and if at the end of your session you feel better than when you went in you may have a winner!