Therapy is an intensely personal experience that involves making yourself vulnerable and opening up to your therapist. It is vital, therefore, to choose a therapist that is properly qualified to provide the support you need, communicates in a way that resonates with you and approaches your sessions with the same objectives as you.
The importance of finding the right therapist
Finding a good professional in any field where you have a need but no existing provider can be tricky. If you are looking for a plumber or a builder, you can usually put up with someone who you may not choose to spend time with if their work is good and the price is right. But when looking for a therapist, you are choosing someone who you likely share intimate thoughts with and look to for advice in areas close to your heart. It is essential to find the right therapist for you. But where do you start, and what should you look for?
There are 2 good places to start looking: you can ask your doctor or another healthcare provider for recommendations, and you can check the directories for professional organizations that include therapists specializing in the area where you need support. Either way, you are likely to end up with s shortlist of possibilities, so how do you make the final choice and what to look for in a good therapist?
What to look for in a therapist?
If you are seeking a therapist for the first time, it can be bewildering. You may be struggling to put what you need into words, and not entirely clear what the outcome you are seeking is. So here are some areas and qualities to consider.
Characteristics of a good therapist
Empathy and compassion
It may seem obvious, but if you are going to be sharing your inner thoughts and fears with someone, ideally you would like them to respond in a caring and empathetic way. Of course, what this means in practice may be different for all of us, so a therapist with a very emotional style, for example, may be ideal for some and the last thing that others are looking for. Think about the type of person you would like to work things through with and how you would want them to respond. What sort of people do you find it easy to talk to? Then see how a prospective therapist matches that ideal.
You need your therapist to really hear what you are saying, and perhaps to help you express thoughts and feelings that you find it hard to put into words. Again, this will mean different approaches for different people. Think about others you have met that you consider to be good listeners and look for similar traits and behaviours when choosing a therapist.
Trustworthiness and professionalism
If you do not feel able to trust your therapist completely, you are unlikely to share all your thoughts and feelings with them, which will greatly reduce the effectiveness of the sessions with them. Part of choosing a therapist should always include checking their professional qualifications, but it is also important to pick someone whose manner you find professional and who you feel you can trust. It is perfectly fine to trust your gut feeling about someone!
None of us like to be judged even when we know we are in the wrong, so you definitely do not want to feel that you are being judged by your therapist. Try to get a feel for whether you think you would be comfortable and safe with their style and responses to things you say.
Flexibility and adaptability
We are all different, and even people facing similar situations or issues may need very different types of help and support. If you see your therapist for any length of time, your life will change through that time, and your therapy needs may change with it. You need to make sure that your therapist can adapt with you as things change.
Questions to ask a potential therapist
Having identified some of the things you are looking for in a therapist, here are some questions that you may want to ask potential counselors to try and see if they are the right person for you.
Are you licensed?
This is a basic prerequisite, and no real therapist will object to you asking, so do not be afraid to do so. Hearing about their professional qualifications and accreditation may also help you start to trust them.
What is your experience with my specific issue?
You do not want to spend your first few sessions educating your therapist on your issue. You need a counselor who has training and ideally experience in the area where you are seeking support.
What is your approach to therapy?
The answer to this question should tell you a lot about what you can expect if you start therapy with this professional. There are no absolute right or wrong answers – it is about what is right or wrong for you and your situation. If the therapist refers to particular styles or approaches in terms that you are not familiar with, do not be afraid to ask them what they mean. It is essential that you properly understand what your therapy sessions will involve.
What is your availability?
Do not forget the practical considerations! Can the therapist see you now or is there a waiting list? Are they available at the times and on the days when you are?
Choosing a therapist may seem daunting and it is certainly an important decision. But by knowing the key things to look for in a therapist and asking the right questions, the process can be simplified. Finally, do not be afraid to move on and try someone else if you are not happy with the answers you get or even after having a few sessions of therapy. If you leave sessions feeling anxious, or upset or dread going back for the next session, your therapist is probably not a good match for you. It is much more important to make the right choice rather than a fast choice.