Finding the Right Therapist- Why Therapist Fit is Essential to Progress
As a therapist, I have helped friends and family members find therapists for themselves. While I love each and every one of these people, I will be the first to bring up those daring words, "have you thought about going to therapy?" I recognize when my little therapist's ears are picking up that their needs and struggles are going beyond my supportive role as a loved one. So as a therapist, I talk to them about looking for someone who is going to be the right fit. While I cannot function as their own therapist, I want to make sure my loved ones are seeing someone who is going to take their care just as serious as the people that I work with as a therapist. So why is finding the right therapist so essential for therapy anyhow? I know looking at therapists profiles online can be overwhelming the minute the list comes up. So how do you narrow down that list of 50+ potential therapists down to the one you build up your guts to reach out to through phone, e-mail, or the online form?
While I was in grad school there were numerous articles I read that talked about the importance of the therapeutic relationship. A therapist can be skilled in different evidenced-based therapies, have dual certifications and licensure and still may not be the best fit for you. Why is that? The answer is simple. We are relational creatures and the work that is done in therapy is through the vehicle of the relationship. I love using analogies in my therapy practice. So here's my first one for you! If I drive my car over to your house and tell you to get in it with me, would you be likely to go with me if you had no idea who I was and felt you could not trust me? Likely not. However, if you know and trust me you are much more likely to get in and go for the ride. That's how therapy works. Even if I pulled up in a Maserati, BMW, or any other high end luxury car, without a relationship you will not go for the ride. A therapist can be very skilled in their work, but if you do not trust them, you will not trust where they will take you. This in turn will limit your ability to reach your full potential in your therapy.
Having someone that looks like you can be helpful with discussing some things in therapy. Racial unrest and experiencing microaggressions at work may be more difficult for a person of color to bring up with a non-BIPOC therapist, but a person of color may feel more comfortable discussing these with a therapist of color. Feelings of discrimination in the workplace were often themes I noted while working with women of color in my former outpatient practice. These women wanted a safe place to be their full selves, so conscientiously sought out a Black female therapist for their mental health needs.
Here are some things to take into consideration when thinking of therapist fit. Therapists come from a variety of backgrounds and different schools of thought in training and techniques. Sometimes just looking at a person's credentials will not be enough to make up your mind on whether they will be a good fit for you. Write down what you would want your therapist to be like. Here are some questions to help guide this process: Do you prefer seeing a male, female, or non-binary therapist? Does it matter to you that the therapist reflects your race and/or ethnicity? If English is a second language for you, would you prefer to communicate in your native language? Write down the issues you are finding yourself struggling with. Is there a therapist in your area that specializes with this issue? Are you open to seeing a therapist who is newer to the field or do you really want someone with more experience? Once you locate someone and before you reach out, you have the ability to look up licensing information to see if there are any notable complaints or sanctions on their license. If a person is not clinically licensed, find out who is supervising them. A therapist should be overall pretty responsive. If you reach out to a therapy practice and don't hear back after a couple days, I'd suggest you keep looking. If a therapist is not available, they should have someone to help cover them or make sure there is a clear message indicating when they will return and when to expect a response.
Here are some initial questions that may be helpful to you when you are able to connect with a therapist. Depending on the therapist and the practice, sometimes you can do an initial consult call before scheduling an intake. Some will get you scheduled for an intake and you should be able to ask questions in the intake as well. Some questions I would suggest include asking about the therapist's approach to supporting and helping to create change on your specific issue. Find out if the therapist has any knowledge or experience with working with people with similar issues as yours. If a therapist has absolutely no knowledge or experience working with your issue, you can ask them about how comfortable they are with this issue and how they would work with you specifically on how to help you meet your treatment goals. If you are finding that their responses are not adequate, you can decline scheduling the next appointment to continue your search.
I hope these provide some helpful tips for navigating a therapist search. It is not impossible to find a therapist to meet your needs. I encourage everyone to make sure they are their own advocate. If a therapist starts taking you to a place you are not comfortable, let them know! Finding the right fit of therapist is a worthwhile investment for your mental health and wellness. Take the time to prioritize you and your needs!