So, you’ve decided to see a therapist…
You’ve taken a big first step on your journey towards a happier, healthier you. Your next step is to select a counselor or therapist, which can oftentimes feel like a daunting and overwhelming task. There are so many different types of therapists out there, so many styles and approaches, so many degrees and credentials. Where do you even begin? What do you look for?
First, take a deep breath! There are ways to make this imperfect process a bit easier. Here are some recommendations to help you in your search from my own experiences as a client as well as a therapist.
Ask friends or people you trust for referrals.
Asking people you trust for recommendations is a great place to start. Word-of-mouth is usually the best way to begin an initial search for a counselor or therapist because you’ll know exactly how the potential clinician works based on insight. Get recommendations from friends, relatives, your primary care doctor, your clergyman, or your local professional association. While the right “fit” for your friend or relative may not reflect what will feel right for you, it gives you a starting point with a therapist who has already been vetted by someone you trust.
What’s with all those letters?
There are many educational paths and professional programs that can prepare someone to conduct therapy—with MSW, MA/MS in Mental Health Counseling, and PsyD or PhD in Clinical Psychology being the most common graduate degrees you’ll likely come across in New York State.
Try not to focus too much on the specific degree your therapist holds, as all of these graduate-level tracks sufficiently train students to provide therapy in a variety of styles designed to treat a multitude of presenting issues and personalities. Instead, make sure that the clinician is licensed (or is in the process of getting their licensure, supervised by a licensed therapist). Licensed therapists are bound to certain ethical and legal standards and must obtain an appropriate level of education, training, and supervised clinical experience. To verify the license of a counselor or therapist, simply perform a Google search for your state’s Professional Licensing Board. To look up a mental health professional in the State of New York, click here.
Ask yourself if you need a specialist.
Ask yourself, “What am I seeking treatment for?”
Then look for a therapist who specializes in treating this particular type of issue or problem. I tend to be wary of people who advertise that they specialize in treating EVERYTHING. One cannot be all things to all people. Look for someone who clearly states who they like to work with or focuses on a specialty in their profile.
What does it feel like for you to sit with the therapist?
Pay attention to how you feel sitting with this person. Do you feel comfortable? Safe? At ease talking with them? Is the therapist down-to-earth or does he or she feel cold and emotionally removed? Is the therapist arrogant or a “know-it-all”? A therapist that is a good match for you will make you feel safe, comfortable, and heard. If a therapist doesn’t feel like a good fit for you, that’s okay; there’s absolutely no contract or rule requiring you to continue working with any one particular therapist.
Has your therapist does his or her own therapy?
Surprisingly, many therapists are not required by their training programs to complete any of their own personal therapy. Yet, one of the best ways to learn how to help someone else heal is to do your own therapy. Someone who has done their own work is usually much more aware of their own biases and perspectives and how they might influence their work with you. They are also more likely to be self-reflective and display humility in their work. The most effective healers tend to be “wounded healers”—those who, through the process of healing their own wounds, have developed the know how to help others heal theirs.
The relationship is more important than the resume.
Research has shown that at the heart of all successful therapy is the therapeutic relationship that develops between the client and the therapist. Without a strong therapeutic alliance, the chances of a successful outcome in psychotherapy are significantly lowered. So, despite a therapist’s chosen theoretical framework or use of particular therapeutic techniques, the first thing you need to look for in finding a good therapist is simply someone with whom you can feel some degree of comfort and eventual trust.
Selecting a suitable therapist should not be a rushed decision. It will likely take time and a bit of effort on your part to find a good fit, but it will be well worth it once you’ve found the right one. The therapeutic relationship can be one of the most life enhancing, rewarding relationships and experiences you’ll ever have.
Wishing you the best of luck in your search!