Recently while sitting down for lunch with a friend, he asked me how to know whether he had picked a good therapist. I realized that for many years I have been advising my friends to interview multiple therapists before settling on one, but I had never elaborated on what the goal of that interview was…
Before I became a therapist myself, I assumed that if someone worked hard and met all of the requirements to become a therapist than she or he was probably good at the job. But then when I went to graduate school in Marriage and Family Therapy I was in for a shock. Honestly, I would not want to seek help from many of my classmates.
I realized that an important part of what makes someone helpful to others is their having worked through their own life struggles to become a centered, confident, compassionate, happy person. Unfortunately, some people are attracted to becoming therapists because for them it is easier to focus on other people’s challenges than their own. In other words, if I focus on you, than I do not have to look at my own feelings of unhappiness and fear. So how then can you tell whether a therapist has done his/her own work and is a good fit for you?
1) Feeling Understood is the first thing to look for when choosing a therapist. Not all therapists are going to give you spectacular life-changing advice in the first session, but if the therapist is the right fit, you should feel listened to and empathized with early on in your relationship. A person cannot help you to grow if they do not “get” you first.
2) Therapist Adaptability is a sign that the therapist has done their own emotional work. As a client, you should be able to ask for what feels good to you in the therapy sessions. Some people like concrete advice, others like to be asked questions that help them come up with their own answers, other people just want to be listened to, and still others like to feel connected to the therapist by knowing a little about their personal life. Some don’t want to know anything about their therapist’s life. You should be able to verbalize those preferences and be able to ask for changes as your relationship progresses as well. As you verbalize your needs and preferences, it should feel as though you and the therapist are collaborating, each offering your own perspectives to create the best potential for growth within you.
3) Intuition is the most important assessment tool you have in deciding who you want to be friends with, who you want to do business with, who you can trust with your secrets, and who can babysit your children. It is also the final and best tool for deciding who is helpful to you in becoming the best version of you. Clients don’t always leave therapy sessions feeling “better,” because sometimes emotions that are not yet worked through are brought up, but overall your gut should be telling you that you are growing and seeing a greater perspective about your life.