Often times we hear that the most difficult part of starting therapy was finding the right therapist, or even knowing how to find the right therapist. Many times, this is such a personal issue that it can become overwhelming searching to find the right fit. Sometimes it happens just by luck and the first person you call is the one for you, other times it takes weeks of intensive research. Luckily there are a few tricks and techniques that can help you start the search and even get you through the first session with the answers you need to know if you will be comfortable. After all, finding the right fit for you is one of the most important factors in success in therapy. Therapy and therapists are not one size fits all and even the best therapists will not be a good match for everyone.
Word of Mouth – The best way to know what a therapist is like is to talk to someone who has worked with them. Often the people who know you will at least have an idea if someone will be a good match for you. People who have either seen a therapist or worked with a therapist will be the closest thing to actually meeting them. Asking your family doctor, pediatrician, friends, or other trusted sources can be a great way to get an honest appraisal of quality clinicians close to home. Another great way is to talk to therapists. If you can get a consultation or know a therapist in the area, they will often know many other professionals that they trust. If a therapist does not feel they are the right fit, they are often able to and should provide some suggestions on people to call who may be a better fit.
Area of Specialization – Not all therapists are specialists and often times therapists are listed as generalists because they see such a variety of people and issues; however, they all should be able to give you an appraisal of their comfort level with treating specific issues. On the other hand, many if not most therapists do have areas of specialty, meaning that there are certain groups of people or treatment issues that they work with the most, have more training in, and feel the most comfortable and confident in working with. These areas of specialty are often noted in profiles to make it easier for the public to find professionals who work with what they are wanting to target. Don’t be afraid to ask a clinician how much experience they have had working with something or even what training they have. Therapists should be well trained and proud to share what their experience and training has been.
Scheduling Flexibility – It is important to find a therapist whose schedule works for you. Quality is the most important factor in therapy and this does not always mean convenient, but therapy cannot be effective if you cannot attend regularly. Therapists do still have families and obligations outside of work that mold their schedules, so it is important to understand and be flexible to an extent with when you need to schedule, but if you can only do late evenings or weekends, make sure that the therapist you are going to see consistently works outside of traditional business hours before scheduling your first appointment. It is also important to remember that if a therapist is skilled and highly recommended they will most likely also be busy. Be patient with scheduling and don’t be afraid to ask to be called if there are cancellations. It can also help to schedule a repeating standing appointment at the same day and time each week if the therapist is on the busier side to make sure you are guaranteed an appointment.
Theoretical Orientation – A clinician’s theoretical orientation refers to the specific type of therapy they use in treatment and is based off of a structured psychological theory. Some orientations are very structured and practical, focusing on modifying behavior or thought patterns as they relate to your day-to-day life. Cognitive Behavior Therapy, or CBT, is the perfect example of that, though there are exceptions to the scope of the focus that CBT takes on. If people are looking for something shorter term with more concrete steps, something like CBT or other solution focused approaches are a perfect fit. Other orientations focus on longstanding unconscious patterns that have been problematic, and may be a part of a longer-term process in therapy. Psychoanalytic or psychodynamic therapists employ techniques and processes that fit this longer-term focus. While you may come into therapy knowing very little or even nothing about approaches, you should leave the first session with a good understanding of how the therapist views therapy and structures their approach. Most therapists use a combination of most orientations and view therapy as a fluid process that needs to be adapted to each individual. In order for the most successful start, don’t be afraid to ask any questions regarding this in the first session.
The Intake as an Interview – The intake is the very first therapy session. During this session not only does the therapist get to know you and take your history, but you get to know the therapist. Use this time to interview the therapist and make sure that they are someone you are comfortable with. This decision does not have to be made in only the first session, but is probably best determined over a couple sessions. Even after weeks of therapy, if at any point a therapist no longer feels like a good fit, engage them in this conversation. A skilled therapist will be comfortable discussing this and can either offer ways to adapt the therapy sessions or help you to find someone that you will be more comfortable with. And most importantly, if the first therapist you try is not a good fit, try again and again if necessary. You deserve the best therapist out there for you!