How to find a good fit with a therapist
Years ago in my work with cancer patients, I believe Michael Lerner* of Commonweal noted the trend, that people spend more time researching a new car, than they do finding their doctor. (*Resources below.) This article covers how to find a good fit with a therapist. Like landing a good car, it takes some work! And that work pays off big time. If you are new to this field don’t worry, you will get better with time and experience.
Wait, what do you mean time and experience?! Do I have to be in therapy forever? No, you don’t. But just think how it’d be without the stigma that still exists about getting support from therapy. Hmm, let’s see, consulting with a well trained teacher type with sophisticated healing and well being tools at the ready. And having an encouraging guide and mentor in your corner who knows you deeply and is available for you when there are challenges in life. And when you’re ready to take steps to be your best self.
What’s wrong with this picture being called a weakness? Topic for another time. Let’s just note the well known fact that people most successful in the business world usually have coaches, mentors and support teams all along the way.
I digress. Back to our discussion of best ways to find a therapist who is a good match for you.
QUESTIONS TO ASK
To get started, an ultimate resource these days is the website PsychologyToday.com (PT). In fact if you do a google search for a therapist in your location, you will often see listings pop up from the PT website. Search this website – you can enter several terms in the search bar – location, types of challenges you’re dealing with, insurance and financial info, etc. Therapist profiles will pop up, with their personal blurb and picture, and a list of their specialty areas. Choose three to six to investigate and eventually interview. (Some practices may be closed; some insurance no longer accepted.)
Another good resource is the company Sondermind. I work for them as a therapist. Their mission is to make mental health services more accessible. Great idea to help people with this, and remove some of the barriers to finding the right care. Even in Boulder which is saturated with therapists, it can be challenging. SonderMind will quickly connect you with a local, in-network therapist who understands your needs. They match you based on specialty, availability, location, treatment approaches, insurance, and more.
Author Theo Gagen from the Sondermind Blog lists great questions to ask a potential therapist in her article here. You may not need all of these questions, but do pick a half dozen or more to use when interviewing your candidates. Prioritize the order of them, most important to least important. Have at least three therapists to interview as you whittle down your choices, and keep your list of backups in case their not taking new clients, or not accepting your insurance any more.
Check their website to see if there are recent updates or articles that give you a sense of them and their approach. Not all therapists keep up a website, and they can still be a great fit for you. Reread their profile to see if there are any other questions to include. They might list hobbies for example, and this can be useful to discuss the therapist’s passions, as well as their expertise.
WHAT’S NEXT IN YOUR QUEST
Next, verify they’re open for biz and match your financial picture. A step here for some is contacting your insurance company to make sure they’re on your list of providers. Contact them to let them know you’re a potential client, and arrange a consultation. Consults are usually free, but check on that, and decide if you would wish to meet in person for this, or if a phone or video consult works OK. (Covid19 has rendered most meetings virtual as of this writing.) At this time for example, I offer free consults on the phone, and if it’s a go, we’ll proceed with therapy. The client is able to end at any time for any reason – that is part of the list of client rights. After the free consult, billing will begin.
To increase your chances of finding a good fit with a great therapist, do interviews with at least three therapists. (Three is a good amount to explore. When therapists give out referrals, they have to include at least three names.) Note the questions you get asked by the therapist; this is also informative. When the interview ends, say you’ll let them know. Find out the best way to briefly check back, if additional questions arise. Jot down any impressions, and maybe give them a rating from 1-10 on how good that fit and connection with them seemed at this time.
FYI, here are some of the questions I ask potential clients. Describe your challenges; what helps you cope with stress in general? What’s going well; what you would like to get from therapy? How has your past experience been with therapy? What concerns do you have about therapy working for you? What type of support suits you best as far as you know – (gentle, tough love, somewhere in the middle). If you have any trauma history you’d like to clear or that still impacts you, give me a sense of that.
I might not ask all of these of course. To keep to the 20 or 30 minute timeline, these questions are answered with headlines, rather than the full story, for now. Good questions tell me how well my background, experience and strengths fit the client’s needs.
Feel free to ask questions that you haven’t prepared – follow your intuition too in these interviews. Once you’re done, and you’ve collected all n, and your gut level sense of it, to help you choose a therapist that seems to be the best fit for you right now. You’ll know more with time, and you can always choose a new therapist if it doesn’t end up being the best fit. But you can know you did your due diligence and move ahead.
BEST QUALITIES AND SKILLS OF THE THERAPIST
What are the bottom lines of the qualities you want to find with a therapist? This can be different for everyone, but keep in mind, therapy isn’t finding a friend. Yes, you’ll want 1) warmth, 2) honesty, 3) helpfulness and someone you can learn from, and 4) you’ll want to feel a sense of trust. That’s the warm and fuzzy stuff that matters. But also, therapy is also about challenging the ways you get stuck and repeat old patterns. Ideally this person will have your back, but won’t enable you. They’ll be able to encourage you to try alternative ways of coping and new practices. Of course, changing at this deep level can be hard, and messy at times.
Challenging clients’ stuck places, and clearing the ways trauma produced dysfunctional coping or approaches to living, is one of the most advanced skills of the therapist. It takes good timing (intuition is key for me), and the right balance of support and strength. This is part of the learning curve as therapy proceeds, and part of what you highly value, the more experience with therapy you gain.
Challenging clients’ stuck places, and clearing the ways trauma produced dysfunctional coping or approaches to living, is one of the most advanced skills of the therapist. It takes good timing (intuition is key for me), and the right balance of support and strength. This is part of the learning curve as therapy proceeds, and part of what you will highly value, the more experience with therapy you gain.
Keep in mind that challenge should be able to come from both sides. Discomfort or tension doesn’t always mean therapy’s not working. In fact, discord arising could be a sign of an upcoming breakthrough. Overall though, therapy shouldn’t be a “yes man” or buddy experience. Ideally, its a sacredly-guided truth zone, tinged with loving awareness and kind support. It needs to have your best interests at heart, and not only be about nurturance and unconditional love – though you gotta have that too.
NOW IT’S TIME FOR A TEST DRIVE
So take a few test drives with your new car, I mean new therapist. Take your time doing the research if you can. Let your mind and body and spirit make the best choice for now. It’s all a learning experience for your best self’s evolution. You can take comfort in the fact that you are courageously facing challenges. This support increases the chances you’ll be able to use any diversity in a positive way. Tools you learn will support you the rest of your life.
Good therapy can bring more balance and happiness to your life. It supports your growth and expansion, healing what binds you. On the soul level, good therapy should enable you to express the full self you came here to share. And that helps you, and the whole damn world. Taking the time to find a good fit with a therapist is worth it. Amen.
What questions didn’t I answer about how to find a good therapist? Please comment below. Let’s end this stigma baloney… (guess I’ll need a rant article on that topic, huh…)
* Michael Lerner was the recipient of a MacArthur Prize Fellowship for contributions to public health in 1983 and is author of Choices in Healing: Integrating the Best of Conventional and Complementary Therapies (MIT Press).
See his interview with Angeles Arrien at the Commonweal website https://www.commonweal.org/staff/michael-lerner/
Check out his blog re: the bigger picture of coping with the Corona Virus. “Courage and hope are the most interesting way to live”.
Learn about his wonderful resilience project.