to be a Proactive Consumer
If you’ve ever searched for a therapist, you probably know that it can be a daunting process. Even the thought of searching for a therapist can be intimidating to some. Why wouldn’t it be? Making the decision to share our deepest feelings and thoughts with anyone is no small undertaking, let alone a person we don’t even know. Not to mention the fact that continuing therapy for any length of time can turn into a serious financial commitment.
Many of us have been scared off by the bad examples of therapy. Unfortunately, (and I say this as a member of the profession,) it’s not hard to find stories of inappropriate comments made by therapists to consumers. (See KotaPress Loss Journal article, “Dumb Things Said: The Horror,” July2003.) My own personal favorite example occurred when I moved to Montreal and started seeing a new therapist. I told him that I was unable to sleep at night due to anxious thoughts that kept cycling through my head. His advice, “Just stop the thoughts.” WHA??? He repeatedly maintained this stance, and needless to say, his advice did not work for me. That was my last visit to this therapist.
So, how do you go about finding a therapist who will be a good match for you?
Four straightforward steps:
Step 1: Call forth your power as a smart consumer
There are a lot of therapists out there, and they want your business. Who you pick is your decision, so make it a good one. Shop around; let yourself investigate. Many cities have online and/or telephone therapy referral services. These resources can help you to get a sense for a therapist without having to open up your whole story. Ask friends or members of your support network for suggestions. Many people know of a good therapist through someone else, and this can be an excellent referral source; tried and true. Don’t discount mental health agencies—they can be full of competent therapists and often offer a sliding scale or accept medical coupons. Ask the agency intake worker if they have particular faith in someone there.
Once you have some names, make phone calls. Most therapists are happy to spend time on the phone with you to answer your questions. They want to get to know you too, to assess whether you’re a good match for their skill set. Some therapists offer a sliding scale, but you might have to ask them in order to find out. If things are going well on the phone, you can ask if it’s possible to set up a face-to-face, informational interview (say, 15-20 minutes) to see how the therapist feels to you in person. Some private practitioners will even offer one free session in which to build a sense for the relationship.
There are probably no absolute criteria from which to judge a good match with a therapist. Rather than thinking of which questions to ask a therapist, you might consider just being yourself, putting your encapsulated story out there, and assessing how you feel about the therapist’s response. Sharing loss, trauma, and any deep emotions with another person can be scary. Does this professional help to draw you out? Do you feel safe? Encouraged? Your gut feeling can be your ultimate resource here.
This step is actually pretty easy. If your gut tells you that you don’t have a match (or worse), tell the therapist thank you, hang up the phone or leave the office, and dial the next person on the list. Who you choose to work with is your decision; saying no when you don’t feel compatibility is your right. We won’t take it personally.
Part of the process of
being in therapy may include
feeling worse before feeling
better. This most likely
is not the sign of therapy
gone awry. If you have established
a relationship with your
therapist and a problem
comes up or you feel stuck,
he or she will want to hear
from you if they’re
worth what you’re
paying them. Competent therapists
do slip up sometimes. On
the other hand, sometimes
what feels like a therapist’s
problem can actually be
a symptom of something a
consumer is struggling with.
A responsible therapist
will take ownership of blunders
and help a consumer to understand
the difference between blunders
and their own issues so
that the therapeutic relationship
can continue to move forward.