For my first blog of Mental Health Awareness Month, I'm gonna talk to you about things to consider when you're looking for a therapist and starting therapy. I recently contributed to this HuffPost article by Nicole Pajer, about precisely this topic, but thought it important to expound further on my commentary.
Making the decision to go to therapy is often a pretty big decision. Lots of times, people will struggle with feelings of disappointment and shame at the notion that they need help. The stigma around psychotherapy is still alive and well, even though we have definitely made some strides. Once a person makes that decision, especially for the first time, finding a therapist is often a really daunting task.
The MOST important piece of advice I have to give on this topic is this: shop around! You don't owe the therapist anything! Now, this does not concern fees or basic human decency....you definitely owe them that. But what I mean is that the process of finding a therapist is like a job interview or an audition. People often think that because they met with someone initially that they HAVE TO see that person. Nothing could be further from the truth. One session does not bind you forever to that clinician (nor does five or fifteen sessions), and generally they will not be hurt if you decide that it's not a good match. As therapists, we want you to succeed, even if it's not with us specifically. Don't be afraid to tell the therapist that it doesn't feel quite right, it will save you a lot of time and money! Plus, all therapists know other therapists and there is a strong possibility that this person knows someone who would work wonderfully with you.
The next most important piece of advice I give: Trust your gut! Our society spends a lot of time teaching us to doubt our instincts and question those gut feelings, demanding concrete evidence to support how we feel. We do ourselves a disservice when we ignore what our instincts are clearly telling us. A good therapist is a well-trained, qualified, and experienced therapist. But sometimes, when it comes to techniques and personalities, it's just not a good fit. And that is okay. You have not failed here, nor has the therapist. All the qualifications in the world cannot make up for a lack of rapport. If, for some reason, you feel that the therapist isn't what you need but you can't articulate it perfectly, that does NOT mean that you're wrong. Don't force yourself to endure something uncomfortable. This will likely lead to you needing more therapy!
Consider what's important to you. Are you religious or spiritual? Do you live an unconventional life? Do you feel more comfortable talking to a man or a woman? Is a person's age a factor for you? What about their race or ethnicity? There IS a therapist out there that checks the important boxes, so do some research. Check out online directories, then check out the therapists' websites, then call for a consultation and ask the important questions. See if you feel comfortable talking to that person. The last thing I want for someone is to for them to feel judged or not understood by their therapist. The ideal situation is to find a therapist who makes you feel heard and cared for, because that is when you'll be able to open up and allow this person to know you and help you make those critical changes that led you to seek out therapy in the first place.
Don't worry if you don't have a complete idea of what it is that you need help with. The therapist is there to help you figure all that out! All you need to know is that things are not as you would like them to be, and you would like to have help in making them better. And honestly, often times, what you think is the problem is really just a symptom of the problem. Your therapist is there to help you gain insight and take action to transform your life.
It's not in your best interest to lie to your therapist. That often leads to wasted time and money. Therapy is meant to be cooperative and collaborative (as I practice it!), and lying or withholding kicks this partnership off to a terrible start! Be as honest as you can with your therapist (a feat which is made easier when you consider the above advice in making your choice) and when there are things you are not yet ready to discuss, just say so. We understand that spilling your guts to a stranger is...well...strange! It's not comfortable at first and it's perfectly natural to feel reluctant to tell it all within the first few sessions. However, keeping secrets tends to breed shame, and shame becomes a wall between you and your therapist that often prevents true progress.
And the final thing that I want you to know about therapy as you endeavor to find a therapist is this: Know that you are going to work! Therapy is not easy. If it's easy then I'm not sure it's working! In therapy you are usually delving into things that you have painstakingly avoided dealing with for a long time. That is no easy task. Therapy is the hardest and most rewarding thing a person will do. The insight you will gain will be invaluable! Brace yourself! It's worth it. YOU'RE worth it!