Finding the right therapist for you can be a difficult process. But it's well worth the effort. A few important things to remember when looking for someone to work with:
Find someone with whom you feel a good fit. Different people feel this sense of fit in different ways: some people feel it quite viscerally, while others feel a sense of connection or rapport. Others feel a sense of kinship.
Keep yourself open for any of these sorts of feelings that let you know that you've found someone that feels right for you.
Find someone who has confidence and experience with your problem. When you talk to or meet a new therapist, quiz him or her about experience with the kinds of issues you're facing.
Look both for what the therapist says and how he or she says it:
Is he or she confident in the response?
Does his or her experience and understanding sound realistic to you?
Can you understand his or her recommendations?
Can he or she tell you of other experiences he or she has had with clients with similar struggles?
Look for both warmth and professionalism. While a good relationship should feel warm and compassionate, be wary of therapists that feel creepy or have poor attention to professional boundaries. Chances are, you will be working intimately with the therapist you choose, so it's important that you feel secure that he or she won't act inappropriately.
For most people, it can be hard to spot the little red flags that can signal bigger future problems. Little things I recommend watching out for are things like a therapist over-divulging about his or her life that doesn't seem purposeful or that makes you uncomfortable. Likewise, I recommend being concerned if a therapist (especially one you've just met) wants to hug you, or tells you that "you're like a brother [or sister]" or some other assumptive stance, or says or does something that would make you feel guilty if you didn't work with him or her. While therapists and clients can feel quite close, psychotherapists are also professionals and should be able to behave as such.
That said, also be wary of a therapist that seems cold, rigid or emotionally disconnected. Remember: the relationship should also feel right to you. A good therapist will be both warm and professional and be able to maintain this balance.
Look for, read and ask questions about policies. While the "fine print" of a therapy relationship can be boring, you can learn a lot about a therapist by what is important enough to put in his or her paperwork.
Confidentiality should always be addressed in written paperwork, along with issues related to money, missed appointments and emergencies. In a first session, you should also receive either written or verbal information about your rights as a client. For instance, a therapist should always inform you that you have the right to ask about your treatment and that you have the right to end therapy at any time.
If a therapist doesn't give you this information, be concerned and ask about it. Avoid a therapist who is clueless about these issues, does not have written policies, or seems to be making things up on the spot.
Always consider the initial appointment or consultation like a job interview. That is, like you're interviewing the therapist!
All good therapists know that there are many things that come into play in forming a new therapeutic relationship: all the things I've mentioned here, along with money, location, availability, and other responsibilities.
A first meeting is really a “dry run” or a getting-to-know-you. Even though you're probably telling the therapist very intimate things, all the while, you're effectively asking: Is this going to work? Do I like this person? Will this therapist be able to help? Can they handle my problems? Will this be worth the effort it'll take to make happen?
If you don't feel like things are going to work for whatever reason, say so. A good therapist is able to respect that. If you feel like a therapist is guilting you or shaming you into working with him or her, you would be better off avoiding them.
In the first meeting, a good therapist is also trying to figure out whether he or she can actually help you. In some cases, he might tell you that he can't. Though it can be hard, especially if you want to work with the therapist, hopefully he or she can to give you other treatment recommendations that would help. If you would like to work with the therapist in the future, say so. Maybe you'll be able to make a plan to do so when the time is right.
Of course, the benefits of individual psychotherapy are many. Although it's not always fun, good therapy is definitely fruitful. Imagine: you find the problems that brought you to therapy becoming less and less problematic over the timeline outlined in in your initial appointment. You find yourself more at ease, dealing with your life more fluidly. Thinking about things in new ways, considering new possibilities. Imagine having the type of relationship with your therapist in which you can say things you've been afraid to say--the type of relationship in which you feel respected no matter what happens and even if you're struggling to respect yourself.
The philosophy under which I practice at Northampton Psychotherapy is intimately engaged with the ideas of respect, professionalism and warmth. I deeply respect clients as people who have the drive and ability to manifest the lives they want--even if clients don't have that sense themselves. Likewise, I endeavor to manifest the honest reality of a therapy relationship: two humans in a particular set of roles (therapist and client) sitting in a room grappling with things that don't get addressed very much in our modern culture. I have a range of expertise and will be clear if your problem is out of that range.
Our policies are available as part of a new client packet for you to read and fill out before the first session. If you have questions about how I work or would like to schedule an initial appointment, please contact me when the time is right. I wish you luck finding the right professional to work with you, whether it's here or elsewhere in our community.