Choosing a good therapist can feel like a daunting task. A quick Google search reveals the many options available, but how is one to really make this very important decision in a way that is thoughtful, informed, and ultimately feels satisfying? I’ve had a few friends lately ask me to provide them with therapy referrals, and as I’ve done it, it’s prompted me to think about why I refer to the people I refer to.
When I give friends or others a therapy referral, I take the decision of whom I’ll point them to very seriously. I have a short list of people I feel confident to refer to, and the litmus test for me is always, “would I want to send my loved ones to work with this person”? In thinking about who these people are that I personally use as my network of therapy referrals, I wanted to share with you the qualities in each of them that make them great people to work with, so when you’re looking to choose a therapist, you might use this post as a tool to help you decide.
Finding the right therapist is a really important task, and a decision to not take casually. Although there are no perfect therapists out there, there are certainly some that are light-years beyond others. I want everyone to find the good ones so here are some things to look for when searching for a therapist:
Do you feel safe?
The fundamental essence of any therapy relationship is the idea that you’ll feel physically & emotionally safe when working with your therapist. For anything good to happen in therapy, you MUST have a sense of safety in the relationship that will help foster trust and collaboration. Without feeling safe, you have no opportunity for growing. However, it’s important to remember that at times while you’re working on things in therapy, many difficult and painful emotions can be triggered, so we might feel unsafe for a moment in the relationship, but any decent therapist will help you traverse this period and bring you back to a deep sense of safety. If you’re feeling judged, shamed, or condemned in the first couple of sessions – run for the hills and find someone new. So, number one – we need to find someone that helps us feel safe.
Do you feel understood?
A second cornerstone of the therapy relationship is the ability for the therapist to understand what’s going on in your life, and to convey this understanding back to you in a way that helps you feel known. You want to leave your appointment feeling, “Hey, that guy/gal really knows what’s going on for me”. It’s a learned skill for a therapist to be able to understand deeply what’s going on in your life within just a few appointments, and this is something you want to be sure you’re getting. If you’re not feeling empathically understood for the problems that you’re bringing to therapy, you may want to keep looking for someone else.
Do you feel confident with their education and credentials?
In the state of California, there are 4 licenses to practice therapy. These are:
- Marriage & Family Therapist
- Licensed Clinical Social Worker
If someone is offering you therapy type services, but does not possess one of these 4 licenses, they are not a therapist and you’ll want to keep looking until you find someone that’s licensed. Finding someone that’s licensed is important because it guarantees you that they, at the very least, possess a Master’s degree in education, and that they are responsible to oblige to legal and ethical issues in the therapy setting that are designed to protect client’s rights. In essence, if we do something stupid, we can go to jail and lose our license. This keeps therapists on the up-and-up ethically and practicing with the most integrity. And how do you choose between the 4 types of licensed therapist? My experience tells me that the type of license has very little to do with how therapy will turn out, and therapy outcomes are more based on elements from #1 & #2 above.
Don’t be afraid to interview them
Because finding the right therapist is such an important decision, don’t be afraid to take the initiative and ask them some hard questions during the initial interview process. Ask them questions such as:
- Why should you choose them?
- Have they been in their own therapy? How long? This might be the most important question you could ask a potential therapist for hire. You want someone who has been in a lot of therapy; this doesn’t mean they’re “screwed up”, it means that they value the work they do and are willing to go to the places themselves their clients will want to go to.
- Are they involved in peer consultation? (This is important too, as it’s an indicator of the therapists level of commitment to continual learning and growing)
Ask for referrals from friends and other therapists
One of the best ways to find a good therapist is to ask your trusted friends or other therapists for referrals. This isn’t a “sure-bet” for someone great, but a referral from someone you know is generally better than blindly choosing someone from Google. Typically, if someone has had a good experience in therapy and wants to pass along a name and number, you can feel confident that you’re most likely to have a good experience too.
Interview a few before you decide. Go a couple of times though.
I always encourage people to pick a few different people and interview them to decide who feels right for you. Remember, picking a therapist isn’t as much a cerebral act as much as it is a feeling. Trust your gut and believe in your instincts for who feels right. And remember; give yourself ample room to make such an important decision by going to a therapist 2 or 3 times before committing to yourself that this person “isn’t right”. It’s hard to make that decision in just one 45 minute encounter most of the time.
Good therapy typically takes time. Be weary of quick solutions
A common question that people ask me when beginning therapy is, “how long will I be here for?” That’s such a tough question to answer generically because it really depends on so many factors such as what’s being worked on, time commitment, financial commitment, etc. But, for all my clients sake, I want them to feel better and have happy and productive lives as soon as possible. However, I’m also aware that good therapy takes time – and sometimes it can be a process that lasts 6 months to several years. Be weary of quick-solution-focused therapists who promise results quickly. Many times, this really isn’t good therapy, but just advice giving that doesn’t really have much of an impact in the end. If advice and quick solutions were successful, then we’d all never need anything else because our friends and family members would have solved all our problems – and we know that’s not the case.
There is no perfect therapist. Keep working it out.
And lastly, finding the right therapist is considering the items mentioned above, but also acknowledging there is no “perfect therapist”. If you find yourself “therapist hopping” from one person to the other, this may be a sign that you’re looking for something or someone that doesn’t exist. The best therapy is a relationship built on trust and safety where imperfections can be addressed, talked about, and sorted through to find resolutions. If you’re interviewing a therapist for hire and there’s something you don’t like about him/her, I dare you to tell them that in the first couple of sessions. Any therapist worth hiring would love to hear this candid, honest feedback and will offer you a response in a non-defensive way that you find helpful.
Finding the right therapist and building this life-changing relationship can be one of the most valuable and rewarding experiences in life. I hope everyone that’s looking for this, is able to find it.
**I am excited to announce my new Group Therapy called “Better Dad’s & Better Husbands Group”. If you, or a Dad you know would like to meet with other like-minded Dad’s and Husbands in an extremely life-changing and powerful way, please shoot me an email!
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