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When entering a therapeutic relationship, it is in fact the relationship that is of the utmost importance. The alliance that forms between you and your therapist is critical to your progress and ultimate success in therapy. Many studies have shown that the quality of the relationship client is often the strongest predictor of success. No one therapist is right for everyone, just like no one pair of shoes would be a good fit for everyone. Finding a therapist that is competent and a good fit for you is important and no easy task. The following are tips to help you on your journey.1. First spend some considering what you want from therapy. This is an important first step. You need to know what you are looking for in a therapist. Do some research, talk to friends and family members that have gone through therapy. Ask them what they liked and did not like about the therapist and the process.
2. Find out if the therapist has the proper training? Wisdom, empathy, compassion and character are all attributes you will want your therapist to have, but they aren’t enough. Knowledge and good professional training are essential. You will want a therapist who has acquired all of the following:
Intensive academic study in a field of mental health.
A good, competent therapist starts with a master’s or a doctorate in a field of mental health (e.g., MA, MS, MSW, PhD, PsyD, MD).
Licensure implies that a counselor has engaged in extensive postgraduate counseling experience which, depending on the state of licensure, may include up to 3,000 hours of required supervised experience. It also means the counselor has passed a licensing exam.
3. Look for specialized training to fit your needs. Does the therapist have experience helping others with the particular issues for which you are seeking therapy? The more experience therapists have addressing a particular issue, concern, or problem area, the more expertise they have developed.
4. Find out if the therapist theoretical approach matches your beliefs. There are many different schools of thought concerning helping and helping relationships. Some things to discover include: What’s the counselor’s general philosophy and approach to helping? What theory does the counselor pull from? Does your counselor approach human beings in a compassionate and optimistic way? Does he or she believe humans are born loving and lovable, or does the counselor believe people are genetically deficient?
5. Discover if the therapist can clearly define how he or she can help you to solve whatever issue or concern has brought you to therapy? Experienced counselors explain how they can help, are able to give you a basic “road map,” to their approach, and can even give an indication of how you will know when therapy is finished.
6. It is important that the therapist is likable. Simple, but true. Much of building a therapeutic, or any relationship for that matter, is a “gut” reaction to a person. You have to feel comfortable around the counselor to feel safe and you have to feel safe to grow. Not all of therapy is comfortable; in fact, growth often comes from the hard parts. However; you must feel safe and be able to work toward trust with your therapist to get to the hard stuff. Some questions to ask yourself: What does it feel like for you to sit with the therapist? Do you feel safe and comfortable? Is it easy to make small talk? Is the person down to earth and easy to relate to or does he or she feel cold and emotionally removed? Is the counselor “stuck in her head,” or overly emotional and empathic? Is the therapist a “know it all” or arrogant?
7. It is also important that the therapist is intelligent. Never continue to see a therapist whom you feel is not sufficiently intelligent. If you have any sense that the therapist is perhaps competent, but not that “with it,” you should look further. Just because someone has the proper training does not always mean they are up for the job. The unconscious mind is very tricky; it takes an equally crafty therapist to travel the therapeutic journey with you.
8. Learn about your therapist lifestyle. There are no clear cut guidelines about how to pick a therapist whose lifestyle is consistent with your own, or who can at least value and appreciate your lifestyle. Finding a comfort level with a therapist’s lifestyle is a subjective experience, but the bottom line is that you must experience the therapist as being able to be supportive of your lifestyle, and knowledgeable enough, in an experiential way, to help you find the kind of solutions you seek.
9. It is important that you interview the potential therapist. The initial session with a therapist is not just about you telling your story; it is also a time to decide if you can work with this person. Think of this the same way you would in deciding on any other service. You would never leave your kids with a babysitter that you did not first interview. This is no different. Remember you are looking for someone who: can challenge you and teach you things about yourself, you feel emotionally comfortable with and you can communicate with easily.
10. Last but not least don’t settle! Meeting with a therapist can be intimidating and can lead many to doubt their own perceptions. Therapists are just people too, with their own set of personality traits, beliefs, and views. You may not be a good fit and you may have to meet with more than one therapist, but keep looking! It is important to always remember that the foundation of good therapy is the relationship between therapist and client. It is essential that you find someone with whom you can forge a comfortable connection, someone that makes you feel heard, understood, and safe. Choose wisely as therapy has the potential to be a life-changing and life-enhancing experience!
Ashley Womack has a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a master’s degree in counseling and is currently a doctoral student at Texas A&M University-Commerce. She is a licensed professional counselor intern and a licensed chemical dependency counselor. Ashley has worked in community mental health for several years and is now a therapist at Insight Counseling of Paris www.insightcounselinggroup.com . Her specialty areas include substance abuse counseling and child-centered play therapy. She is also teaches counseling classes at A&M University-Commerce.