By Melanie Mann
Steps to Choosing the Right Counselor for You
Do your research.
Finding a good therapist will take some preparation. Make sure to take into account location, affordability, and type of services offered. A quick Google search should give you most of this information, but you can also call a local hospital or mental health agency for referrals to therapists in your area.
Take Advantage of Word-of-Mouth Recommendations
If your friend or family member goes to therapy, ask them what they like and dislike about their therapist. It’s probably best to talk to people who are similar to you in personality and diagnosis/problem you are trying to address through therapy. Therapists’ clients can often provide insight on the nitty gritty details of a therapist’s process that mental health professionals can’t offer.
Make a List of Personal Preferences
Write down what qualities you look for in a counselor. This includes your preference in a therapist’s demographics, personality, techniques, and values. For example, a woman struggling with problems related to body image may be more comfortable seeing a female therapist. Some people may find that alternative therapy techniques such as art therapy, nature walks, or animal-assisted therapy may especially benefit them and will look for a therapist who utilizes these techniques. If you are having difficulty with your spirituality, it may be beneficial to look for a counselor who excels at incorporating clients’ religious beliefs into the therapy process.
How to Tell If a Therapist Is Not a Good Match
It’s important to remember that a therapist is providing services that you are paying for. If you’re not happy with the services provided, that is definitely an indicator that you don’t have a good match. However, we can’t expect therapy to fix all our problems overnight, so it can be difficult to tell how long we should hang in there before calling it quits. The following are some signs that it might be time to break up with your therapist.
You haven’t seen any progress after the third session.
The first two to three therapy sessions should mostly consist of building rapport between the therapist and client and will include a lot of talking about the client’s background and current situation. By the third or fourth session, goals should be made, tools and coping skills should be taught, and plans for change should begin to be implemented. If there isn’t any planning going on by this time, that’s not a good sign.
Your therapist seems incompetent.
This often happens on college campuses or at any agency where most of the counselors are interns. If a therapist does nothing except repeat back exactly what you tell them and then stare at you, creating many awkward silences, the therapist is probably not very far into the training process. In this specific case, the therapist is attempting to practice reflective listening, a basic tool used by mental health professionals, but they are doing a poor job of it. While awkward silence is sometimes necessary and even encouraged to get clients to open up, the majority of the session should not be awkward, especially after the first session. When you disclose severe trauma or an exceptionally difficult problem and are met with a deer-in-the-headlights look from your counselor, they are probably not well-equipped to help you, at least at this point in their training.
You are repeatedly made to feel disrespected, invalidated, or looked down upon.
This one speaks for itself. Before switching therapists for this reason, it is recommended that you confront them about how they are making you feel. A good therapist will take your concerns into consideration and use your feedback to improve future sessions. If the disrespect continues, it may be best to switch to another therapist.
By no means is this an exhaustive list of reasons to switch therapists, but these are common problems in the therapeutic process. Take control of your mental health by thinking of yourself as a client paying for quality services. When the quality isn’t there, it’s always best to move on.