Just like any profession, there are people good at their job, and individuals that aren’t very good at their job. Just because someone has an advanced degree in a certain profession does not make them automatically amazing or superior to anyone else. All it says is that they put in the work, passed their tests, and should be well equipped to help people in their given career. When looking for a mental health therapist it may take a lot of trial and error, but finding a good one can be well worth it.
I had gone through 4 different therapists before I finally found one that I connected with, that actually believed solving any problem was possible, and that got my butt out of a major rut. I don’t know if it was destiny that we met, but without the help of this therapist, I likely would not be here today.
The therapists that sucked typically were rigid in their ways of thinking and I got a vibe that they were just trying to pass the time and collect a check. I’ve even had some therapists that tried to have a little too much fun trying to lighten the mood with games, puzzles, and other dumb crap instead of actually tackling some problems and making real tangible progress.
Below is a list of what I recommend in a therapist:
Although you don’t necessarily want to become friends with your therapist, there needs to be some sort of camaraderie when you’re with them. In other words, you should get the sense that they aren’t looking down on you for having a problem. Also you shouldn’t go with a therapist who is too professional and can’t act a little bit casual from time to time. If you are sharing intimate things with this individual, you don’t want them to spit out robotic responses – you want something that’s personalized and that makes sense.
The tough part about finding someone that you connect with is the fact that you typically need to give a therapist a few sessions before you really get a sense of what they are going to try and do. The first session they usually need you to fill out a bunch of paperwork and collect information about your past – so it may be fairly robotic. But after that’s done, you need someone that you have a little bit of camaraderie with in order to make the most progress.
Do you feel comfortable telling this person intimate things about your past? Usually the goal of therapy is to get out all the stress and emotional pain that is causing you problems. If you don’t feel comfortable with your therapist, you are likely going to keep many gritty details about your past locked inside. I know that my first few therapists I didn’t feel comfortable at all talking to because I was afraid that I would be judged and they wouldn’t know what to say.
Don’t expect comfort right from the start either, but after a few sessions you should start feeling a little more comfortable if the camaraderie is there and you guys get along.
Although credentials aren’t as important as making progress with someone that you have good camaraderie with, they are still important. The more degrees and licenses that an individual has, the more experienced they are going to be with a wide variety of therapies and ways to help. I have had some therapists that had a lot of credentials and were awful. One was regarded as the top in my particular state for an issue and he gave some of the worst advice I had ever heard basically involving pushing certain antipsychotics for anxiety disorder – major fail.
Don’t be mesmerized by credentials and think that because they have them that they are all knowing. You know your body and mind better than anyone. In general though, take a look at what they have degrees in and what they are licensed to treat. This will help you choose one that is most qualified to help you.
4. Open mindedness
Therapists should always be open minded in terms of trying new therapies if no progress is being made. Additionally they should be open minded to hearing what you have to say and any suggestions that you may have. Although it is important for you to listen to what they have to say as professionals and be open minded to their suggestions, they should reciprocate.
If you try a specific therapy for a fair period of time and it’s just not doing anything to improve your situation, it is up to the therapist to come up with something new. They cannot assume that just because a certain treatment worked for one client it will work for everyone else. People’s situations, life perspectives, and scenarios are all unique.
Although it’s nice to have established the camaraderie and find someone that will listen to you spill your guts about stressors and emotional pain, it’s good to have someone that will challenge you. My therapist challenged me by giving me homework to complete after each session and before the next. It usually was never anything too huge, but it helped me get some actual results.
If your therapist isn’t challenging you in any way, and you are just going in to talk, you aren’t going to achieve lasting change. The therapy is going to be helpful temporarily, but you will never last on your own without the therapist. The goal of the therapist should be to help you overcome whatever problem you have.
If your therapist isn’t giving you exercises to do away from therapy, then you likely will stay in the same situation. For example, in someone with severe anxiety disorder, homework may be something like deep breathing exercises for at least 15 minutes a day to help reduce overall arousal and increase relaxation. Over time, these exercises can yield significant change away from therapy.
You shouldn’t always feel like therapy is easy. If certain elements aren’t challenging, you will get no results. Think of it like going to a gym. If you find a personal trainer that you like, but makes everything easy – the way you like – you aren’t necessarily going to get real results. If you find a trainer that you like – but that really challenges you to your max – you’ll get better results even if it’s a little more painful.
Perhaps the best quality to have in a therapist is that of empathy. If someone is empathetic to your situation, it means they listen to what you have to say, and they actually understand the pain you are dealing with. The therapist should treat you with compassion, hear what you have to say, and do their best to help you come up with some ways to deal with your pain. People without empathy are unable to process the emotions of others and really don’t have a clue as to how to help people ease their emotional pain.
Your therapist should be in tune with your emotions and should be doing whatever they can to help get you on the right track.
If you’ve been going to therapy for a long time and haven’t progressed, the jig is up; time to find a new one. Sometimes it takes months for people to make progress, so don’t jump ship just because it’s been a little bit. I recommend only jumping ship if you feel like you aren’t on the right track and aren’t ever going to be headed towards making some sort of progress.
Don’t expect progress overnight, but after two or three good months with a therapist (depending on the frequency you go), you should see some progress towards improvements in mood or situation.
Some people go to therapy just for someone to talk to that will listen. Although it is always a 2 way street in terms of conversation, usually the person going in for therapy needs to do more talking than the therapist. This is typically because the person doing the talking has a lot on their mind and is stressed, depressed, or suicidal. If the therapist you go to doesn’t do a good job of listening to your problems, they aren’t going to formulate good advice to help you get back on the right track.
9. Therapeutic techniques
At the same time, if you are dealing with PTSD and choose a therapist who is highly qualified in treating PTSD with various therapies, you’re probably on the right track. Similarly if you have a history of drug abuse that you are dealing with and you choose a therapist qualified in substance abuse counseling, you’re probably on the right track; always look for a match. Many therapists are equipped with a wide variety of techniques depending on your exact case.
If you are dealing with a bad case of ADHD, choose a therapist that specializes in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Make sure you find a therapist that practices the techniques to match your personality as well as the condition you are trying to deal with.