So far in our series on “Demystifying Therapy” I’ve covered why therapy can be helpful during a breakup and how to start your therapist search. Now, let's cover my top three tips for finding the right fit once you have a few therapists you’re considering.
Interview People Who Might Seem Like A Good Fit
Once you’ve narrowed down your list of potentials, give them a call. Get a feel for what they are like on the phone. Do you feel comfortable talking with them? Do they seem interested and empathetic? One of the things people often say to me is “I feel like you really get it.” This may be a lot to ask for in a 20 minute phone call but you should at least feel heard and not judged. In addition, I would suggest asking the following questions:
What is your style like? This is important. Even if someone is a very skilled therapist, his or her style may not jive with yours. Try to get a feel for what it would be like to be in the room with the person. For example, as a therapist I am very active and engaged with my clients. It is much more of a two way conversation — a game of verbal Ping-Pong. While I don’t explicitly give advice, I offer feedback and suggestions. Some therapists have a style that is more focused on holding back, listening, and reflecting. One is not better or worse, you just need to know what feels good for you.
Do you have experience working with breakups? If we were working together on this issue what can I expect? You want to make sure that the therapist has familiarity and is comfortable working with the issue that brought you to therapy. Additionally, you want to get a sense of how the therapist might approach working with that concern. Here you might learn more about the therapist’s theoretic orientation (there are many – see some styles listed in parentheses below). Will they be using primarily talk therapy, free association, and dreams to look at the unconscious roots of your current and past symptoms (psychodynamic)? Will they be helping you to identify and challenge problematic thoughts that are preventing you from moving on or that contributed to problems in the relationship (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy)? Will they help you focus on creating acceptance around the breakup so you can dedicate your energy towards living a life more aligned with your values (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy)? There are many different ways to approach healing from a breakup, and while you may have no idea specifically what style you want, make sure that what the therapist is proposing something that feels aligned to your needs.
Are you licensed? You want to make sure that you are working with a licensed professional. Some people who claim to do therapeutic work do not actually have degrees or valid licenses to practice such work. There is a big difference in training and education between a licensed therapist and a life coach or other kind of healer. All of them have valuable tools to offer, but if it’s therapy you seek, then make sure to find a real therapist. Some unlicensed therapists see clients in private practice as a part of their training in preparation for licensure, and if you choose this option, make sure you ask questions about who is supervising their work. Some professional designations you might see after a licensed therapist’s name are LCSW, MFT, LPCC, PhD, PsyD, and MD. (I would encourage you to seek out a licensed therapist who has been practicing for at least 7-10 years. From personal experience I can attest that the longer you practice the more you grow and the more tools you have to offer your clients.)
The Relationship Is More Important Than the Resume
Don’t be overly focused on finding someone with long list of accomplishments. Just because a therapist may have written several books on breakups, be a featured relationship blogger for The New York Times, or have a busy public speaking schedule, it doesn’t mean that they are the right fit for you. The number one determinant of the success of therapy is the client’s motivation to change, and the second is the relationship with the therapist. It is essential that you have a safe and strong connection to your therapist. So ignore the resume and focus more on what really matters here: how you feel in the room with the person.
A First Appointment Is Not a Commitment to Ongoing Treatment
Think of the first session as a trial run. See how you feel interacting with the therapist. If you don’t have a positive experience or feel safe with the person, then you should start the search over. It might feel a little uncomfortable or awkward to disclose intimate details to a stranger at first, but you should get the sense that you would eventually feel at ease with this person. You should feel that they are easy to talk to, understanding, and non-judgmental. It’s okay to set up several first appointments with different people who you connected with on the phone. Think about which experience you felt you got the most out of and make a decision from there.
If you’ve missed previous articles in this Demystifying Therapy series, be sure to get caught up below.
Part 1: How It Can Help
Part 2: Beginning Your Therapist Search