What to Look for When Choosing a Therapist

Whether a friend has recommended a mental health professional or you have found ones near you with Google, counsellors are not a one-size-fits-all package. There are so many professionals to choose from, each with their own perspectives and personalities that knowing who to choose can feel overwhelming. Here are some things to look for and ask to find the right professional for you.

Education and Continuing Education.

You’re looking for someone with a Masters or PhD, preferably in Counselling Psychology or variant thereof. There are many degree programs out there under various names and letters. This is your base level requirements for a therapist – they have the appropriate degree at a Masters level or above.

But don’t stop there! Continuing Education is where a psychotherapist or counsellor really gets their teeth into their specialty. Look for post graduate training in the areas that fit what you’re looking to address.

Practice Philosophy/Therapeutic Approach

Most therapists talk about their approach to counselling on their websites or brochures and it’s important not to skim past this. This description can tell you a lot about who they are as both a professional and a person. Is it written in a way that gives you a glimpse of who they are and their personality? Does it tell you about their practice in a way that makes you feel comfortable or aligns with your own views? There should be that moment in your mind as you read their philosophy that says “yes!”.

For my practice this part is really important. I practice a modality that is based in solid neuroscience research but swims upstream from current popular approaches in that it is non overwhelming, non flooding, and non dissociative. It works to heal trauma without re-enacting or re-traumatizing. My practice philosophy shows my passion for this type of work. People looking for other types of trauma specific therapy, for example, will know right away that I’m not the right fit for them.

Personality

This is where your first couple of sessions inform you. Not every therapist, no matter how qualified or experienced is going to be the right fit for every client. You get to meet the therapist and get a feel for them. Does it feel awkward, do you get a sense that you like them, are they too loud, too quiet, what do your instincts say? One of my professors used to say to the class “don’t be creepy! clients don’t like that”. It’s true – you can’t be creepy in this profession! Our job is to make you feel as comfortable as possible given the normal awkwardness of a first encounter with a stranger in this context.

You really do want to find a personality that you enjoy working with. You are paying for this time to do work on yourself and there is someone out there that you will like, feel comfortable with and whose personality lends to an approach that you respect, respond to, and enjoy! The most important determinant of success in counselling regardless of how many tools that therapist has in their belt is the therapeutic relationship. This has to be a fit for you and if it’s not, keep looking, because there will be!

Attunement

This is something that doesn’t always get as much airtime as education, experience, and treatment modality. While we might get hung up on those, with without personality fit and attunement, the relationship isn’t as successful. Attunement happens between mothers and their babies – that knowing and responsiveness and presence. This also happens from one individual to another – particularly when we are sitting across from each other in a counselling session.

Attunement in therapy is that sense that your therapist is present and responsive. It is the sense that there is a knowingness they have about you that makes you feel seen, heard, understood, and known accurately. It’s almost like an energetic dance when this happens in session. There is a back and forth that happens that is attentive and genuine and clients often report noticing that connection. These are the moments when my clients will say “how did you get into my brain? because they feel an appropriate responsiveness and sense of being understood.

These are your 4 basics. Use these are a place to start. Use your own intuition for what feels like the right fit. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or look for others that might fit better. You get to choose. The right fit will be a good experience that helps you reach your goals, where you start to feel better and see change in yourself and even find your appointments enjoyable!

 

1 Comment
  1. I really love this post. Thanks for your sharing. Hope that I could read more and more useful article like this. Keeping moving forward

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