I sat in my first therapy session when I first started graduate school.
I was looking for some support in healing from a tough break up and ideas to help manage my growing anxiety of being a graduate student. I was having trouble sleeping and my patience was becoming shorter and shorter.
The therapist I found was within walking distance of my place, was a licensed clinical social worker and took my health insurance. At the time, that was all the criteria I thought was needed to choose a therapist. I thought all social workers had similar values and therapeutic perspectives that could be helpful to me. Unfortunately, I was pretty wrong about this.
40 minutes into the session, the therapist put down her clipboard, took off her glasses and straightened in her seat. “Michelle, I really don’t see anything wrong with you! You don’t need to be here!” she laughed.
I certainly did feel like something was wrong with me. And I needed help. Being told that “nothing was wrong” made me feel kind of crazy, like I wasn’t in fact experiencing anxiety. And I felt like my concerns were comical and minimized. This is not, I repeat, not how you should feel in the presence of a helping professional.
Choosing to start or return to therapy can be a daunting process. Typically when we are ready for therapy, we are in a vulnerable place in our mental health.
When looking for a therapist, we are typically are looking for someone to be professional, compassionate and knowledgeable on what could help us feel better.
To help you in your search, here are 4 tips to find the therapist who is right for you.
Do some research.
There’s a good chance that if you’re in this stage of your healing journey, you know what you need help with and are ready to find said help. Check out websites like Psychology Today or The Therapy for Black Girls Therapist Directory to explore things like:
- Type of therapeutic model(s) the therapist uses for treatment
- What specialties the therapist has
- How the therapist helps clients
Note if the therapist has experience or an understanding of other important parts of you, like your culture, religion/spiritual practices, sexual orientation and/or gender identity. It can also be helpful to read articles written by therapists to learn more about their knowledge-base or their specialty.
Ask for a phone consultation.
When you have found a couple of therapists that seem to meet your needs, set aside some time to talk to them over the phone. Many therapists offer a free phone consultation to discuss your needs, if/how they can help you and will ask to schedule the first appointment with you.
Take this time to ask questions. If you have fears or are hesitant to begin therapy, know that you can share that. If you had a negative experience with a former therapist or professional helper, discuss why that experience was not helpful. Its important for the therapist you choose to know what you are looking for and if they are a good fit for you.
It’s okay to feel nervous. Scared. Anxious. Or even regretful.
Even after you’ve done your research, had your phone consultation and have arrived for the first session, you may feel nervous, uneasy or regret even being in the waiting room. It is perfectly normal to feel a lot of feelings during your first session. You are taking an unfamiliar step on your path to healing. This is a new experience.
What helps is remembering your courage as you are taking this next step in caring for yourself. Listen, you are embracing your positive self-worth by choosing to seek some extra support for what you are experiencing! Yes!
Notice if you are able to trust and feel supported.
During the first couple of sessions, you and the therapist are both assessing if you are a good fit for each other. You two are potentially building a therapeutic relationship and relationships require trust, honesty and support.
As you are sharing in the session, notice how you’re feeling with this person. Are you beginning to feeling supported? How do you know you are being supported?
It may take more than one try.
It’s possible that you and/or the therapist find that you are not a good fit for one another. Whether it be that the therapist is not the best resource for helping you with your needs or there is not a connection there, you may have to go back to the drawing board to find the therapist that is right for you.
It could be helpful to journal or take notes of what was working and what was not working in trying to build a relationship with this therapist, so you have those ideas for next time.
What tips do you have for finding a therapist?