By: Mounia Sami, M.A.
Did you know that a therapist is not a person who gives you advice on how to solve your problems? This is a misconception about what therapy can offer. Many people hesitate to go into therapy because they believe there is nothing a therapist could tell them that they haven’t tried or considered. Instead of giving you advice, your therapist is someone who helps you recognize and change unhelpful thoughts and behaviors that may create or worsen your problems. Your therapist actively listens so that they can help you improve without ever judging you.
So how do you go about choosing a therapist?
There are many factors to consider when choosing a therapist. However, studies proved over and over that the most crucial aspect of therapy is your relationship with your therapist. In other words, you and your therapist need to click! A positive and supportive relationship fosters success in therapy and is based on:
- Personality: A positive connection with your therapist means that you feel comfortable enough to be open and share your thoughts with them without the fear that they may judge you.
- Trust: in therapy, you may talk about certain topics that are sensitive. Your therapist is here to show you that a healthy relationship is one where you feel comfortable with being vulnerable.
- Authenticity: Your therapist should also be genuine and honest rather than deceiving or manipulative. Studies have also shown that therapists who have been or are engaging in their own therapy show more self-awareness and objectivity in the therapeutic process. This means that these therapists are less likely to let their internal experiences negatively interfere with therapy.
- Unconditional positive regard: your therapist should show respect and acceptance of your values and believes. They value you as a complete human being with all your qualities without ever judging you or putting you down for your choices, actions, or thoughts. Unconditional positive regard should make you feel, as the client, like no matter what you share with your therapist, they will not judge you, leave you, or look at you differently. It would make you feel accepted just the way you are.
- Positive communication: your therapist is an expert in mental health while you are an expert on yourself. This means that it is their duty to openly communicate your areas of growth in a way that is supportive and knowledgeable, while considering what makes you unique.
- Cultural competence: a culturally competent therapist is one that actively strives to understand how your cultural factors impact your experience. Your therapist may consider elements like age, disability, relationship status, race, ethnicity, education level, socioeconomic status, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, indigenous heritage, national origins, gender, sex, and size.
Another factor to consider when looking for a therapist is their specialty. You want to look for a therapist that has experience with the type of issues you may bring up like depression, anxiety, or specific trauma. Therapist may use a variety of techniques or interventions in therapy. Common types of therapy include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT); Acceptance and Commitment therapy (ACT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), exposure therapy, and person-centered therapy. Each of these approaches are beneficial in their own way and can be used simultaneously in some cases.
Now that you know what to look for when searching for a therapist, here are certain questions that you may want to ask when you first meet with them:
- What are your fees and are you in my insurance network?
- What are your credentials and how do they apply to me?
- Do you have experience working with people who have similar concerns as mine?
- How might therapy look like with you? How long would each session be?
- Based on what I have shared with you, what’s an initial treatment plan you have in mind for me?
- How long might I be in therapy based on what I shared with you?
- Are we going to meet in person or virtually?
When asking these questions, it is important that you feel your therapist is easy to talk to, values your questions, and takes the times to answer them fully.