It’s difficult enough deciding you’re going to embark on a therapy journey—beginning that process is a whole different ballgame. But it doesn’t have to be characterized by stress or intimidation or confusion or other negative feelings that often come with unchartered territory. You can actually kick things off with ease, you just need to put a plan in place. And I’m not even talking a super lengthy or detailed plan—rather a good, solid idea of what you’re doing and who you’re looking for. And you know what the best part is? We’re going to tell you exactly what you should be doing and who you should be looking for. All you have to do is keep reading. And then of course utilize all of the valuable information that we offer you.
The Holy Grail
I’ve talked to a whole lot of mental health professionals about “shopping” for a counselor or therapist. And every single one of them (we’re talking around 50 different people here) has said that the most important consideration is how well you jive. In other words: Do you mesh well? Do you get along? Is there a connection there? Will you work well together? These questions can sometimes be answered after the initial consultation, but other times, it takes a few sessions. Licensed Psychologist Vandita Dubey breaks down a case of the latter, delving into how one’s identity might come into play:
“If you are gay, transgender, an immigrant, or belong to a minority community, you may want to ask the therapist if they have worked with others who have a similar background as yours. Having said that, it is still possible that though the therapist doesn’t have the desired experience, they may possess enough sensitivity to be able to work with you effectively. But you may need to do a session or two with the therapist to find out if you feel comfortable working with them.”
In Terms of…
There are still other important considerations to make when looking to schedule your first counseling session, such as modality, convenience, any specific needs that might require a certain specialty, and theoretical approach. Dubey delves into each of these areas below:
Whether one should see the therapist individually, as a couple, or as a family, the therapist can help you make this decision. However, if it is clearly couple’s or family-related issues that you are facing, it is better to ask the therapist if they work with couples/and or families. Not all therapists are trained or comfortable working with couples, families, and kids.
Another aspect to consider is in-person therapy versus online/phone therapy. If you travel a lot, do not have many trained therapists in your area or find it difficult to commute, you could consider Skype/phone therapy. Before doing so, however, you will have to make sure that you are comfortable working over Skype and phone with someone.
Additionally, sometimes therapists specialize in working on specific issues, such as post-pregnancy depression, chronic illness, trauma, and so on. If a person is looking for help with a specific issue, they can ask the therapist if she/he has any expertise or experience in working on those issues.
In terms of theoretical orientations, CBT (cognitive behavior therapy) is catching on as insurance providers and hospitals often prefer this approach. Some therapists follow one specific approach while others may follow a combination of approaches. All approaches can be equally effective as long as the therapist and client are able to form the therapeutic bond, which is, a relationship of comfort and trust.
Feel free to ask the therapist as many questions as you need to about their training, experience, and anything else that may help you feel comfortable working with them. Psychotherapy is part art and part science and all therapists develop their own unique style.
That being said, it all circles back to whether or not you see yourself succeeding with this or that therapist. Listen to your gut! And remember that if it doesn’t work out down the road with your therapist, there are plenty more to choose from. (And they won’t take it personally! They’re professionals.)