The Task of Finding a Therapist…
I often cringe when I hear: “finding a therapist is a lot like dating…” While it’s a unique relationship and does involve a level of fit, it is not like dating, and here’s why…
First, I’ll preface this post with the acknowledgment that yes, finding a therapist is a task and involves a process. And yes, it involves finding a “right fit,” but it’s not like finding a date or a partner. You’re not swiping left or right or trying to impress your potential therapist.
If you are seeking therapy, there is an important reason. Most likely, you are hurting or deeply dissatisfied in some critical way and you are seeking help to address these very important areas of concern.
With so many “helping/ healing practitioners” out there, you need to do your research on their educational and training background so you can be well-informed on what you can expect from the service and how it is designed to help you improve or move forward. Nowadays in the age of “influencers” and very costly social media ads, this is more important than ever. Do your research and take the time to become informed.
An important investment
You are not dating your therapist. You are paying your therapist for a highly specialized professional service that has legal and ethical standards in place. Your therapist possesses a license, advanced clinical skills/ knowledge, and several years of graduate and postgraduate training that allows them to deliver effective care to you.
They are trained to help you to make forward movement in your life toward a meaningful outcome. The therapeutic relationship is not a friendship nor should it ever feel like one. It is not a reciprocal relationship. While it can be a warm relationship and you will feel cared for, it is NEVER sexual! This is highly unethical due the nature of the therapeutic relationship.
What does “right fit” mean?
There’s a lot of nuance to ‘fit’ in my experience. Here are my thoughts based on my work as a practicing therapist in NYC:
This is an important area, especially if you are getting ready to invest in high quality treatment. You do not want to waste your time or money. An experienced therapist will have likely worked in several settings over the years. They will have been exposed to many other medical and mental health professionals and will be able to offer you the benefit of their experience. In addition, an experienced therapist is often trained in different modalities and interventions so they will be able to integrate all that they know in helping you through the issues you are struggling with. This is crucial because providing effective therapy is both an art and a skill. If you are specifically interested in a private practice setting, be sure to read the bios carefully, as many practice owners employ less experienced therapists to work for them.
Training and skills
To become a therapist requires A LOT of training. An experienced therapist has spent many years training and developing their competence as an effective clinician. It is an intensive endeavor that requires a huge investment of time, money, effort, and energy in order to become a licensed and well-versed therapist.
A therapist has undergone rigorous and specialized training to be able to become licensed. For example, I myself completed my Master’s program at Syracuse University in 2011 (which included three clinical internship placements). After graduating, I worked for several years as an clinician in hospital and outpatient settings throughout CT. This allowed me to obtain the required clinical hours and supervision hours necessary to sit for the national exam in my field (marriage and family therapy).
From there, I worked at Columbia University Medical Center prior to opening my own practice in 2014. I have been operating a full-time private practice in New York City since then. Throughout this time, I continued to train. I have completed certificate programs at the Ackerman Institute for Family Therapy, the Gottman Institute, the New York Center for Emotionally Focused Therapy, and the Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy.
My participation in several long-standing supervision groups here in NYC has been invaluable to my professional development. These advanced level training groups with highly experienced clinicians and renowned trainers have enabled me to offer the highest quality care to my clients.
When you pay for an experienced clinician, you are paying for their wealth of experience and their unique clinical knowledge. It goes way beyond simply “liking” your therapist.
You feel comfortable sharing things honestly with them
Again, you are not going to be friends, although you may feel a lot of warmth toward your therapist. And while they may experience warmth toward you too, it is not a reciprocal relationship. You don’t have to look the same or be into the same things in order for the therapeutic relationship to be effective. The therapeutic relationship is a one-sided, professional relationship. As a result, you don’t need to mesh with your therapist as if you are planning to date them. You just need to feel like they are competent to treat you in order to do your important work. This is critical to keep in mind as you sort through profiles that “catch your eye.” Since you are there for important reasons, make sure you are paying attention to the aspects of the therapist that really matter.
A well-trained therapist is skilled in working across differences and is experienced in helping individuals and couples of varying backgrounds. An advanced-level therapist of this sort has spent a significant amount of time in diverse professional circles over many years, so they will be able to navigate important conversations having to do with your experiences in a sensitive and well-informed way.
Scheduling a first session to get a feel…
The best way to assess fit with a potential therapist is by scheduling a session with them. In COVID times, that means virtually. So often, folks might want to try and assess fit over the phone, however, this isn’t the best approach. While you get to hear their voice, the purpose of the initial call is really for you and the therapist to talk briefly to gain a better understanding of the reasons that are bringing you in. If it seems to make sense to work together (the therapist treats those issues), you will schedule a first session so you can get a sense of what work might feel like with this particular therapist. If you are the type of prospective client who enjoys learning as much as you can first, I recommend checking out their website where you can read up on their specialties, training, and approach.
You can see yourself developing trust
Trusting your therapist helps you to feel comfortable in the work. Feeling a sense of trust with your therapist will likely take some time to sense. How do you sense trust? You might feel trust when you perceive them to be a competent and boundaried clinician. Here are a few other things to notice about your therapist:
- returns your calls and emails in a timely manner
- helps you to receive your out of network reimbursement benefits
- takes the time and effort to collaborate with other providers who are also helping you
- follows up with you as necessary and is on time for your sessions each week
A good therapist will challenge you, and you’ll feel you are working toward important progress. If you are noticing these traits and interactions, that’s a very good sign.
I hope this post has been helpful as you begin to navigate your important journey. Therapy can be a life-changing experience with the right therapist so it’s important to invest in the right therapeutic relationship. In my practice, I offer both short-term therapy and more traditional weekly therapy services. I work with individuals and couples and I also facilitate groups.
Ready to get started on your unique healing journey? Let’s talk! 917. 708.7088.