With the new year many of us turn to personal growth to improve our lives and relationships. Here are some thoughts from Esther Perel:
“People ask me daily: how do I find the right therapist?
Whether it’s individual, couples, or family therapy, the kind of therapist I always recommend is one who is challenging and direct but not judgmental; is open-minded and willing to let people explore options in life that are very different from their own. Someone who doesn’t rush to diagnose and pathologize, and who has a keen understanding of the intricacies of intimacy and sexuality.
At the heart of therapy lies the relationship between the patient and the therapist, hence finding the right fit is key. There are innumerable modalities of therapy so, landing in a good place with a suitable approach is a process, but you must understand what it is you’re looking for before you start.
I was at university when I had my first appointment. The therapist sat quietly, waiting for me to talk. The more he waited, the less possible it felt to speak. Time dragged on, painful silence filling up the entire session. It was a terrible standoff during which I could only think, what is wrong with me? The only thing that was “wrong” was that I didn’t know what to expect. I had only dimly asked myself what I was looking for and I had no idea what to ask the person across from me. All I knew was that I felt bad. It’s easy to blame the therapist and say that he did nothing, but it’s also important to acknowledge that I did nothing. Eventually, I left thinking that I wasn’t good at this. Today, I think otherwise. A roadmap, such as the one that follows, can make all the difference.
Answer these questions for yourself first.
- Why therapy and why now?
- What would you like to work on?
- What is your desired outcome?
- What are you prepared to do to achieve this goal?
- What do you expect from your therapist?
- What have been your experiences in therapy so far, and what was useful? What was not? What are the lessons you have gleaned?Most therapists today have websites, blogs, and newsletters. Take a look. You can learn a lot about the practitioner from how they present their work, and how they talk about certain topics. When you look at their website, you can see how long they’ve been in practice and if they’re licensed.
Go for the most experienced person you can afford. And know that expertise with your particular issues is more important than the letters after the name.
In your first session, you want to experience comfort. You want to feel the therapist has empathy, understanding, and the ability to see ahead of you. They should challenge you to open your vista. A good first session should offer a glimpse of how things can be different from how they have been.
Consider whether your therapist was active or passive, and determine which you prefer. Some therapists will inquire about your history and will guide the conversation, others will let you drive it. A good therapist should also stop you from drifting and rambling.
Your therapist should assure you in the first session that this is a confidential process and that they will protect you and your boundaries. You need to be able to speak the truth or else the process will be compromised. But know that therapists are required to report it if there is risk of violence or suicide.
Ultimately it takes time to evaluate if a specific therapist is right for you, but at some point, you want to feel that you are being helped, that you are experiencing relief or change.
After a few sessions, check in with yourself.
Therapy is a combination of empathy and challenge, of kick and stroke. If you have a therapist who is constantly validating what you feel and doesn’t challenge you, it’s all stroke and no kick. And if you have a therapist who is only challenging you—or if you feel like they’re not rooting for you—that’s problematic. This is even more important if you are a person who isn’t used to feeling supported. You need the kick and the stroke.
It may not be a good fit if:
- you’re coasting and sessions function just as a check-in.
- your therapist seems threatened by your desire to look into other means of self-care.
- your therapist and your partner often gang up on you.
- your therapist and you often gang up on your partner.
- your therapist is not in tune with you.
Therapy is a conversation and a collaboration and a therapist is not an all-knowing person that has the truth about you and your life. It is healthy to evaluate your therapeutic relationship, and a good therapist will welcome a conversation about any concerns. It may take a few attempts to find the right therapist, but doing so will change your life.
How do I know which type of therapy I should do? Research different modalities, but consider this: if you’re a person that needs to learn to sit with their feelings because you’re always driven to action, you will need a therapist that can help you anchor into your thoughts and feelings. If you’re a person who is more inclined to ruminate and obsess and overthink, you may need someone who helps you to get in touch with your feelings and action. Ironically, we often are inclined to seek the form of therapy that matches our defenses rather than help us change it. It’s important to find the balance.
Is there a therapist I can see online? Yes, many therapists offer Skype or Zoom sessions.
Can a therapist prescribe me medications? If medication is called for, I highly recommend it be prescribed by a psychiatrist rather than a GP for the same reason I don’t buy bread at a butcher. A good therapist can discuss medication with you and recommend a psychiatric consultation, but psychiatrists are the only ones in the mental health field who can prescribe psychotropic medications. That said, the professionals who care for you need to be in conversation every once in awhile to coordinate treatment.
If I see my therapist outside the office, what should I do? I usually take my cue from the patient. If they say hello, I say hello. Maybe I smile and say that we will have lots to talk about. Some people will be offended if they are approached; others will be offended if they are ignored. We must be flexible and use sensitivity. For me, these are situations that will be fodder for deepening the therapy and the relationship.”
If this is a time that has you reflecting and wanting to explore your relationship or sexuality, please avail yourself of a free consultation with me: https://drclaudiasix1.wpengine.com/services/coaching-or-counseling-sessions/
Wishing you a growth-full New Year.