By Liz Wallenstein, LMHC
If you’ve read the special report on my website, How Therapy Can Change YOUR Life for the Better, you have a greater understanding of how therapy works and the ways it can benefit you. However the quality of your therapy experience depends on finding the therapist that’s the right fit for who you are and your needs. Here are some of my insider tips on how to choose the therapist that’s right for you:
DO be selective. Studies show the number one factor for effective therapy is relationship between therapist and client. You want a general sense of liking your therapist and feeling comfortable to be yourself with them. Ask a therapist of interest for a consultation session to get a sense of what it would be like to work with them. Some things to look for are: you feel understood by them, you feel you’ll be able to open up and speak freely with them, and you feel a sense of confidence that they can help you. If after one or two sessions you don’t feel confident in your choice of therapist, try a consultation session with another, until you have a therapist you feel confident in.
DON’T choose by address. Not all therapists do the same thing; your experience with one can be very different from your experience with another. So don’t choose by who is closest to you, you want to look for someone who will be the best match for you. But…
DO choose a therapist that’s not hard for you to get to. Quality therapy requires at least once a week in-person sessions. If you have a complicated commute for therapy every week, it can make going to therapy stressful – when it’s supposed to be just the opposite.
DON’T choose a therapist based on lowest price. Therapy is an investment. It costs, but the results can be well worth it. It’s a mistake to think of it as just paying to talk to someone. You’re paying for the opportunity to create lasting change in your life, feel better, and face life with more optimism – if it’s with the right person. Invest wisely.
DO go by what appeals to you in your search. If a therapist’s choice of specialties, or how they describe themselves or their approach, or what they write really speaks to you, it’s a good indication of a possible ‘click’ between you and them. Investigate further in a consultation session.
DON’T only go by reputation. Don’t assume a therapist is good just because they get a lot of media attention or have a successful book. Publicity isn’t always an indication of what a therapist is like in one-on-one counseling. Investigate further through a consultation session to see what counseling with them would be like.
DO take recommendations. If you know someone that had a positive experience with therapy, ask them for a recommendation of therapist. Also, if you call a therapist and they say they don’t have any openings, ask THEM if there is someone else they would recommend. But be sure to come to your own decision after meeting with a therapist if they are the right fit for you.
DON’T over-estimate the value of a therapist’s title. A therapist’s credentials (PhD, LCSW, LMHC, etc.) indicates the kind of schooling they had to get their degree, and only therapists with five or more years of formal education become “Dr.”. Education is very valuable but only one of several factors that contribute to a therapist’s success. A therapist’s innate nature, knack for the craft, and what they did after receiving their degree (post-graduate trainings and quality of supervised clinical experience) are usually most significant to their success as a counselor.
DO be mindful of specialties. Most therapists are experienced working with common life issues such as worry, sadness and relationship problems. However problems with behavioral and compulsive components like eating disorders, addictions, OCD, ADHD and phobias, should only be seen by therapists with a specialty in that area – meaning trained specifically to treat it and more than half of their clients are seeing them for that problem. Other specialties to be mindful of are therapists that primarily treat couples and families vs. therapists that primarily treat individuals, and therapists that primarily treat children vs. adults.
DON’T take the gender, religion, culture, age, and family status of your therapist TOO seriously. Some people prefer therapists that are more knowledgeable of their background because they feel more comfortable opening up to them or because they don’t want to have to explain their lifestyle. This is a legitimate desire. However it’s not necessary for a therapist to be like you in order to help you. A therapist’s job is to get to know you and help you from your own values and beliefs. It would be detrimental to the therapy for them to counsel from their own life experience. Also, it’s against therapy ethics for a therapist to judge client’s cultural values or try to convince them to do something different.
DON’T choose based on ideal time availability, like nights and weekends, unless it’s absolutely necessary. Try to be creative with your schedule if it means working with the right therapist. This could mean speaking to your boss about working an hour later so you can come in an hour later (to see your therapist), going to your therapist on your lunch hour or taking that lunch hour at an earlier or later time of the day, or arranging for someone else to pick up your kids once a week.
DO be open about what kind of therapy your therapist practices. Even two therapists who claim to follow the same school of thought, can work very differently. It’s more important to choose someone you feel you can trust to help you (however they do it) rather than insist on the superiority of one method over another. After experiencing your therapist’s style you will get an idea if it works for you or if you’d prefer something different.
DON’T do Skype, phone, or online therapy, in most cases. They can be helpful for psychological education like learning stress management techniques, but for insight-oriented therapy, being in-person for at least the majority of sessions is important. The relationship and non-verbal communication are crucial to the success of therapy, and they are sacrificed when done through a technological medium.
To learn more about my approach to therapy, visit the Meet Liz Wallenstein page of my website. To schedule a consultation session to see if therapy with me could be helpful to you, please visit the Contact page of my website or call me at 917-727-3549.
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Liz Wallenstein, LMHC, is in private practice in Brooklyn and Manhattan, NY.