What to consider when finding the right therapist for you

A man with dreadlocks receiving therapy on a couch in a living room.

Therapy provides a supportive and confidential space where you can openly discuss your thoughts, feelings, and experiences. It helps you gain insights into yourself, understand your emotions, and develop healthier coping mechanisms, and promotes overall mental and emotional well-being. The first session defines your entire journey with a therapist. Often clients use the first session as a trial where they may provide the therapist with subtle cues and observe how the therapist will respond to them. The success of therapy is determined by three main factors: The client’s investment and commitment to the process, the therapist’s knowledge and competency, and the relationship between the client and therapist. The relationship between a client and a therapist is a professional alliance based on trust, confidentiality, empathy, and mutual respect. This relationship forms the foundation of therapy and is essential for the therapeutic process to be effective.

Often finding a therapist is not a “one stop shop,” meaning most people will try multiple therapists before finding the one they feel most comfortable with. It is crucial that a client finds a therapist they can build a strong therapeutic relationship with because of the high impact this has on their overall experience in therapy.

What’s Involved In Therapy

The therapeutic relationship influences the following areas of therapy for the client:

  1. Trust and Confidentiality: Establishing trust is crucial in therapy. Clients must feel safe and comfortable sharing their thoughts, feelings, and experiences with the therapist. Confidentiality is a fundamental aspect of therapy, as it ensures that personal information shared in sessions remains private, creating a secure space for clients to open up.
  2. Emotional Support: The therapist-client relationship provides a supportive and non-judgmental environment where clients can explore their emotions and challenges. A therapist’s empathy and understanding can help clients feel validated and heard, fostering a sense of emotional well-being.
  3. Collaboration and Goal Setting: A strong therapeutic relationship facilitates collaboration between the client and therapist. Together, they identify goals and develop a treatment plan tailored to the client’s needs. The therapist’s expertise, guidance, and feedback play a crucial role in helping clients navigate their therapeutic journey.
  4. Insight and Self-Reflection: The therapeutic relationship serves as a mirror for clients, offering insights into their thoughts, behaviors, and patterns. Through the therapist’s observations and reflections, clients gain a deeper understanding of themselves, their motivations, and their relationship dynamics, leading to personal growth and self-awareness.
  5. Empowerment and Empathy: Therapists provide empathy, understanding, and support, empowering clients to explore their challenges, make decisions, and take responsibility for their own growth. This relationship helps clients develop a sense of agency and self-efficacy, enabling them to make positive changes in their lives.
  6. Healing and Transformation: The therapeutic relationship can foster healing and transformation. Clients often experience relief and emotional catharsis through the supportive presence of a therapist. The relationship provides a safe space to process past traumas, develop coping mechanisms, and cultivate healthier ways of thinking and relating to others.

Before booking the first session with a therapist, clients are encouraged to research their potential therapist to assess for a good fit prior to meeting. There are different factors that the client should consider; these include: 

  1. Educational Background. Educational qualification is essential to identify whether the person you seek therapy from qualifies as a therapist. The minimum requirement is a master’s, although it is preferred to have a doctorate. In the USA, the different psychological education accreditations include: a psychology doctorate (PsyD), a Master of Social Work (MSW), Master of Marriage and Family Therapy (MMFT), Master of Arts (MA), or Master of Science (MS) in Clinical Psychology, Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Science (MS) in Counseling Psychology, Master of Arts or MS in Counseling or Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Master of Education (Med) in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. (Selva, 2017)
  2. Licensing. Therapy licensing is an essential document the government agency provides to prove whether the person meets the essential criteria to be a therapist of that locality and whether the therapist is competent and ethical in their practice. After completing the educational requirement, a person may apply for provisional or associate licensing, and only after completing the required work hours, they get the license. A few differences in masters level licensing to keep in mind are LPC/LCPC and LMHC specialize in individual and couples therapy, and LMFT licenses specialize in providing relationship, couples, marriage, and family counseling. Lastly, LCSW licenses specialize in understanding the social factors that affect mental health, including government laws and policies. (Hairstone,2021)
  3. Specialization in Therapeutic Methods. Different therapists follow different perspectives and may have received training in different therapeutic styles such as: Cognitive therapies including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), rational emotive therapy (REBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), and lastly, acceptance therapy. Each varies with duration and specific focus areas, but the main focus is on altering negative thought processes that may hinder day-to-day activities, behavior, and emotions. Secondly, psychoanalysis and psychodynamic therapies identify the connection between current problems and experiences and help overcome inner conflict, repressed desires, and unconscious memories. Another prevalent therapeutic style is eye movement desensitization reprocessing (EMDR), which is specifically used for patients with trauma. Behavioral therapies are also beneficial, especially for children. They teach adaptive behavior to replace maladaptive behavior and may even teach step-by-step self-help skills through chaining or shaping techniques. Aversion therapy, exposure-response, and selective desensitization or flooding may also be used for patients with substance abuse and phobias. (Raypole, 2019)
  4. Cultural Diversity and Religious Tolerance. Therapists should either be from a similar culture as the client or be trained in providing culturally attuned and racially conscious therapy services. This is because the client’s early socialization, including generational trauma, is often times defined by family values and cultural norms and without this knowledge or awareness the therapist would not be able to provide effective and attuned services to the client. Additionally, the client’s risk factors and protective factors are influenced by culture and religion.
  5. Social Justice and Inclusivity. If a client identifies as part of the BIPOC or LGBTQ+ community, it is essential that a therapist is trained in attuning to the communities needs and experiences and is an ally in advocating for the rights and mental health care for the community that the client identifies with. This is crucial for establishing trust and safety between the therapist and client.

One you have found a therapist you would like to schedule a session with, there are many questions you can ask them to confirm whether you would like to work with them. Below are a few of the questions you can ask a therapist in the first session, keeping in mind a client has the full right to ask any question related to the therapists profession and their therapeutic style.

  1. How long have you been working here?
  2. What type of clients do you work best with?
  3. Have you worked with clients suffering from the same struggle I am?
  4. What type of approach do you follow?
  5. What is the basic structure that you follow for therapy?
  6. What is the fee structure and what insurance provider do you accept?
  7. How do you maintain the confidentiality of your clients?
  8. How do you identify whether the therapy is progressing and working?
  9. Which psychological theory do you align with?
  10. How often will the sessions take place? Will they be in person, virtual, or hybrid?
  11. How long will the therapy sessions last?
  12. How many sessions will it take before I see a difference?
  13. What should I expect from therapy?
  14. What do you expect of me as a client?

Questions that you should ask yourself to evaluate if you would like to continue working with the therapist: 

  1. Is the therapist providing me with full or divided attention?
  2. Do they feel defensive, triggered, or confused when I ask something?
  3. Do their responses make me feel judged, exposed, or ashamed?
  4. How is their body language towards me?
  5. Does the therapist remember what I have told them or do they keep asking me the same questions?
  6. Do they overshare about themselves or their previous clients?
  7. Can I easily open to them?
  8. Are they considering my point of view?
  9. Do I feel like they are aware of and attuned to my full identity (gender, race, faith, culture, ability status, national origin)

Overall, the therapist-client relationship is important because it creates a conducive environment for personal growth, self-exploration, and emotional healing. It allows clients to work through their challenges, gain insights, and develop the skills necessary to lead more fulfilling lives. It takes a lot of courage and willpower to go to therapy and not having an idea about how therapy works can feel overwhelming. You can explore the idea of therapy and gai familairity by listening to podcasts of therapists and psychologists to understand what to expect during the therapy sessions. You may listen to ‘‘Where Should We Begin? by Esther Perel’‘ and ‘‘Your first session: Counselors Can Help by Merrill Fink.” 

If you are considering therapy and would like to explore either individual or couples therapy, we can help you at Serengeti Wellness. Feel free to visit our website and either book a free consultation or schedule your first session – www.serengetiwellness.co We look forward to working with you!

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