As the cultural perception of mental health continues to broaden, stereotypes are challenged and negative perspectives shift, I feel it's only right to share some things to keep in mind when trying to identify the right therapist.
For those of us who reserve negative opinions of therapy, let me first share that seeking psychotherapy does not mean you are crazy. What it does mean is that you have identified deficits in your ability to rationalize your or others' behavior, process childhood or present trauma, establish and maintain a positive self-image, and/or manage anxiety, depression, and/or any other formally diagnosed mental health disorder. The fact that you've identified your deficits and are willing to tackle them deems you a ROCKSTAR in my eyes. You take pride in being your best self and are willing to do whatever is necessary to achieve it.
KUDOS for taking an active role in your development, establishing, and or maintaining your mental health!
So, as we've identified the significance of therapy, let's review 4 things I deem significant to consider when choosing the right therapist!
I. Service Specialty
The first and most important thing to remember is that just like going to stores for specific brands and or types of clothing (e.g. sportswear, lingerie, etc.), therapists typically focus their services in specialty areas, thus, it's very important to know what your needs are, and to find a therapist that services as a specialty your diagnosis or need.
To make that easier to digest, therapists essentially categorize themselves in two general ways; first, by identifying the population they serve, for example, some therapists only provide services specifically to children, adolescents, adults, couples, and or families, you'd need to know this prior to selecting a therapist. Second, therapists highlight or display on their profile their focus. Common focus areas are trauma, depression, anxiety, childhood development, grief management, and or cognitive or behavioral deficits. Therefore, it's best to know what you need from your therapist before searching, so that you can locate the individual that meets your needs. And if you don't see this on their online profile don't fret, the answer is a call away. Just reach out and ask what their specialty is.
Additionally, it's important to know that there are also many therapists who focus on clinical, psychosocial or psychological assessments, therefore, if you have no idea what your challenges or issues are, identifying a therapist (or psychologist) that focuses on therapeutic (or clinical) assessment is a great place to start. This way you can first be assessed and be provided therapeutic recommendations to follow.
Remember: You wouldn't go to Nike for Groceries, so why go to a therapist who doesn't specialize in the service that you need?
II. Pay attention to how you feel!
After locating the right therapist, as you are engaging in therapy it is important to make sure to consider how you feel while in the office and in the therapist's presence. Essentially a therapeutic setting should be designed to make you feel comfortable to be open and vulnerable enough to tackle the issues, but if you can not be open with your therapist, or if you are not comfortable in the setting, then that may not be the right therapist or setting for you.
III. Ask Questions!
As you are engaging in therapy, while we understand that therapists are to assess and provide us with recommendations for treatment, you as the client, also have a right to ask them questions. Ask for an update on your progress. Be curious about your therapist's success rates or patient outcomes. Inquire about your therapeutic goals (if not shared). Remember the timelines set, and question why, when, and if timeframes are exceeded. In other words, question why therapy services may go longer or shorter than you anticipate.
As you are asking questions and receiving responses, remember to assess your therapist to see if their dedication, interest in supporting you, and commitment to your success are genuine. You'd be surprised. It's better to pay attention and recognize therapists who feel they can't help you before that inability harms you.
IV. Don't get stuck on what you have in common with your therapist.
Many of those new to therapy assume that the more they have in common with their therapist the more effective they may be. However, that is not always the case, because while it is true that some fundamental commonalities can support greater success in therapy, depending on the need, they can also hinder growth.
Fundamental commonalities in ethnicity, culture, sexual orientation, etc. can benefit a therapeutic setting, but they can also be a hinderance. For instance, if you are having issues relating to another culture/ethnicity, someone of your same culture may not be as objective as you think, and in turn that could hinder your growth potential.
Whereas, if you are having issues with personal cultural/ethnic acceptance, identifying a therapist of a similar cultural/ethnic orientation may be best to help navigate that challenge. OR if you are having issues with cultural childhood trauma, finding a therapist of your same ethnicity or culture could reduce the time you are in therapy, because they may be able to identify with your experience and help you navigate processing your trauma in a healthy way, essentially, a lot faster than someone who may not have shared your experience or perspective.
REMEMBER: Commonalities are good but they can also be a hinderance to growth!
Overall, be thoughtful about the nature of your issues and properly consider whether a therapist of your or another community would be best to challenge you in a way that prompts growth. Growth is essentially the goal. If you are in therapy to have your ego stroked or be affirmed, you may be pursuing therapy for the wrong reasons, and you may need to reconsider your true issues...
Therapy is designed to help promote healthy behaviors, encourage positive lifestyle changes, and manage and maintain mental health and self-sufficiency. The only way to get the best results is to actively engage and find a therapist that will help you achieve your desired goals.
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