How can I find a therapist who’s right for me?

Dear Dr. Kelly:

I am thinking about starting psychotherapy. I’m going to start by phoning a few therapists. How can I tell if the therapist I start with will be right for me?

Sincerely,

S. C.


Dear S. C.:

Thanks for your question. I agree with you that it is a good idea to speak with prospective therapists or clinics by phone as a first step. A prospective clinic should be willing to give you 10 or 15 minutes of their time to speak with you by phone about your concerns to match you with the right therapist. If they are unwilling to give you this time to make sure that there is a good fit between what you need and what they can offer, then I would suggest that you cross them off your list and call someone else.

All successful psychotherapy depends on a good relationship between the patient and the therapist and on your participation with the therapy. In order for the therapy to be successful it is important that you have a feeling that the therapist understands and respects you, that the therapist’s approach makes sense to you, and that the therapist is going to work on the goals that you bring with you. Here are a few things to consider with regards to finding a therapist who is right for you:

    1. If you don’t like your therapist, find another one. Don’t be shy about this. No therapist can be right for everyone who might need help. If you get a bad feeling or vibe from your therapist, trust your gut and go see someone else. At The Mindfulness Clinic, we will offer you a free session if you don’t think the first therapist you meet with is the right fit for you.
    2. If you think that your therapist doesn’t like you, understand you, or appreciate your point of view, then find another therapist. It is very important that you believe that your therapist is on your side. They do not have to agree with you all the time, but it is important that you feel that they have your best interests at heart. If you have a problem with your therapist, discuss it with him or her and watch their reactions. If they do not appreciate your point of view and show a willingness to change how they deal with things, then you should get a different therapist.
    3. If you do not agree with the goals of the therapist, or if you do not think the goals that the therapist is working towards are right for you, then find another therapist. It is very important that the therapist agrees with your goals and that the sessions are designed to help you meet your goals.
    4. If you do not agree with the opinions or suggestions that your therapist makes, or if you are asking for something and not getting it in the sessions, and your feedback about these things to the therapist doesn’t change her or his approach, then find another therapist. Your therapist might suggest an approach that you hadn’t considered and, after discussing it, you may be willing to give it a try. However if you do not want to use the approach that the therapist has suggested, and they are not willing or able to change the approach to something that seems more relevant to your needs, and a better fit for you, then you should find a new therapist.
    5. What's Right With YouIf you think that your therapist sees your problem or situation as hopeless or unchangeable, or as something that would take years to change, then find a new therapist. You do not need a pessimistic therapist. Find someone who can understand your problems and who can offer an approach that can help you start to change things.
    6. If nothing positive starts to happen within the first 3 to 6 therapy sessions, talk to your therapist. If after talking things over there is still no progress, then find another therapist. If change is going to happen in therapy it usually starts relatively quickly. This doesn’t mean that everything will be “cured” within six sessions, but you should be able to notice some change or improvement that can let you know that you are on the right track. If there are no signs of such improvement in the first six sessions it is very unlikely that additional sessions will make a useful difference. If there is no progress in the first six sessions, then find another therapist. At The Mindfulness Clinic, we track your progress each session with a brief rating scale, so we have evidence that our therapists are effective and can help you make changes quickly.

These tips are based on 40 years of research about how to make psychotherapy effective. This list is adapted from the work of Barry Duncan. If you’d like more information about the tips, have a look at his self-help book, What’s Right With You.

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Dr. Paul Kelly

Dr. Paul Kelly is the founder of The Mindfulness Clinic. He is a Registered Psychologist in Ontario and has been meditating for more than 40 years.

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