I was going to entitle this entry “How do I find a good therapist?” but then changed the title realizing that you could find a very, very good therapist…a competent and knowledgeable therapist… but that would not necessarily mean that he /she was the right person for you.
It is always helpful when there is someone in your social network who can highly recommend a therapist based on first hand experience. Interestingly, because birds of a feather flock together, it is likely that if a particular therapist helped a friend of yours, that therapist’s style and orientation will be a good fit for you as well. If health professionals are not a part of your social network and if you don’t know of anyone who knows someone, do your research. With the internet these days, there is access to all kinds of information. Most therapists provide information about their background, orientation and areas of expertise. Take those sites, though, that rate therapists with a grain of salt. While if there are many entries, you can usually get a sense of the therapist you are reading about, such sites also attract people who want to vent and complain! If you don’t know someone in the field, choose someone with education and experience. While we all know that credentials are not the be all end all, when you do not know the network, it makes sense to look for someone who has done both quite a bit of study and also has experience under their belt. As regards psychologists, here in Manitoba, in order to become a registered psychologist, the criteria are strict. Unlike in some provinces, you have to have a PhD which typically means years of graduate school and hundreds of hours of training with highly experienced senior psychologists.
It is not enough that a therapist be competent. You need to feel a sense of connection and rapport that makes you feel comfortable, safe, and heard as well as a confidence that this person can help you to change and to be more true to yourself. Some criteria used to determine whether a particular therapist fits the bill are similar to those one might use in choosing a friend (e.g., Can I trust them? Do they understand me? Do they listen to what I have to say? Do they show me respect?). Then again, some criteria used to determine whether a therapist can truly help are quite different from those that would be foremost in choosing a friend. For example: Can they be objective? Do they push me to see things from a different point of view? Do they challenge me? Do they know things about change and about how the mind-body works that I do not? You need to listen to your own inner voice for this information and trust it. Your own instincts are even more important than other people’s opinions or how popular that therapist is.
Experienced therapists understand that they are not right for everyone and the confident therapist is one who is not going to be put off if you decide after the first session that for whatever reason, there isn’t a match. So don’t be afraid to speak your mind and call it quits after an initial interview if it does not feel right. You don’t have to give “good reasons” to yourself or anyone else. You may not be able to articulate it…you may just know that this person is not right for you.
Lastly, remember that a therapist is not a friend. It’s a one way street relationship where they are there to listen to you. While I would never want to work with somebody I did not like, my primary purpose is not to like them or to have them like me, it is to help them!