Finding the right therapist can be as challenging as the therapy itself. Paralysis of choice, and worry that we won’t connect with or be understood by our therapist are just some of the many barriers that can prevent us from getting the professional help we’re looking for. Since we know how life-changing the right kind of therapy can be, we’re sharing our best advice for finding your ‘perfect match’.
While finding a therapist and navigating the dating world might not necessarily draw similarities at first, the parallels can be quite eerie on reflection. You need to make a decision about ‘your type’ early on, you have to be ready to reveal your neuroses and vulnerabilities, and sometimes you’ve got to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your ‘thera-prince’.
But seeing a trusted therapist regularly can provide us with practical tools and strategies to help overcome life’s challenges, so it’s vital to spend the time finding the right one. Just like looking for a life partner, location, connection, availability, and that je ne sais quois are all essential points in making the right selection.
To make the selection process a little easier to navigate, here are some pointers to help you find the right fit when looking for a therapist or counsellor.
Types of therapists
Early on in your search, it’s important to understand the different types of therapists and what they can offer. For starters, any mental health professional who practices ‘talk therapy’ – psychologists, counsellors, social workers – fall under the umbrella of psychotherapy.
Psychotherapists help in managing mental health by talking through issues and encouraging behavioural changes. Psychiatrists, while still offering talk therapy, are more focused on diagnosing mental health conditions, and prescribing and managing medication.
The different letters you see after a practitioner’s name refer to their level of education and the focus of their professional training. For example, psychologists and psychiatrists are trained at the doctorate level, while marriage and family therapists, clinical social workers and professional counsellors all have undergraduate degrees and additional counselling training and experience.
Qualified practitioners will also belong to a professional body and need to have insurance, either independently, or through the organisation they work with.
All types of practitioners can offer you value, but some may fit your individual needs better than others.
Types of therapy
Once you’re familiar with the different types of therapists, looking at the type of therapy they offer is next. Many practitioners will list what they do in their specialised areas in professional listings, and many may even combine types of therapy based on a client’s needs.
There are countless types of therapy styles and theories a therapist might work with, but these are four you might come across.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
This is one of the most common therapeutic approaches. Essentially, CBT manages problems by changing the way you think and behave. It focuses on identifying negative thought patterns that influence mood and behaviours, and works on creating tools to manage those patterns. The most common situations CBT is used for include anxiety, depression, and conflict resolution.
Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT)
DBT is a subcategory of CBT specific to emotional regulation. Initially developed to treat people with borderline personality disorders, DBT has been used to treat eating disorders and substance abuse, amongst other issues, by focusing on mindfulness, distress tolerance, and emotional regulation. This form of therapy is often conducted one-on-one and in group therapy sessions.
This therapy style helps clients understand emotions and unconscious patterns of behaviour, and is used to treat PTSD, trauma, depression, and family or relationship issues. While also a form of talk therapy, psychodynamic therapy focuses on emotions to help clients to better know themselves and their triggers, and make better decisions for themselves.
Psychiatry is the branch of mental health medicine that focuses on the diagnosis, treatment and management or prevention of mental health disorders, through therapy and medication. Often conditions that are linked to genetic, environmental, or lifestyle causes are best managed through psychiatry. Debilitating anxieties, extreme anger, self-harm or suicide ideations, or long-standing periods of sadness or depression may be key indicators to see a psychiatrist.
Four top tips for choosing the right therapist
You could spend months deliberating, but keeping these four things front of mind will help to steer you in the right direction.
1. Find the right fit
With both dating and therapy, there’s often an awkward period in the beginning. It’s that uncomfortable time when the two of you don’t really know anything about each other and you nibble at the edges, trying to find a common ground and an approach that works for both of you. And as with both situations, give it time – you’ll know soon enough.
2. Ask for recommendations
Unlike the dating pool, sharing therapy recommendations with your friends is often a good thing! Ask for recommendations from people you trust who have seen practitioners of interest to you. Find out what worked and what didn’t and see how recommended therapists work for you.
3. Remember, relationship above resume
While a therapist’s long resume may be impressive, a long list of accomplishments may not be the best fit for you. Use your intuition to find a mental health professional that best fits your personality. The most effective therapists know how to build a strong relationship with their patients and often have excellent interpersonal skills as well, and that is what you want for your journey to better yourself.
4. Teamwork makes the dream work
If only one of you shows up, it’s not really going to work, is it? Showing up is more than just physically being at dinner or your appointment on time. It’s about showing up emotionally and making a personal investment, and both people involved need to make that happen. Just as in dating, both client and therapist need to be emotionally engaged to making things work, creating a bond and an ambience of shared achievement.
At the end of the day, your experience with any given therapist is going to be heavily influenced by the trust and safety that you feel in the room with them. You should feel heard, understood, supported and hopeful that things can change.
Like any good relationship, progress with a therapist takes time, knowing what you want, and some introspective realisations. And when you find ‘the one’, you’ll be on your way to living life to your fullest potential.