Finding the Best Therapist
Whether you’re battling anxiety, needing space to grieve a horrible loss, or feeling stuck in a relationship struggle, you likely already know a good therapist can be helpful. That’s why you’re here reading, after all. But finding a therapist that fits you can be tough. In fact, therapist shopping is really not so unlike shopping for a lot of other necessities. Not everyone walks out of a dressing room having tried on the first pair of jeans to catch their eye and declares them ‘the ones’, for example. Choosing the therapist to help you sort out challenges and feelings can also be a bit of a chore, but if you put a little work into your hunt, your relationship with your therapist can well out-live those designer jeans.
Choosing your own therapist is a privilege, as some folks are designated a professional or made to choose from a specific list provided by an insurance provider. If you’re among those who are free to discover that ‘good fit’ all on your own, you also have the overwhelming sea of possibilities to accompany your good fortune - and that alone can be a detractor in ever making that initial contact! Hopefully, these thoughts will help ease the burden a little bit and help you pick up the phone, or send off that email for an initial appointment.
Where do you even LOOK for therapists?
Much like the way we look for a plumber or a car mechanic, it’s common to begin the search by simply asking around. Referrals from friends and family are a good starting point but they’re not always going to work out. Keep in mind how your friend or family member knows this therapist that they’re suggesting. If it’s their own personal therapist, and you have a relationship with this person that might end up being talked about in therapy, it’s a pretty big conflict of interest for everyone involved. If the therapist is a personal friend of your friend, ensure you have good conversations around boundaries with your pal and that you both feel ok about the arrangement - and respecting those boundaries. The therapist will adhere to a code of ethics that will protect your confidence between your friend and the therapist - but you’ll need to still feel ok about the potential for running into one another at a house party, for example. It might be best to keep looking!
Referrals from other professionals such as your doctor or your massage therapist have the potential to work well while crossing fewer boundaries than the friend-of-a-friend one. Often times, healthcare professionals and body workers share spaces in their buildings with a variety of therapists and it’s possible the right fit is under your nose. Keep in mind that seeing multiple practitioners in one building also increases the chances that you’ll ‘run into’ those professionals you see while in the waiting room. This is not a conflict for most people, but if it might be for you, think on it a little bit before jumping in.
Another great place to ask around, is within your communities. Your place of worship, social media groups you’re part of, a parent committee, or your curling league all have the benefit of acquaintances with networks and perspectives different from your own. Just keep in mind how much you feel comfortable about disclosing in these circles. It’s not always comfortable for all people to just bare it all on the quest for a name of someone - and depending on how curious your social circle buddies are, you may be asked questions you’re not prepared to answer. Being equipped with the knowledge of this potential in advance is helpful.
Perhaps the most obvious one to some is an internet search. Google is really smart in serving up results based on your queries - especially if you’re specific in what you’re looking for. Simply googling ‘therapist + your city’ can return MANY choices in therapists, but it can also take you to really great resources like psychology today where you can essentially shop a catalog of potentials by narrowing down your search within the site itself.
Speaking of Google, if at this point, folks have given you the names of therapists to consider, ask the internet for more info if you need it. Maybe they have a website, or are listed on a directory like the aforementioned Psychology Today. Perhaps they write a blog. See what you can learn about their practice to help you better decide how you might feel working with them.
A word of caution when using websites and internet search results as your only guide: therapists are working professionals who must also market themselves in order to get work in many cases. Remember this when browsing their content that they’re marketing themselves to you. Look for the language that they use, and note what it is about the therapist that appeals to your interest. Do they use words that feel comfortable to you? Does it feel authentic enough that it’s worth another glance, and perhaps an initial appointment? Not all skilled therapists are skilled marketers, so also consider length of practice/experience and how difficult someone may be to get on the waiting list of when their website doesn’t really tell the story you had hoped to read.
Now that you’ve decided WHERE to look.. what are you looking for?
Rarely do we just take the first and only name of a contractor and run with them for a big project. Working on yourself is far more precious than working on your home, so don’t be scared to make a list of your desires and needs when shopping around. Knowing what you’re hoping for in a therapist and what you hope to accomplish will make it easier to see the potential while you’re browsing options.
What’s on your list? Does the therapist’s gender matter to you? That they’re conveniently located close to your workplace (or home)? Is it important that the very thing you’re going through is named and listed by the therapist on their website? Other things to consider are fees, availability, accessibility to the space, preferred contact method, and of course - their credentials.
There are a number of different modalities - or types - of therapy to also consider. Are you looking for a very brief therapeutic encounter to deal with one small-seeming problem that you feel can be relieved through changing your own behaviours? Or are you looking for longer term, ongoing therapy to discover and explore deeper issues? Is talking really tricky no matter how you try and you feel expressing and processing through art would be helpful? Do you wish to go to therapy alone, or is this counselling for you and a partner together?
Rather than learn a long list of names of therapy practices and researching what is best for you to try, consider thinking on and deciding what it is you need and want the most, and then finding through the ideas above a therapist who feels they fit that.
At the end of the day, a therapist-client relationship is exactly that: a relationship. It’s going to be a subjective experience and it may take a bit of searching to find the fit that makes you most satisfied. Equally, it may take more than one session to be able to determine whether or not a therapist is right for you. The BEST therapist for you may not be the BEST therapist for someone else, but I believe they're out there!
- Jenn Seeley