Over the past 18 years, I’ve worked with close to a dozen therapists. While some of the clinicians literally saved my life, several of my previous therapeutic relationships didn’t last long. I’m fact, some only lasted a few months or even less.
I spent years thinking that all of those failed attempts were entirely my fault. Every time a therapist said they couldn’t help me, I heard, “You’re a lost cause,” and “Nobody can help you.” I took these therapeutic rejections quite personally, and they perpetuated the negative beliefs about myself that I already held onto.
When a long-term therapist “dumped” me almost two years ago, though, I realized something:
Not every client-clinician relationship will last forever.
Like most other things in life, therapists aren’t one-size-fits-all. They are human beings with their own personalities, beliefs, and specializations. This means that not every therapist will feel like the best fit for you. Also, you may not end up as the best fit for every therapist.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that choosing a therapist is a lot like shopping for a car.
I know this sounds silly, but hear me out.
Selecting a therapist requires some careful consideration and decision-making on your part. Just like you’d decide what features and specifications you need in a new car, you need to determine what you want and need from your future clinician. You need to ask yourself what you hope to achieve in therapy and what type of therapist will help you reach those goals.
For example, when I started searching for a therapist two years ago, I knew I wanted someone who specialized in treating clients with my specific diagnoses. I also knew I wanted a therapist who would continue to help me use the dialectical behavior therapy skills I’d learned with my previous therapist. However, I also wanted my therapist to introduce me to some new therapeutic modalities so I would continue to make progress. Most importantly, I knew I needed a therapist who would be willing to help me explore my childhood trauma because I’d avoided it for too long.
Identifying these specific needs and goals helped me narrow my search for a new therapist and ensure that I selected a therapist who was on the same page as me.
After I decided what I needed in a therapist, I started researching clinicians to find someone who fit my criteria. Then, I selected close to a dozen therapists who met my general criteria, and I took notes to help me keep track of the details about each one.
Unlike previous times where I simply called the first therapist I could find and scheduled an appointment, I carefully weighed all of my options. So I emailed all the therapists who met my needs on paper and briefly explained what I was looking for. I then asked if they felt like they would meet my needs and if they were accepting new clients.
It helped me even more than I imagined it would. Out of a dozen options, half of them weren’t taking new clients, one didn’t think she could meet my needs, and another shared information that helped me realize he wouldn’t be a great fit either. Instead of ending up with yet another failed therapeutic relationship, I very quickly identified four possible therapists who would be a good fit for me.
But just like any informed consumer, I didn’t stop there: I took each of the remaining therapists for a quick test drive by scheduling brief phone consultations.
I didn’t realize that you could do this, but most therapists will set up free phone consultations if you ask. During these brief 15-30 minute calls, I shared a bit about myself, had each therapist tell me about them, and asked important questions. The phone consultations gave me lots of great info and helped me narrow down my options based on the information and my overall feelings about how each call went.
I chose the therapist who seemed to meet my needs and felt easy to talk to. And I can honestly say that, nearly two years later, I don’t regret my decision one bit.
For the first time in my life, I am working with a therapist who I trust completely.
I’m making more progress than I’ve ever made before, and I genuinely look forward to each and every session — even the really tough ones.
Before my most recent therapist hunt, I never stopped to consider that I had the say in who I chose as a clinician and what my treatment should look like. However, I now realize just how important patient autonomy is in ensuring successful therapy. I spent many years seeing myself as “untreatable” when, in reality, the issue was as simple as finding the right therapist.
If you’re looking for a therapist, don’t just settle for the first one you find. Think about what you want, assess all your options, and make an informed decision.
No matter where you are in your therapy journey, remember that above all else, therapy is for you. You have the authority to choose your therapist, state your needs, and voice concerns if you feel like your therapeutic needs aren’t being met.
Just like you need the right car to make it to your destination, you need the right therapist to make progress in your mental health recovery.
Previously Published on The Mighty