By: Dr. Nancy Irwin
Starting therapy is a very personal choice. Each individual has his or her own reasons for finding a therapist. Something that everyone has in common, however, is that before you enter therapy you don’t know what to expect. And therefore it’s very difficult to identify the best therapist for yourself.
While there are many different approaches to therapy, and each practitioner will have his or her own individual style, there are certain expectations every good therapists should meet.
Look for the following 5 things when choosing a therapist and you are more than likely to have a good experience.
1. Personal Connection
Not so long ago, it was considered bad form for a therapist to show any personality. They were expected to remain cold throughout the course of therapy. The idea of building an actual relationship with the client was anathema.
There are still some therapists who follow the old model. But most of us cannot imagine successful therapy without some sort of personal connection. The relationship between therapist and client is one of the most significant factors in the success of therapy.
For this reason, a therapist who you simply cannot form a relationship with is almost certainly the wrong person for you. Every therapist has had the experience of not being able to click with certain clients. In this case, they should ideally recommend someone they think will be more likely to form a connection. If they don’t take that step, it may be necessary for you to make the decision.
Either way, you should discuss it with the therapist. Sometimes, it takes a little while for the connection to build, and they will help you see if you perhaps have certain blocks that can be worked through.
2. An Approach That Makes Sense – To You
Another thing that has changed in the field over the past few days is that therapy has become demystified. In the past, the therapist was the undoubted expert. Clients were expected to accept this. They had to work on the assumption that the therapist knew what he or she was doing, even if it made no sense to them.
While it is still necessary for you to trust a therapist, this trust should no longer be blind. There is, after all, too much information available online for you to accept the mystery. Read up on the different types of therapy, and assess different therapists’ approaches. Once you have committed to a course of therapy, questioning your therapist’s every move is going to make it impossible to succeed, but starting off with confidence in their approach is necessary as well.
3. A Therapy Plan or Roadmap
Not all therapists agree on this, but I personally believe that therapy should not be a completely open-ended endeavor. Rather than simply meeting every week and seeing what comes up, I work out a therapy plan with clients. We figure out their objectives and plot a course as to how to get there.
Of course, those objectives will change as the client learns more about him or herself, and the plan cannot be set in stone. The plan itself should include reassessment. An unending, undefined course of therapy can be helpful, but clients often get disillusioned by what might seem like a lack of progress.
4. Form An Alliance
A good therapist-client relationship cannot be one-sided. The best therapists form alliances with their clients. They work with their clients rather than working on their clients. They work together with you, because the journey can only happen if you make it happen. If they lead you to believe they are going to “fix” you or improve you, they're destined to fail.
The mind is an incredibly powerful thing, which is why therapy can work. But mind power is irrelevant if you don’t choose to put it to use.
Finally, a therapist should always display optimism that therapy will be of use to you. This may sound obvious, but unfortunately certain therapists tend to see problems before they see solutions. They see all the potholes, before taking a look at the actual road.
These therapists might help you put out fires, but their work is always going to be reactive rather than proactive. A good therapist shows you what you will achieve through your work with them. They show you that they have faith in your ability to get there. They are aware of the obstacles, but know that you have the power to overcome them.
Dr. Nancy Irwin is co-author of "Breaking Through, Stories of Hope and Recovery" and a Primary Therapist at Seasons in Malibu World Class Addiction and Mental Health Treatment Center.