The most important thing about choosing a counselor or therapist is to find a situation where you feel comfortable, safe, and where there is potential for trust. Consistently the most important criteria for successful therapy is the fit between the therapist and client. When you meet with someone that you “click with” you are more able to be honest with yourself and it’s much easier to talk about any topic.
Finding the right fit involves two separate parts. One is looking for characteristics in the therapist that you feel will be a good match for you. The second is looking at yourself and how you want to go about treatment at this moment in your life.
Characteristics in the counselor or therapist
You should feel comfortable asking the counselor about things that are important to you in working on your goals. These can include:
- Does the therapist have experience dealing with issues similar to the ones for which you want to enter treatment (diagnosis, ethnicity, financial)?
- What does the counselor believe about potential outcomes of your current situation (i.e. cure, recovery, happier life, medication forever)?
- What other areas of life does the therapist think may help to improve things?
- Does the counselor offer any information on local resources (i.e. free relaxation classes, helpful self-improvement ideas, nutrition referrals)?
- Does your therapist give homework or other tools to use between sessions?
- Does the counselor focus on happiness and increasing joy as well as the negative topics?
Some views on psychological treatment believe it is a mistake for the therapist to share personal information with a client. But you as a client can always judge the therapist by how they explain this to you and whether in your gut you get a good feeling from the therapist. The thing to remember is that even if the counselor does not answer your question completely, you learn a lot about the person by the way they respond to you.
What do you want out of treatment?
Most people start therapy because they want to feel better about something in their life. So knowing how you want your counselor to treat you may be the last thing on your mind. But the more you think about this idea the more you will start to see how it reflects the way you want others to treat you in general. Some ideas include:
- Recognize how much you want to be listened to and how much you want the counselor to engage in the talking.
- Ask yourself if you want the therapist to be like a caring parent or more direct and blunt.
- Would you feel ignored if the counselor didn’t suggest ways of solving your problem?
- Do you want a therapist who talks about their own involvement with similar experience as yours or who keeps those thing out of the talk so they give you all of their attention?
- Most importantly- If you find a counselor who doesn’t meet your interests, could they still help you if you stick it out a little longer?
Always recognize that you can change topics, goals, or therapists as your life changes too. While it does take a while to build trust and feel comfortable talking about your life to someone, remember that therapy and counseling exists to help you with what you want to work on.
Overall remember that you are paying for a service. Whether you pay out of pocket or your insurance covers your bill, you deserve to be treated with the utmost respect, and to be fully involved in your treatment. If you feel that this is not happening please bring it up with your therapist. First it may help seeing the problem from a different angle, second it might resolve the problem all together, and third why not get some extra practice working out problems with people. Remember that you are choosing someone to be in your life for a while to help you get where you want to be.
The therapist or counselor is trained to help point out certain things about your personality and life situation, but you are always the ultimate expert on you. No matter what has happened in your life and no matter what will come, you deserve to have the best treatment you can find. So be involved and get ready to do some work so you can start enjoying life again.
(Chelsea Bagias, PsyD.)