Finding a Therapist: What to look for?
Finding a good therapist is a bit like finding a good hairdresser, or a good mechanic, it can be pretty tough. There are so many different varieties out there it can get a little overwhelming when searching online. Even with recommendations, just because your friend loves theirs doesn’t mean that style will work for you. So, what should you look for?
Even if a therapist is the best in the whole world, if they don’t have availability for two years, they’re not going to be much use to you. Availability is no reflection on a therapist’s competency, clients usually see someone for a period and then stop or pare back. A good therapist consistently has clients ‘graduating’ or needing less support as time goes on. Much like a physiotherapist, once a clients’ condition has improved, they won’t need to go as often, so the practitioner will have more bandwidth for new clients. Therefore, it’s perfectly natural for a therapist’s books to open and close at regular intervals.
If you are living in a rural environment availability might be limited so it might be worthwhile to look for practices that offer online sessions. Like anything, the best place to start is where you currently are. Waiting a long time for a ‘better’ therapist won’t necessarily make your journey any better or faster, and if you don’t click with your therapist, you can always move on to someone else. Much like finding the right hairdresser, it can sometimes take a few goes to get the fit. So, start with someone who has the bandwidth to see you, and go from there.
Age & Experience
Older and wiser? Not necessarily when it comes to therapists. Age and experience are important factors, but we need to take a more holistic approach when we’re looking for a therapist. Would you ask your 70-year-old nan for help with a laptop, or would you rather ask your 20-year-old nephew? Experience is important, but it depends on what that experience is in. The world is changing faster than ever before, and the pressures are different to those of 30+ years ago. The age of a therapist that will suit you, really depends on what you’re looking for. And it might not be relevant at all.
For example, a teenager or young adult struggling with self-image due to the impact of social media. Would someone of 57 who has never heard of TikTok be the best person to work with them? Or would a 28-year-old who lives in that social media world have a better understanding of what they are going through?
A 52-year-old man struggling to come to terms with impending retirement. Would he be more comfortable with someone closer to that stage of life themselves? Possibly.
An expat living in Sydney and missing home. Would they be best suited to someone of any age who has lived abroad and understands the unique struggles that come with being away from family and friends? Most likely.
In studying counselling, we discuss referrals a lot, and when is an appropriate time to refer someone. If a therapist is not best suited to your needs, they have a duty of care to refer you to someone who is. Also, just because someone hasn’t lived your experience, doesn’t mean they won’t understand or empathize. Sometimes an outsider perspective can be just what’s needed to change your view on something. So, don’t focus too much on age, it has a bearing, but only in very specific circumstances.
If you have a received a diagnosis or suspect you might have a specific issue, for example, PTSD, depression etc., looking at a therapist’s area of expertise would be helpful. Most therapists will list what conditions they predominantly deal with on their bio.
For example, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is used extensively in treating anxiety and depression, Dialectical Behaviour Therapy in substance abuse, Psychodynamic therapy in childhood trauma and so on. If there is lots of therapists with availability this might help to narrow the list down, however it is not a criteria to exclude a therapist. We have more information on different types of counselling here.
Having said that, there are so many kinds of therapy, and a lot of them overlap, so it’s more important to find someone who clicks with you and understands your problem, than someone who specializes in a specific form of therapy.
Which brings me to, chemistry! Probably the most important factor, and the one you won’t be able to vet until you’ve met with someone. A bit like dating online, googling therapists can make one look perfect on paper but when you meet them there’s just no connection. The therapeutic relationship has been shown to have a bigger impact on client satisfaction and progress than anything else. This means the chemistry and rapport you have with your therapist is more important than their age, gender, expertise, specialty, or the form of therapy used.
Having a connection and a feeling of trust will allow you to open up and explore your inner world. A therapist is there to listen and to guide us through some of the most painful and difficult moments. Having chemistry is the number one thing that will help with that. So, like dating, try as many therapists as you need to until you find your ‘one’.
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