Things to consider when looking for a therapist
by Allyson Lucas, NorthStar Wellness
Ask for recommendations from your friends or family. If your workplace has a Human Resources Department, EAP program or insurance company, you may want to consult with them. Visit websites such as Psychology Today, Google local therapists and browse their websites.
Learn the differences between a psychiatrist, psychologist, registered psychotherapist, social worker and counsellor and decide which professional is best suited to your needs. Double-check to see if your benefit plan covers these particular services.
Call or email a mental health professional and ask if it’s possible to meet them for a free consultation for 15 – 20 minutes to learn more about them and see if they would be a good fit for you.
This is your opportunity to ask as many questions as you can before making a decision to pursue working with this particular mental health professional.
When you meet, what are your first impressions of: their personality, the layout of the room, the furniture, the lighting? Do you feel safe? Do you feel comfortable? What is on the walls? What kinds of books are in the bookcase? Are there other materials around? What decorations can you see? Are they appealing?
Be prepared with a list of questions regarding their education, experience, number of years in the field, and areas of expertise. Are they working full-time or part-time? How long do you have to wait for an appointment? Are they able to explain what modalities they use and why? Has their learning taken place online or at an institution? How long was the program? What is the school’s reputation? Did they complete a practicum? How many hours?
Your relationship with the therapist has a major impact on achieving your goals. Do they remind you of someone else (for better or worse)? If so, how could this impact your work with them? You need to be honest with yourself. Do you think they can be trusted? How much would you be willing to share with them? When you ask questions, are they defensive or transparent? How do they express themselves?
Do they give homework? What kind? If not, why not? How will you know when it’s time to end therapy? How is that done? What is their confidentiality policy? Is it in writing? Are files hard copy, on computer, or online? Is there an intake questionnaire? Do the questions seem relevant?
BEFORE YOUR FIRST APPOINTMENT
This is your journey. You will get as much out of your sessions as you’re willing to put into it. Come prepared with issues you would like to address.
DURING THE SESSIONS
Who does most of the talking? Is the therapist a good listener? Does he/she give you time to think before you respond?
Are you asked to set goals within the first few sessions? If not, why not? Are goals set by the client, the therapist, or both?
The therapeutic relationship can become intimate as you may be sharing things you’ve never shared with anyone before. Asking for help can also make one feel vulnerable. You must be aware of the potential for:
- Transference – This occurs when the client (often unconsciously) redirects emotions or expectations from previous relationships (e.g. parent, sibling, friend, partner) onto the therapist, which may be inappropriate.
- Counter-transference – This occurs when the therapist becomes emotionally entangled with the client. Definitely inappropriate.
Therapy also has risks. Remembering past pain or relationships can be uncomfortable. Trying to change thinking and behavior can be frustrating. However, as you become more aware and are given more tools, you will be better equipped to face life’s challenges.
Some important questions to ask yourself are:
- Does the therapist act as an “expert” in all areas? Is this possible?
- Are they willing to refer you to another resource if it is out of their scope of practice?
- Are they willing to admit they don’t know something?
- Are you moving forward in your recovery/healing?
Usually, you’re only together for an hour a week. The session is designed to identify issues, monitor progress, and give you tools to apply the other 167 hours of the week. The majority of the work should be done by you, in between sessions.
AFTER YOUR LAST SESSION
Reflect on your experience. What could you have done differently? How could the therapist have provided better service? Were decisions made collaboratively? Did you feel safe enough and confident enough to provide constructive feedback to your therapist? Would you return at another time? Would you recommend this person to others?
There is strong evidence that successful therapy is more dependent upon the quality of the therapeutic relationship than the method used. How would you describe the quality of your relationship with your mental health practitioner?
Mental health practitioners have ethical responsibilities. If you believe there has been an ethical violation, you have the right to hold them accountable to their respective governing bodies by reporting them.
This is your life. This is your work. This is your healing.
Allyson Lucas, NorthStar Wellness
351 Charlotte Street, Ste. 202
Peterborough, ON K9J 2W1