In my last post I discussed logistical things to think about while trying to find a therapist. Now that you have made that call, and either set up an appointment or just begun therapy, it’s time to think about some other questions. On paper the therapist matched exactly what you said you wanted, or at least matched your top priorities, but good on paper does not mean good for you in reality. Not every client and therapist meshes well together.
Are you someone who went into therapy “knowing” that you needed your therapist to be trained in either Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Freudian psychoanalysis, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), Relational psychotherapy, or one of the other many types of therapy that is conducted. I use the term knowing in quotes because often times people think they know what they are looking for but have not looked further into various therapy modalities to know the difference between all of them. Some people simply want to find someone they feel comfortable talking to on a regular basis. It’s up to you to decide if you want a specific modality or not but either way I suggest giving it some thought and researching all of your options. If you want someone trained in a particular way it might be helpful to talk about this in your first or second session. Maybe the therapist you ended up meeting with is not what you thought you wanted but you clicked with the person and have decided to stay and give this a try with him or her. Even if you don’t want to ask about specific modalities it is still a good idea to ask your new therapist how he or she works in general with his or her clients.
Starting therapy can be very challenging because you’re opening up to a complete stranger. It’s up to you how much you say or don’t say during sessions. Some clients feel comfortable divulging everything about themselves and what brought them into treatment from the get go while others take months to tell their therapist what really made them make that first phone call to set up an appointment. Pay attention to yourself and what your level of comfort is because ultimately what’s most important is that you feel comfortable being yourself. If you want to be a little shy are you feeling pushed to give too much information too quickly? If you want to talk about everything on your mind is the therapist interjecting too often for your liking? Get a feel for the way your therapist works with you and see if he or she allows you to feel at ease.
Therapy is meant to focus on you, the client. That being said there is still someone else in the room with you, your therapist. Think about how you can focus on yourself and get what you need and want out of therapy. I suggest also considering what you want your therapist’s role to be. Do you want to know things about your therapist or would you rather he or she stays completely unknown. There is a difference between noticing your therapist’s graduate school diploma on the wall versus asking how many times he or she has been in love. There is professional versus personal. However, maybe you desperately want or feel the need to know a few things about your therapist like whether or not he or she is married. I can tell you with certainty that a therapist does not have to have had the same experiences as you to help you. I’ve worked with many people who have gone through both traumatic and wonderful experiences that I have not gone through. Your therapist is here to help you and even if they had the same experience you are two completely different people so the experience will never be exactly the same. If you feel a burning desire to ask your therapist something on the more personal side you have the right to do that. Please understand and respect that he or she has the right not to answer you. However, it is important to recognize how your therapist dealt with you asking a question. Did they handle the situation (regardless of whether or not they answered you) in a manner that made you feel comfortable or did they yell at you for even asking. It’s understandable that the therapist may be curious why you wanted to know that specific bit of information about them so feel free to be honest in your answer. Remember a key element to therapy is feeling comfortable when you’re talking to your therapist, even when you’re talking about the therapist directly.
Let’s say you’re the type of person who wants to know absolutely nothing about your therapist. You have that right too. Pay attention at the beginning to see if your therapist is revealing things about themselves that you may not want to know. If you feel the therapy is turning into a place where the focus is more on the therapist and their experiences it might not be the right fit for you.
Since you’re meeting a complete stranger it can take time to get into a comfortable place with your therapist. Some people feel like the connection is great from the very first session. If that happens to you trust your instinct and continue. If you feel that the first session was an utter disaster you may not want to go back. Think about what made the session so awful and if it is truly something you can’t look past it is probably best to find someone else. I highly recommend being honest with your first therapist and explaining that you were not feeling a strong connection. Another possibility is that you may end up feeling unsure about the therapist throughout the first, second, and maybe even third session. If you fall into this category give more thought to what feels unsettled for you. Is it that you’re still getting used to opening up to someone new? Is it that you want something else from the therapist that you feel you are not getting? This is when I recommend talking to directly to your therapist. Maybe you feel you need him or her to talk more but maybe he or she thought you wanted him or her to be quieter. Try to talk about where the disconnect might be and together see if it’s possible to work on the therapeutic relationship. You may be surprised to learn that in talking openly about your concerns you immediately started to feel better about the therapy. Sometimes it may not change the situation and you and your therapist may be on different pages and unable to work things out. Even when you’ve seen someone for a short period of time ending in session with him or her can be valuable for the both of you. Maybe the therapist was not feeling he or she was the right fit for you either and has a colleague that they would like to refer you to.
Since there is no right or wrong way to choose a therapist go into the new therapist’s office with an open mind and see what happens. Think about how you feel in the room with this person and trust your instincts.