Finding the right psychotherapist for you…
By Karen Kwan
Making the decision that you would like to talk to a psychotherapist is a significant step, so give yourself credit for coming to that realization: “If you are feeling you want to talk to someone about some issues, then the sooner the better,” says Linda J. Page, founder of Toronto’s Adler Graduate Professional School, which offers a Master of Psychology degree and professional education in psychotherapy and coaching.
Once you’ve come to that decision, however, you may find yourself overwhelmed with how to choose the right type of therapy and therapist for you. It may be comforting to know that the type of therapy you choose has only a small effect—about a 15 per cent improvement—on the eventual outcome, says Page. Treatment success is much more dependent on factors revolving around you as the patient (in terms of the severity of your symptoms, what type of support network you have, your life circumstances, and more). So how to find that therapist?
Ask for referrals
Talk to your friends and family about whether they have a therapist they would recommend. If there is no one within your social circle you can ask (or perhaps you are uncomfortable asking friends), Page recommends asking trusted professionals in your life, such as your family doctor, massage therapist or pharmacist. You will also want to consider whether you have a preference for a male of female therapist.
Research the referrals online
Check out the therapists’ websites to get a sense of their personality, whether they focus on certain issues, and what type of training they have.
Talk with a few therapists
Most therapists will have an initial phone call with you so that you can learn about their practice. Take this as a time to ask about whether they are licensed to practice in your province, and for you to get a sense of whether you feel comfortable with them. “When talking to the therapist, if they kind of light up and seem to feel excited about the type of therapy they do, that is a good sign,” says Page, who had her own practice for 20 years. You’re looking for someone who believes in and has a commitment to their therapeutic method. Find out how long they’ve been in practice, and if they are comfortable working with the type of issues you’re dealing with. Also, find out if the therapist has undergone therapy. “I don’t think anyone should do therapy without having had the experience themselves,” says Page. If you’re uncomfortable asking outright about this, she suggests that you frame your question around how well acquainted the therapist is with therapy.
Learn about the actual logistical details
The length of sessions, how frequently this psychotherapist usually sees clients, and cost: these are all things you should learn in this preliminary phone call. If cost is a prohibitive factor, ask if the therapist works with students who are supervised that you can see. “Depending on the type of therapist, students who are just out of school or are just finishing up their training [can offer] a way for someone to see a psychotherapist without excessive costs,” notes Page.
Determine your comfort level with the psychotherapist
You may need to attend a few therapy sessions to determine this but, ultimately, your therapist should be someone you feel you can easily talk to about things that are meaningful or even embarrassing, says Page. “Some things may come out that you’ve never said to someone before, so you want to have a sense that this is someone you are comfortable with.” That said, your therapist should not feel like your friend. “They should be someone you can reveal things to, but also someone who can say things to you that might be hard to take,” says Page. You must be okay with having them hold you to account for your behaviour, even if that means they say things to you that are hard to hear.
If you don’t feel your therapist is working out for you, talk it out
Don’t feel like you will hurt your therapist’s feelings if you feel your therapy isn’t working. Page recommends sharing that it’s not working for you, and then you can both discuss whether there are ways to make your sessions more beneficial to you. “It may be a negative thinking pattern that you need to break through and ultimately you may be best off to stay with this therapist,” she adds. Or you may decide to try a different type of therapy. But don’t let fear of upsetting your therapist be the reason you stick with the same one.
KAREN KWAN is a freelance health, travel and lifestyle writer based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter at @healthswellness and on Instagram at @healthandswellness.
Finding the right psychotherapist for you…