Lately it seems every time I tell someone I’m a therapist, I’m met with: “It’s so hard to find a good therapist.”
After hearing it for what seemed like the hundredth time recently, I began to ask myself, “Why is that?”
Studies show the most important factor in determining a successful outcome in therapy is the relationship you have with your therapist. Period. Not their credentials, not where they went to school, their gender, how comfortable their couch is, or if they have free drinks in the waiting room. (Bonus points if they do though)
Simply put, how comfortable and connected do you feel talking with them? Do you trust them? Do you feel judged? Are you often wondering what they’re thinking? Do they tell you when you ask? How do feel when you wake up and you realize you have an appointment with them that day?
Here are four reasons why it might be hard to find a good therapist:
Not Doing Enough Research
If you’re just going to Psychology Today (or any other therapist directory) and searching for a therapist who takes your insurance, is close to your home or office and fits conveniently into your hectic schedule, there’s a good chance you’re going to be disappointed.
I’m surprised at how often this is the only criteria used when selecting a therapist. I understand finding a therapist may seem daunting — especially if you’ve never done it and don’t know what to look for. Naturally, you’ll try to make it as easy as possible. But if you were hiring a financial planner to manage your retirement, wouldn’t you want to know about their experience, training, investment philosophy, etc., so you can be sure they won’t bankrupt you? So why not do that same level of research when it comes to finding a therapist you’re trusting with your emotional well-being?
Ask them their approach to your particular problem. Hell, ask them their approach to any problem? Do they have experience treating your issue? Have they had success treating your issue? How long do they think it will take? Do they think they can help you? You may be thinking, “Well, of course they’re going to say they can help,” but you would be surprised.
If you don’t understand an answer, ask for clarification. This is a golden opportunity to get to the heart of their style and personality. Do they get defensive and stuffy and continue with industry jargon? Or are they patient and understanding and truly concerned with making sure you understand.
As in all relationships, a misunderstanding is an opportunity to build a stronger connection. Or it can be an indication there may not be a potential for connection. It’s up to you to take advantage of that opportunity.
Not Trusting Your Instincts
OK, so you did your research, asked all your questions and felt comfortable enough to schedule the first session. Then you went to the first session and something rubbed you the wrong way. Maybe a thoughtless or inconsiderate comment bothered you. Maybe they didn’t look you in the eye when they shook your hand. Maybe they didn’t even offer to shake hands. It doesn’t really matter. The point is, something wasn’t right. At this point, it’s easy to become victim of the sunk-cost fallacy. Which is, I’ve already gone this far, I might as well keep going.
You might not instantly feel compelled to pour your heart out when you first meet your therapist. (Although you may, and it’s pretty damn cool when it happens) However, there is a certain degree of comfort, which only you can determine, that should be experienced during the first session.
My favorite question to ask during initial sessions with clients: “Tell me about your past experience in therapy?” This typically provides tremendous insight into the way the client experiences their world and the people in it. But more often than not, I hear about negative experiences early on, which were overlooked and they continued in therapy for whatever reason (see Sunk-Cost Fallacy). Trust your instincts and move on. Better to have wasted a couple hours and a couple hundred dollars than weeks and thousands of dollars.
As a therapist, it’s hard not get frustrated when I get price-shopped by potential clients. I don’t take it personally and I completely understand the desire to want to save money. However, my frustration is for the client and the likely outcome they’re going to have using this method to select a therapist.
Let me bottom-line this: I am not saying that the $175 per hour therapist is going to be better than the $95 per hour therapist. I’m also not saying when it comes to finding the right therapist, you get what you pay for.
Believe me, there are plenty of very talented therapists out there undercharging for their services. I’m simply saying, if price is the most important factor in choosing a therapist, you’re likely going to be disappointed.
There is no bigger investment you can make in life than in yourself. Because when you aren’t functioning at an optimal level, nothing else in your life will either.
If you go to therapy once a week and talk with a therapist for an hour, and expect your life to suddenly change for the better, you will be very disappointed. Naturally, most would blame the therapist or believe therapy doesn’t work after this experience. And in fairness, the therapist does deserve some blame as they clearly didn’t set proper expectations at the onset of therapy.
My second favorite question to ask during the first session with clients: “What do you expect this process to look like?” More often than not, clients share these same types of unrealistic expectations. Typically, the belief is the therapist is going to do all the work and (paraphrasing here), fix them, their life, their spouse, their kids, etc. Again, to be fair, this is largely due to ignorance and the grossly inaccurate portrayal of therapy perpetuated on TV and in movies.
I work my tail off in session with my clients, and I believe many therapists do as well. But that’s all we can do. If a client leaves the session and doesn’t explore, implement, evaluate, or reflect on any of the work done during our time together, they are most certainly going to be disappointed in the results.
Here again though, it’s the therapist’s responsibility to fully explain how the process works and what to expect. The real work is done between sessions, in the micro moments throughout your day.
It’s important to consider this though: sometimes it’s not that they aren’t a good therapist, it’s just that they aren’t a good therapist for you. It’s not realistic to expect to connect with everyone you meet. That’s not how it’s supposed to work. Be your own biggest advocate and you will be rewarded.
Sadly, sometimes you can do all the right things and you still end up with someone who should have retired years ago or who has no business interacting with other human beings on an emotional level. I am well aware there are terrible therapists out there. I’ve heard stories and been witness to things that made my skin crawl and my stomach turn. I try to give them the benefit of the doubt and chalk it up to a bad moment, or something taken out of context, or just a bad day. But let’s face it though, there are terrible service professionals in all fields.
With a little patience and following these suggestions, you will find the right therapist for you. However, if you still find you need help finding a good anxiety therapist or counselor near New Haven, reach out today and let us help!
James Killian, LPC is the Principal Therapist & Owner of Arcadian Counseling in Woodbridge, CT where they specialize in helping over-thinkers, high achievers, and perfectionists sort out unpleasant emotions, regain balance in their life, and take control of anxious thoughts so they can move From Surviving to Thriving.