Finding the Right Therapist
Updated: Aug 27, 2019
Back in the early 1990’s when my first marriage was not working, I went to see a therapist. At the time I had read plenty of self-help books but I didn’t know much about therapy and didn’t have any idea where or how to look for a therapist. My then wife was seeing a therapist and liked her, so I decided to see the same one.
I went to this particular therapist off and on for several years. She was nice, but I didn’t think we ever really clicked. She also had some annoying habits that felt a little fake and put me off. At the time I didn’t know any better – I thought this was the way it worked. You see a therapist, you talk, they make supportive statements or sounds, and that’s that. While I’m sure I got some help from the periodic opportunities to talk to someone about my frustrations, I’m not convinced that I couldn’t have gotten the same thing from a professional listener.
It wasn’t until I went to graduate school to get my own training in psychotherapy that I learned there are many many styles of therapy. Not only are there over 200 therapeutic “orientations” but every therapist works somewhat differently. Even two therapists with the same orientation will practice differently. In psychotherapy there is much discussion of the “therapist's use of self” because we can’t remove ourselves from the therapy/relationship equation.
In the book, “The Great Psychotherapy Debate” the authors, Burce Wampold and Zac Imel, discuss their meta-research (in other words, research about research) about psychotherapy. What makes this interesting and relevant to this blog post is their conclusions. They show that a number of relationship factors are the most important in determining whether therapy will be successful. These relationship factors are things like: whether you, the client, feel like you are collaborating and you have the same goals; whether you feel the therapist is empathetic; whether the therapist seems genuine and honest; and whether you feel like you have an alliance with the therapist. The authors even include a significant factor they call, “Therapists – Naturalistic,” which is an undefinable quality that has to do with a particular therapist. In fact, the top six factors in the authors’ conclusions are directly related to the relationship with the therapist. The bottom line: the relationship with your therapist, as judged by you, is an important factor in the success of therapy.
Many people looking for therapists are in the same place I was when I saw my first therapist – they don’t know what to look for and they decide to hire the first therapist they find. My recommendation is to be clear about what outcomes you want from therapy and then to find a therapist you’re comfortable with.
There is more information on my website under the “Resources / Therapy Resources” tab. There I provide links to three on-line therapist search services, suggestions for things you might want to think about before seeing a therapist, and questions to ask when interviewing a prospective therapist.