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The Art of Relationships

with Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

There is an art to maintaining the intimate relationships in our lives. Read on to explore our experts' perspectives, and learn new techniques to improve your own relationship skills.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Finding the Right Therapist

One common suggestion on the Relationships and Coping community is that people seek a therapist. This comes out of discussions where it is clear that the person’s struggles require more personalized and professional help. However, it also leaves the person with questions about how to find a therapist who can help.

For someone who has never before been in therapy, this can be a daunting task – particularly because they may not know what to ask. Although questions about the therapist’s expertise might come easily to mind, other considerations may be less obvious. For instance, many people don’t realize that personal fit is extremely important for therapy to be effective. Two people can have similar problems, but one might respond better to a structure and directive therapist while the other one needs a therapist who is more willing to listen and take the therapy more slowly. Also, while you might really like your therapist, this does not mean the person is helping you to make progress.

Given these variables, it is extremely important to find out a bit about the therapist’s style and how he or she would approach you and your problem. You can do this by questioning him or her over the phone. Briefly describe your problem and then ask whether she has experience with your particular issue and how she would approach treatment. If her answer leaves you puzzled, ask more questions.

As you talk with the therapist, pay attention both to the content of what he says, as well as how you feel about his style. You certainly want a therapist who has knowledge of your particular difficulty and some clear ideas about how he would treat it. But you also want someone who talks in a way that really connects with you. 

Of course, there are also practical matters to consider. Can you afford this person’s fee? From a financial standpoint, you may need to see a therapist on your insurance plan so be sure to ask this up front. Is the office a reasonable distance from your house? Even short-term therapy usually requires a number of sessions, so you don’t want the expense or geographic distance to be a problem. Therapy is hard enough without adding this difficulty.

If you think the therapist might be a good fit for you, make an appointment with the idea that it is a test session. You will get a better sense of whether you and the therapist are a good fit after meeting with him or her once or twice. It’s important to know that no matter how wonderful or experienced a therapist is, that person will not be the “best” therapist for everyone.

Entering therapy – choosing to really face your problems – takes courage. Staying with it takes sustained effort, persistence through difficulties and money (though sliding-scale options do exist for those struggling financially). So, it is extremely important to be careful in who you choose. If the therapist you are considering does not seem right for you at any point while you are interviewing him, stop the process. Depending on the circumstance, you might want to ask if he may know other professionals he can refer you to (i.e. someone geographically closer, with more expertise in a given area, or on your insurance plan).

Once you’ve made a choice, do all you can to make it work. If you are uncomfortable with something the therapist has said or her approach, tell her directly. Therapy is rarely a straight road from distress to health, so this kind of feedback is essential. With good communication and a willingness to collaborate (by you and your therapist), the therapy is much more likely to be successful; eventually creating the change that you want.

Have you had experiences finding a therapist that you can share to help others? Post here or join the discussion on our Relationships and Coping community.

Posted by: Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD at 5:12 pm

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