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Summer Health and Safety

How to Know if You’ve Found the “Right” Therapist

I waited until anxiety crept into every aspect of my life before I finally decided to seek help. As someone who works at a mental health organization, this fact baffles me.

I was always telling other people to seek help, but for a long time, I didn’t follow my own advice. Why? I was anxious about being able to find a therapist who could actually help me.

After extensively researching therapist credentials and reviews online, I finally met my current therapist, who I’ve been seeing for over a year. Through my sessions with her, I feel I now have a clear understanding of what it means to find the “right” therapist — exactly what I was anxious about not being able to find.

I learned the only way to really know if a therapist is the right fit for you is by trying them out. Finding the right therapist means finding someone with whom you feel comfortable, which you can’t really tell until you’ve interacted with them.

When deciding if you’ve found the right therapist, these are a few questions to ask yourself:

Do they show acceptance and compassion?

The most effective therapists make you feel accepted and validated, and show understanding and sympathy/empathy for whatever you’re going through. They will approach you with compassion and kindness, and build enough trust for you to share your darkest thoughts and memories.

Do they guide you to your goals?

Be wary of any therapist who makes promises like, “I can get you to recovery in six months,” or “I can help you get rid of your anxiety.” Therapists should help guide you toward reaching your goals, not make guarantees about when and how you will reach them. How you improve should be at your own pace. Additionally, they are not there to set your goals for you.

Do they help you grow?

You should feel your therapist is helping you:

  • Learn skills to manage difficult emotions, handle stressful situations, or practice acceptance
  • Understand yourself better
  • Develop healthy communication skills

At the same time, this doesn’t mean they should be telling you what to do. Rather, they should help you learn how to handle whatever life throws at you.

Do they challenge you?

It’s important to recognize therapy is not synonymous with friendship. An effective therapist will help you see things from a different perspective, even if it’s hard to hear, and they might give you homework you don’t like.

Do they check in with you?

Your therapist should ask how you think things are going, and adjust your treatment based on your feedback. For instance, if you feel like they pushed you too far and you request smaller, more achievable steps, your therapist should take that into consideration.

Do they practice cultural competence?

Therapy should be tailored to your specific culture, background, and needs. A good therapist understands any cultural barriers you face and should keep those in mind while advising you.

Do they treat you as an equal?

An effective therapist works with you and supports you. They’re your partner in improving your mental health, not a teacher instructing the “right ways” to behave or the parent asserting discipline over a child. There shouldn’t be any kind of power struggle or “doctor-knows-best” attitude in their demeanor. While it is important to respect their wealth of knowledge, you shouldn’t feel inferior to your therapist.

Over the past year, I’ve experienced the benefit of having a strong, healthy relationship with my therapist. I leave my therapist’s office feeling confident that I can manage my anxiety. That’s how I know I found the “right” therapist.

Luna Greenstein, Communications Manager, National Alliance on Mental Illness, [email protected]

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