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Choosing a Therapist: How to Find the Help You Need
When people call my office seeking help it is usually a crisis situation. I think I know why people wait until then to reach out to professionals. First of all, there is a misperception that you have to really be in over your head before entering counseling. Secondly, there is not a lot of information about how to choose a therapist. In a crisis we are less likely to be thoughtful in our choices. Choosing the best therapist for you is what I'd like to address in this column. I also want to emphasize that I believe that pre-crisis counseling is a good preventive medicine."
Deciding upon a therapist is a serious consideration. It is an investment in time, money and trust. If the choice is a good one, the pay off is great. I encourage each person to take his/her time and interview possible candidates. This is one of the reasons I encourage people to seek out a competent counselor before a crisis occurs. A counselor that is right for one person may or may not be a good fit for someone else. However, asking friends who have had a good experience with a therapist is an excellent place to start. Your pediatrician or family doctor can also be helpful in directing you towards skilled, experienced and reputable mental health practitioners in your area. Also the Stepfamily Association has compiled a list of clinicians from a variety of disciplines who have interest and experience in treating issues that are common in stepfamilies.Once you have a list of possible candidates, the next step is to interview your potential therapist. Here are some areas you might want to consider exploring.
After all this interviewing, compare the way you and your spouse felt with each counselor. With whom did you feel the greatest connection, ease and trust? That feeling is the best indicator of all. Remember that good counseling is not always a comfortable process. There are times you might feel misunderstood or unheard. If this occurs be sure to talk it out with the therapist. A good therapist will not respond defensively but will be eager to work with you in trying to understand the difficulty. If you continue to feel misunderstood or not respected after bringing this up with him/her, perhaps this isn't a good match and you need to look elsewhere.
Good therapy is much like a healthy family. There will be disagreements among family members but disagreements can be resolved so that nobody consistently feels they are on the losing end. In fact, a good therapeutic relationship will encourage the working out of the difficulties between the therapist and client as a model for how conflicts can be resolved outside the therapist's office. That ability is one of the indicators that you're accomplishing something in counseling. There are some people or families who never seem to be able to find just the right counselor. If you've tried several different counselors but continue to find fault with all of them, that might mean you are feeling ambivalent about counseling in general. In other words, there will never be the perfect counselor, just like there isn't a perfect mate or perfect family. In fact, if each of us is honest about our feelings toward counseling, the truth would be that we all approach therapy with both a desire to know and a fear of what we will find out about ourselves.
I believe this to be universally true. I've never known anyone, including myself, that wasn't hesitant about looking closely at those things that we would rather keep hidden. Therefore, don't let ambivalence or momentary discomfort derail your counseling. All in all, the search for the right counselor for you and your family can be an educational one. You not only have the right to make an educated choice, you have a responsibility. Good luck on your journey. Good therapy is well worth the energy it takes to find.___________________________________
* Lynn Yarbrough Naugle is a clinical social worker in private practice in New Orleans, Louisiana
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