by Benita Thornhill, MA, LPCA, LCAS-R
Sometimes despite your efforts, your intimate relationships do not go as planned. When this happens you often spend a lot of time and energy going in circles trying to figure out how your relationship got into this situation in the first place. Other times, you know exactly what resulted in your relationship taking a detour from the happily ever after you imagined. Regardless of the reason your relationship is in distress, the most significant job you have now is to decide if you want the pattern of difficulty you are currently engaged in to continue. Or, if you want to get off of this crazy loopy ride and make real changes in your relationship, so that you can have your “Happily Ever After”.
When many people hear the word “therapist, counselor, social worker, and psychotherapist” they get a funny feeling inside and it’s not necessarily a good one. Because of this, many people opt to ask well-meaning friends or family members instead, who have been “through” what they are “going through” for advice. This decision could do more harm then good. Although their advice and suggestions may appear to cost you nothing monetarily, it could cost you big in your relationship.
This is because these individuals usually have difficulty staying unbiased when listening to your concerns. Sometimes, they tell you what you “should” do instead of help you to find the answers for yourself. Think about it, if you needed immediate medical care, would you go to someone who experienced the same medical problem for treatment? Sure, they could tell you what their symptoms were, where they went for care and their experience dealing with the issue. This information could be helpful and result in you finding an awesome doctor, but none of this would provide you with the actual treatment you would need to get well. When you decide to seek treatment, you would most likely choose, a board certified and licensed doctor who has been specially trained to help you with your medical issue.
The same concept holds true when you are experiencing relationship problems. Professional therapist have went through rigorous training at accredited institutions to learn how to help you. They have successfully passed exams to demonstrate they have the necessary skills to help you explore your situation and create a plan of treatment that will help to reduce or terminate the emotional distress you are experiencing. They also hold valid license (you can look them up on your states licensing board for therapist or social workers and find their license number, when their license was given and expires) which ensures that they are up-to-date on training and abide by a code of ethics. So, how do you select the right therapist, when thinking about going to a therapist makes you full of anxiety?
Choosing the Right Therapist
- Understand what therapy is
Therapy will not solve the problem for you. Instead it will help you develop the skills you need to make your life better. It will help you learn how to look at your problems from different ways. Sometimes, this shift in perception can lead to new insights into your situation. Therapy will also help you to become more aware of your own feelings, thoughts, and behavior patterns. The more you know about yourself, the more of yourself you can give to others. Therapy will help you to replace negative or inaccurate thoughts and beliefs so that you can start building a more satisfying life.
- Know what therapy is not
Therapy does not give guarantees about the outcome of your therapy. That would be magic not therapy. Therapy doesn’t change other people or teach you how to make other people change. That would also be magic. Therapy will not create immediate change in your life. That would require the use of a magic wand, which is also magic. Therapy takes hard work and dedication to be successful. Therapy is not the same as coaching, although many therapist offer coaching. Coaching doesn’t require a license or degree and can be inappropriate for certain types of issues you may be facing. Not knowing the difference could do more harm then good.
- Know what you want out of therapy
You would never take your money to a dress maker and say, “I don’t know what type of dress I want, the size, or the length. Just make me a dress.” Chances are you will not get a dress that you like. In therapy, having an idea of what you want to get out of therapy will help you select the therapist who seems most likely to be able to help you with your specific goals.
- Conduct a search
Ask friends, relatives or google therapist in your community. One great source is Psychology Today. It will help you to find therapist according to where you live, the insurance you have (or don’t have), and the issues you are going to therapy for. It also allows you to read information about the therapist including their specialties, therapeutic approach, fees, hours and other important information. Narrow your list down to about 3-5 therapist and call them. Listen to how the phone is answered. Does the therapist sound like they are happy you called, knowledgeable and polite? Ask the hours they see clients and their fee structure. Don’t let fees be the deciding factor in choosing a therapist, but you need to make sure that you will be able to pay your therapist.
- Decide on a therapist
Take some time to decide which therapist is right for you. Make sure you have checked your insurance company’s copays and out of network benefits if you decide to use insurance. If you choose to self-pay make sure you are choosing a therapist that you will be able to afford on a consistent basis. Usually, therapist recommend weekly visits when you start therapy. Remember, that the length of time you are in therapy will depend on your circumstances and will not be the same for everyone.
Avoid therapist who:
- Treat you like an interruption to their day
- Are not interested in your problems
- Talk so much that you are unable to express your feelings or thoughts
- Guarantees results or immediate change
- Appears confrontational, bossy, uncaring or accusatory
- Makes you feel uncomfortable physically or emotionally
- Personalizes your sessions and makes it about themselves instead of about you