This is part two of a series on how to find the right therapist for you. I’m Maureen Fernandez, our content director, interviewing Dr. Laura Vogel, our director of therapeutic services at Momentous Institute. In the last post, we talked about finding the type of therapist who will be best for you. In this post, we’ll talk about narrowing the search and finding the right specific person to meet your needs.

So, Laura, in the last post you encouraged people to figure out setting, budget and other specifics on therapists. Let’s say that someone went through that process and now has something of a wish list for the type of therapy and therapist they want to pursue. What’s next?

So first, I would say that like with any other professional, it’s always helpful to get a recommendation if you can. If I need a dermatologist or a pediatrician, I’m likely to ask friends, post to social media or ask around in groups I belong to for recommendations. I know that some people reading this may be hesitant about the idea of asking friends to recommend a therapist. It does take a certain level of vulnerability. Those of us in the mental health field hope that we can come to a place where the stigma of seeking mental health support goes away and it’s as normal as asking for a recommendation for a medical doctor. So that’s my first advice, and I acknowledge that this route may not be ideal for some people.

So aside from personal referrals, there are other ways to find someone. Your primary care doctor can often be another important source for a referral. If you are planning to go through your insurance company, there is often a list of professionals in the insurance network and they typically list their experience and any relevant information. There are also online directories, such as Psychology Today. If you’re selecting a therapist from a list, I recommend you read their short description. In these, the therapist will typically talk about how they approach the process, any particular modalities they may utilize, and any specialties they focus on. You may be able to choose someone or filter someone out based on the way they describe the process. For example, one therapist might list that they bring a spiritual aspect to therapy. Depending on whether or not you identify as a spiritual person or desire to have that be part of your therapy process, this may either appeal to you or you may wish to choose someone else.

From a list of therapists, you can make a short list and reach out for consultations and talk directly to the therapist to get a deeper sense of who they are.

Now, if you are seeking support through a clinic, it is not uncommon for you to meet with one person who does what is called an “intake.” This may happen by phone or in person, but their job is to gather more information about your concerns. Following this appointment, you may be matched with a therapist who can best meet your needs or you may have to wait for a match. Generally, clinics will consider your requests for certain qualities like gender or race, but they may not always be able to meet those needs. Regardless, talking with your therapist and/or the intake coordinator about why those requests are important to you will help them better understand how to support you.

Alright so now let’s say you’ve found a few folks who seem like they might meet your needs. The next step is a consultation of some sort? What is that process like?

So if you pick maybe 2-3 therapists who seem like they meet your criteria, you can set up brief consultations. Most therapists will do free 15-minute phone consultations. The purpose of these calls is to determine if you’re the right fit for each other. You can certainly come into these consultations with a couple of questions in mind of what you want to know about the therapist – maybe it’s getting a better understanding of their years of experience, their particular expertise, or whatever else is important for you to know. However, I think the real purpose of a consultation is just to see if you and the therapist jive. It’s hard to explain that because it’s more of a gut sense. But I think even in a brief consult over the phone, you can begin to get a sense of whether you will feel comfortable with someone.

Okay so now let’s jump ahead. You have gone through this process and you have a winner – someone you think you can work with. For some people, this is the end of the story. You find a great match and you work together until you determine that treatment should end. However, that’s not the case for everyone. I know the first couple sessions are just getting to know each other, but let’s say a few sessions in, you find that you’re not connecting or something feels off. What do you do?

I think it’s really important to remember that therapy can at times make us feel uncomfortable. This is part of the change process. So, there are a lot of layers to this answer. There’s the relationship piece, which as we know, any relationship between two people, no matter the setting, requires work and trust. And there’s a power dynamic, in that the therapist is a professional who you are paying to work with. And there’s the vulnerability piece that comes with therapy, where you’re sharing very personal information with the therapist. So just the very nature of the experience means that there will likely be discomfort.

One question I encourage you to ask yourself if you’re wondering whether the therapist is not a match for you is: is this hurtful, or is this uncomfortable? If something is uncomfortable, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad. A therapist may be asking you difficult questions or challenging your beliefs about something. This doesn’t mean the therapist and you are not a good match.

However, there are also things that are hurtful.

I think that some people find themselves uncomfortable and think that it is a reflection on the relationship with the therapist, rather than the process of therapy. And I also think that some people stay in a relationship with a therapist that is not the right fit because they think this is what therapy is or they’re not aware that you can address that with your therapist or even find a new therapist if needed.

Some red flags that might help you determine if you’re in that second camp are if you feel like the therapist is continuously dismissing your concerns, you feel shamed in any way, or you don’t feel safe expressing a difference of opinion. You may be uncomfortable in therapy but you should not feel shamed or hurt by your therapist.

I advocate that anyone who has a concern about the relationship between themselves and their therapist bring it up directly to them. As a therapist, I can say that I want to know if the client is feeling that something is off. It will be important to our relationship moving forward to know this and work through it.

This can really go two ways. The first is that you and the therapist can work through whatever the issue is and this can result in even greater connection between the two of you. Paying attention to the way the therapist responds to your concern is important. If he or she goes towards the concern and attempts to repair any rupture, and you’re able to collaborate on what will be most helpful moving forward, that can be very therapeutic in and of itself and can lead to an even stronger relationship in the long run.

The other way this can go is that it can lead to the decision to find another therapist who is a better match.

Let’s talk about that. Is this common that someone gives a therapist a shot and then switches if they don’t feel its working?

It certainly happens. I can share a story of a time it happened with me. I was working with a young client who was working through issues related to confidence and working towards goals for the future. After quite a few sessions, this client still wasn’t opening up much and I was finding it hard to connect with her. Eventually she brought up that she wasn’t sure therapy was working for her. She didn’t feel like I understood the world she lived in, with her early career experiences and relationship struggles. She thought maybe someone younger or earlier in their career could relate more than I could and might be more helpful. I can definitively say that this was a positive experience for both of us. I was not offended that I wasn’t the right match for her. In fact, the opposite was true. I was proud of her and grateful that she found her voice and was able to communicate her needs. Ultimately, I was able to connect her with another therapist on our team who was a better fit and they worked very well together. Our primary goal as therapists should always be what is in the best interest of the client, and so if things are not working out, I don’t feel a sense of disappointment or ownership. I feel an urgency to support the client in achieving their treatment goals, whether that is with me or someone else.

This is super helpful advice, thank you for opening up and sharing your insight! As we mentioned before, this advice is for anyone seeking therapy of any kind in any location, however will you share a little more about Momentous Institute’s therapeutic services for those who are local and might be a fit?

Momentous Institute offers sliding scale mental health support to children ages 0-15 and their family members. We have over 30 licensed therapists who provide individual, family, group, play therapy, and parent education classes in English and Spanish. We offer in-person sessions in two Dallas locations and virtual sessions. Anyone who is interested can call us to make an appointment at 214-916-4000.

Thank you so much!

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