What to Look for in a Therapist

If you prefer to listen, here's the Podcast version of this post on iTunes and Soundcloud:

Hi Peeps! This is an oldy - I realized I forgot to blog this when I posted the podcast. Thank you Olivia for requesting it! xo

This is my personal list of what to look for when choosing a therapist, plus a few basic tactics to attack the task. Take what helps and leave the rest! It’s an amazing and important gift to give yourself and it’s more worth it than anything you will spend money on for the rest of your life – quite simply, because it will change your life – everything about it and everyone in it – for the better.

I send you my love and positivity – and if you have time, please please leave me a review on iTunes – it’s super important to me and I love to read them!

How to go about finding a therapist? Firstly, look up what your insurance covers and if you don’t have insurance – good for you for going for this because it’s worth more to you than a haircut, a car, or something like a nice pair of shoes. This is your brain and body and soul we're talking about!! Doing this work will change EVERYTHING in your life for the better. You are the most valuable thing you have and therefore you should absolutely invest in this.

Okay if you do have insurance -  go through the list of names and find someone who you can get to without having to put yourself through hell – so not someone on the opposite side of the entire city, but if you are referred to someone excellent you can of course make an exception. And this is totally crazy I know – but I literally pick people with names that appeal to me and listen to their voice mail message. I ask myself: Do they sound nice and relatable? (Gotta start somewhere.)

If you don't, just Google people in your hood and read reviews! Make a list of all the names that appeal to you. I know it's not a science but there's something to be said for what attracts us in the first place - so make a list based off of names, ratings, and their area of specialty (if any is listed) if it pertains to you.

I suggest you schedule as many first appointments as possible in the month, but keep it to one a week so you can actually reflect on your experience. If you live in an area that makes it impossible to meet one of the psychologists that appeal to you then I suggest you call them and explain your situation - then set up a Skype situation with occasional phone calls (instead of in-person appointments). Yes, this is better than nothing if you cannot be in person – and a great therapist on the phone is better than a bad one in person. I know that often there are better therapists available in cities (just a density/numbers thing) so if you're unsure about your location - go for a long-distance therapy session with someone GREAT in a major city. Eventually someone will be able to accommodate you and if they won't, they can often give great referrals.

Here is the criteria by which I think you should measure a good one:

Someone who can tell you more than you can tell them:

I think this is the biggest reason that many people fail in therapy. They end up with someone who cannot offer them more than what they already know, and in turn this compounds a feeling of utter hopelessness in your issues. You will likely meet several therapists with nothing to offer you – who might have graduated with amazing grades but are not adept at reading your pain, because they are themselves one-dimensional humans without enough depth. So use your analytical eye and listen to your gut while observing this doctor. Don’t let it go on for a while based on what they tell you will eventually happen. I think you will know within the first meeting whether or not this person can help you or not. If they don’t, I say listen to your gut and move on. Too pricey to waste time and there are many more out there!

Someone Relatable:

You want someone who relates to you on a human level and not someone who is just looking at you like a term from a book. I personally think it's comforting when you can share anecdotes with one another and commiserate about the ups and downs of life - now and again.

Signs of emotional understanding, and preferably kind:

You want someone who can feel sympathy for your issues and/or relate to your feelings personally. It goes a long way in their ability to find personal and nuanced solutions.

Shared values and background:

I find this goes a long way in their ability to give you the guidance that applies to your particular situation. That doesn’t mean that if you’re gay they have to be gay, but it means they must accept and support your values and lifestyle.

Specialization in related topics:

This is not a mandate but man oh man it’s a huge plus! If you find someone with related background in their search description – it means they are bringing eons more information to your particular situation. So for example, go to Psychologists with a background in eating disorders if you have food related issues. You will likely move through this more quickly because of it.

The higher the degree, the better:

I am not trying to suggest that there aren’t millions of people who have MFT’s or MA’s or other counseling certificates who aren’t amazing and wonderful, but in my opinion when you go to a person with a degree as a PsyD. or PhD, you are automatically avoiding a lot of the bad ones just by doing so. There are a lot of certificates for counseling that people can get in a couple of years and for the most part, I don’t trust them to be as capable as those who have been through medical school. Call me a snob – it’s more a ratios thing than anything else. If you’re going to do this, why not do it the best way possible. Another option is to get a referral from a friend you trust. I have referred many friends to a very short list of professionals because quite simply, they take research and time to find. Do your homework before deciding on yours.

Someone who does not immediately push you into meds:

In my opinion, you should be FIRST and FOREMOST doing therapy with a psychologist and not psychiatrist. Psychiatrists for those who don’t know, are the docs who prescribe meds and when you go to one, they tend to like to do that. So if you are working on venting some issues that have been pent up for a lifetime, you want someone who will do talk therapy with you and not tell you to start ingesting more medicine.

IF you are seeing a psychologist and they recommend meds after seeing you for a while, you are allowed to request alternate solutions: there are many. So if you are finding that the people you are seeing are very absolute about you going on meds, I think you can look into other options on your own and build your support system. You cannot and should not be forced to do anything you don’t want to – your self-care is yours to build the way you want. But know this: if you are depressed or there are chemical processes at play, you must do SOMETHING to moderate your chemicals. And if it’s not meds it’s up to you to find another solution that works for you. Just like the Sopranos, when you see a doctor under negative pretenses, you affirm the vices.

Someone who has clear and strict boundaries:

So this is a real thing: doctors who don’t adhere to firm ethics set up by the rules of practicing psychology. This simply means, you want a doctor who is not going to bend, make grey areas or do illegal stuff. You want someone who operates by the moral ethical code. I don’t mean they can’t allow you to call them when it’s an emergency – I mean they can’t invite you to their birthday party. I know it’s crazy to think that there are some out there – but if you have a doctor who is willing to do simple things that cross boundaries, like hang out as friends – or tell you personal details about other patients, or who tells you personal stories that make you uncomfortable, or who will lie cross the lines of the patient/doctor relationship in any way. That’s a warning sign that points to other bigger problems with their ethics. I say no go. This is your being at stake! Don’t risk it with a person who is not completely aligned in all facets of their professional standards. There is a very significant dynamic that is set up by this relationship and the rules are in place for a reason. You want someone who is MORE hyper aware of that than you are – because they very much have the power position in the relationship and it’s easy for bad people to manipulate that. Especially for you women.

Someone who doesn’t bring personal problems to the table:

In other words, someone who clearly has your best interests at heart. You will be able to sense this. It’s something clearly negative – not tough love, but someone who makes you feel bad about yourself.

Doctors are human. They are flawed – hopefully they can leave most of their issues at the door but sometimes that’s not the case. Don’t let this damage you. This is a sad truth but there are a lot of doctors out there with their own issues and when they don’t have a strong core in their self and stability in their personal life, or perhaps they have a godlike complex because of the position they’re in and they get swept up in the idea of that role when they are treating you.  The short of it is a weak ego and other issues can cause you emotional HARM and the opposite of good.

I’ve seen this with a lot of couples counselors– I blame the degree, but I am sure that’s not the real cause. It’s really about the ratio of doctors and how many are going to not be of high quality – look at how many restaurants there are! Of course not all of them are five-star! Hopefully people will out them on a social media review site, but you should absolutely always be on the look out for someone who is hurting more than helping. That means they are

What you should look out for:A doctor who makes you feel more weak, who does not offer you a feeling of hope and understanding - any doctor who is unfairly stigmatizing you, causing you to feel worse about yourself, who is driving you to fight MORE with your significant other. Who is unkindly blaming you.

Someone who calls you on your shit:

I know that sounds weird but you want someone who can confront you and hopefully does it in the first meeting. If this isn’t that kind of situation – like let’s say you are wounded and you need some very gentle hand-holding, then this is not going to show through. But you want someone who is going to see through your typical beliefs and basically call you out when you need to be called out. It shouldn’t be YOU telling THEM how it is and will be. It should be you talking about yourself and them offering you insights and allowing you to reflect on yourself – so more than anything this is about finding someone who sees past your typical ism’s and is able to call you out when you need it – it’s kind of connected to the “someone who knows more than you do” one.

And this last one is for you.

YOU decide what YOU get out of this. It’s for you – so don’t lump it on the shoulders of your therapist. So have a clear set of challenges you want to address – and make it clear to yourself and therapist that THAT is the goal to work through.

I think a lot of the time you can get in a habit of just walking in and complaining about general shit – and that’s a waste of your time and money. Make this count. When you start therapy, know what is really causing you the most hurt and holding you back emotionally and make it a clear goal for yourself to tackle that thing. I don’t mean you have to get right to the core of it before you feel comfortable with someone, but how well this works is up to YOU.  How fast do you want to work through this? Be aggressive and go all in. Like fully invest and immerse yourself – trust your doctor and commit yourself to the process and being honest and dedicated to appointments.

You are giving yourself an amazing gift! So make it work for you! It’s expensive – don’t beat around the bush and don’t waste it on the trivial crap. Put it all out there, show your ugly side, and be brutally honest about what’s going on in your life and your past. If you want to really move through this at optimal speed, get right to the roots – and give them all information they need. Like don’t hide shit from your therapist. You’re just disabling them from helping you and getting a clear picture.

The way this help works best is you have clear goals and you make it your goal to work toward processing those goals. And make them THE GOALS. Like don’t approach this because you “need therapy” and life’s kinda “meh” – go with clear issues you want to tackle head on and make them your clear destination with your work. It will also help you inform the therapist where they need to guide your sessions. So let’s say you have problems with food control and dating douche bags. You emotionally eat. Make it your goal in therapy to gut the root of those issues because they’re all emotional and tied to something built into your past.

I will tell you first hand that I made it super aggressive – I wanted to process the crap out of my issues and all-in. Which is intense and you end up having to go twice a week sometimes when it gets really intense. That’s to be expected!

I hope this helps and I want to remind you that this is just my personal opinion so take from it what helps and leave the rest. I don’t want to talk anyone out of a therapist they love – or tell you how to live your life if you are happy the way it’s going – and maybe it doesn’t align with what I’ve outlined. This is just to help you with what I know. So with that I hope you go for it! It’s the best money you will ever invest – ever. It’s not a piece of furniture, it’s your person! Your being! The most important thing in your world – and making it grow will contribute to the happiness and health of everyone in your life – so it’s worth it for them too.

I send you my love and positivity – and if you have time, please please leave me a review on iTunes – it’s super important to me and I love to read them.

Aight peeps, smile!

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