You may have heard that looking for a therapist is like dating. This can be a risky way to approach mental health, even if there are some truths in it.
The research is very detailed: therapy works best when you feel a sense of “fit” with your therapist. However, what makes this feeling of fit has been difficult to understand. Just as with dating, you can meet with different therapists, but it can be difficult to pinpoint why some therapists feel like a fit, and others don’t. Oftentimes our gut instincts are guided by bias, and we end up finding a therapist who feels like a fun friend to talk with, rather than someone who is going to help us heal, grow, and make sense of the world around us.
This article will help you understand a bit more about what creates a good fit with a therapist and how you can find the right fit for you. If you are curious if it is time to see a therapist, check out this article: When Do You Need to See a Therapist.
The first thing you should look for in a new therapist is their competence. You want to find someone who has experience with the specific issues you are experiencing. For example, if you are going through a divorce, you will want a therapist who helps people develop resilience when facing major life changes. If you have experienced violence, you will need someone well-versed in trauma.
Therapists are shaped by their own experiences in the world, and sometimes you may want a therapist who understands your culture. This could mean a therapist of the same race or gender as you, or perhaps someone who has the same religious views. For example, if you are Black, you might want a Black therapist who understands the impact of social racism. If you are Christian, you might also want a Christian therapist who can help you tap into your spirituality as part of the therapeutic process.
You will also want to look for the style of therapy and provider practices. There are over one hundred different styles of therapy. Some focus on helping you find solutions to the challenges you face. Others help you get to the root of your experiences. Still, others focus on tools that are used in therapy, such as dance, art, or meditation.
Therapists charge a wide range of fees. Some accept insurance, but many do not. Some also offer sliding scales, where you pay based on your ability to do so. If a therapist is not in your budget, you may not go for the amount of time you really need. Therapy is a process that takes multiple visits. Be sure to find a therapist who reflects your financial needs so you can commit to the process without feeling more stress and anxiety.
Similarly, you will want to find a therapist who fits with your schedule. Sometimes therapy can be difficult. Just as therapy is starting to work, many people leave it because they feel uncomfortable or because they think the work is done. People often rationalize leaving therapy because of their schedule. To prevent this from happening to you, find a therapist, you can see at convenient times.
Finally, you want to find a therapist that you can actually talk to. Each therapist has their own unique communication style, and you should find the one that works best for you. Some therapists use a lot of humor; some feel laid back, some are academic, some challenge you, and some help you feel validated. Think about the friends you most easily open up to. What is it about them that allows you to be vulnerable and honest? Try to find a therapist with similar qualities.
What NOT to look for in a therapist
Many people make their decision about a therapist based on the therapist’s photo. However, looks do not differentiate a therapist who is right for you from one who is not. This is where the dating analogy breaks down. You may choose a life partner based on their looks or charm, but neither of these factors will help you benefit from therapy.