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How to Select the Right Therapist For You

There are thousands upon thousands of psychotherapists in this country with over a few hundred in Grand Rapids alone. It is, you might say, a growth business (pun intended) but of course not all therapists are equally well talented, ethical and responsible. Finding someone you can trust to share some of your most frightening, embarrassing and intimate details of your life, is no easy task. Finding the right fit is essential whether you consider your problems large or small. If you are going to spend the time, effort and yes, money to learn more about yourself and hopefully live with greater confidence and ease, then also spend the time getting the very best therapist for you.

How can you tell?

I suggest you start by asking trusted friends who have been in therapy. Ask what their experiences were like: Did they feel safe to say what was most important to them? Could they count on their therapists to listen carefully to what they said? How did the therapists handle conflicts or disagreements that may have arisen between them? Were their therapists defensive or more open and reflective? Did their therapists have agendas, perhaps feeling they knew what was best, a “one size fits all therapist”? Were their therapists careful about time and money? Were they on time for sessions or did they cancel abruptly. Did they bill promptly, and this may be a surprise, did they charge enough? These last issues, while perhaps seemingly insignificant, are very important to the ultimate success of your therapy. If a therapist can’t handle his or her time and money well, this sloppiness may reflect a lack of self care and potentially problems in providing a professional, therapeutic and safe environment for you.

The answers to these questions may help you decide the type of therapist you want. Still you won’t really know until you meet with him or her for at least a few times. One meeting may be enough to rule out a really obvious “misfit” but sometimes even really capable therapists take a while to warm up and for the budding therapy relationship to begin to gel. But here are a few more questions to consider, which may be helpful: How are you greeted? Too effusively and there are likely to be problems with boundaries i.e. you become a friend not a client/patient, too stiffly and there may well be problems with rigidity and a difficulty handling strong feelings. How is the office set up? Is it comfortable; is there respect for your privacy and confidentiality? Is it well put together, not necessarily with expensive furniture but not with “cast offs” either? The office is the therapists “second home” and if he or she spends a lot of time there it reflects who they are and what they value. How attentively are you listened to? When the therapist speaks does he or she have something important to add maybe a clarification, question, suggestion, reflection or interpretation? What is the therapist’s range: emotionally and intellectually? Do you feel understood? Are your ideas and feelings welcomed and considered? If need be can you see yourself meeting with this person for months if not years?

If you answer “No” to most of these question you might want to choose another therapist. Don’t allow yourself to be cajoled, pressured or made to feel guilty if you decide the fit won’t work. If you experience any of these feelings you are probably right to leave. After all you have many choices and it is your life.