I found the right therapist after an interesting period of trial and error over a year ago. First, there was the search for a therapist within my budget—which was minimal at best—or covered by my insurance (this is after a pretty hefty deductible, which still needed to be met on top of my small budget). Then, there was finding a therapist who specifically could make me feel comfortable by identifying with me as a Black woman. Finally, I sought a therapist who could work with my crazy schedule by offering evening appointments (like late evenings) after work. It seemed like a pretty extensive list to find in someone until I found her, and I realized my needs weren’t as stringent as they seemed.
Therapy can either make or break your mental wellness, depending on your experience. If you find yourself doubting your experience with your therapist, you might need to consider finding another therapist who can better meet your needs.
You deserve a therapist who is going to meet your specific needs with treatment that is effective and inclusive. Identify if your therapist is the right fit for you, and make sure you are getting what you need.
Did they offer a consultation first?
One of the most important parts of beginning your mental wellness journey with the therapist you’ve chosen is the initial consultation, where they will go over their experience and specialties, their insurance and payment options, and any proper intake documentation they would need from you if you’d choose to move forward with them. This should also be a time where they let you ask them any questions to discover if they can meet your needs in therapy. A good therapist should encourage you to ask as many questions as you have about them and what you need—and you should feel empowered to do so. This is the most important part the consultation plays in the role of identifying a good client-therapist relationship.
Your initial consultation should essentially feel like an informal interview:
What areas of therapy do you specialize in? Do you have experience working with clients like me and with my needs?
What are some of the techniques you use to help your clients?
How are your sessions structured? What should I expect in our first few sessions?
A consultation done right should address whether you feel comfortable with them and if they are the right fit for you. How you feel during and after the consultation with a potential therapist speaks volumes too. Do you feel like you were heard and that they answered your questions thoroughly? Did the office space feel welcomed and inviting? Did they seem fully engaged with you or distracted in any way? The way you feel physically and emotionally around your therapist is just as important as what they can do for you; a consultation should be had in order to help you explore that before you begin your therapy.
Do they specialize in the areas of therapy that fits your specific needs?
Therapists specialize in a variety of areas and treatments, from depression and anxiety to childhood trauma, post-partum depression, sexual abuse, and more. They also approach their clients in therapy in different ways as well. Some are more goal-oriented and collaborative with their methods, coaching you through the session and providing steps and action items to help you do the work, and some are more passive in their sessions, helping you talk through and discover issues and solutions on your own.
Does your therapist have experience or training in the issues you’re facing? This is a good indicator whether your therapist can meet your specific needs and be able to provide the right treatment for you. What are their methods and have they been effective? This is a great gauge to determine whether you are receiving the help you need or if you need to consider another therapist who is better suited for you.
Have they provided the flexibility in scheduling you need? Are they responsive in communicating with you?
We are all living very busy lives, but that shouldn’t stop your therapist from communicating effectively with you and being flexible with their scheduling. Many therapists offer sessions outside of normal working hours, such as evening appointments for those who work the typical 9-to-5 shift, to weekend and virtual appointments when you’re not available in-person or during the workweek. Additionally, some therapists are available to meet as often as you may need, whether it’s weekly sessions to start or on an as-needed basis, which can range from bi-weekly to monthly check-ins . If your therapist is not as flexible with their availability, see if they can consider the option of referring you to someone who might be.
There are various types of therapy that could work better for your schedule and your needs, from online therapy—many that are tailored to your busy lifestyle and how you identify—to evening sessions, virtual sessions, group therapy, and more. Don’t feel attached to one specific form of therapy or even to your therapist just because you’ve already been working with them as a client; search for the therapist who can see you when you need it.
Communication is also key to a healthy journey with your therapist. One of the easiest ways to lose confidence in your therapist is when you can’t reach them when you need to. Are they available by phone, email and/or text message in case of a mental or emotional crisis, or can they refer you to a 24/7 resource that is? Make sure your therapist has outlined all of the methods they are able to communicate during and after office hours. Do they respond to your requests to meet in a timely manner? A great therapist makes sure to follow up with their clients in an efficient manner and checks up on a regular basis, especially if they haven’t heard from you after an emotionally tough session.
Do they take your identity into consideration and feel inclusive to your experience?
A good therapist should feel like having a conversation with a best friend: someone who you trust to listen and understand your experiences, but with who can help you process your issues in a safe space, a key difference between entrusting in a therapist vs. a friend. Even though your therapist might have a different background from you, they should still be able to be inclusive and understanding of all of the nuisances of your identity—your race, gender or non-binary identity, your mental health history—a few of the many characteristics that make you who you are. Your therapy experience should feel inclusive and a safe space to fully be who you are without the fear of judgement or misrepresentation. If your therapist is constantly misrepresenting or ignoring your identity and your experiences and lacks empathy for that, they may not be the right therapist for you.
Therapy is all about you, and one bad experience in therapy can seriously impact your mental health journey, so trust your instincts after an initial consultation or a few sessions to determine if you’ve found the right professional who can tag along in that journey with you as your guide.