Looking for a therapist or someone to help with personal problems or crisis puts my stomach in knots. I’m already feeling ambivalent, I’m having a hard time coping, and to top it off I have reservations about the people I’m calling for assistance! It’s a nasty feeling! Sometimes I’d call, get an answering machine and immediately hang up. I hate those things. I cave when it’s my turn to speak. I can’t seem to open my mouth to say anything (I’m not this way anymore). So I’d calm myself, think about what I want to say, maybe write down my name and phone number for a guide, and call back. It was even more awkward if the person actually answered the phone the next time because they knew it was you who called before. Ugh. I don’t know why it’s so hard but they really don’t bite much. I have been through many therapists, counselors, psychiatrists, and social workers. Sometimes I thought I found a perfect match, invested time and money only to find out later, they weren’t the one. Yet it really wasn’t a waste of time, it was merely a clarification of this is who or what helps, and this doesn’t. Each step leads to the right one. These are going to sound like some strange tips, but these are my own personal beliefs about who is the right person. However, I encourage others to make their own list of what they are looking for in a counselor.
1. Comfortable atmosphere. It’s not cluttered with papers, it’s relaxing and calming. We go to these offices and already feeling nervous and apprehensive, you want to be able to relax. My favorite color is red, but you know I went to this one guy’s office and he had a really long (I didn’t know they made them that long) faded red couch. Okay this isn’t the real reason why he didn’t work out, but the couch really made me feel uncomfortable. However, the decor can play a part in whether or not you feel comfortable.
2. Warm and friendly therapist. I personally like a therapist who is outgoing and real, not a phony therapeutic, clinical sounding voice. They’re relaxed and not rushed or pressed for time. They smile but not too cheesy or creepy. Years ago, I had a psychiatrist who looked exactly like Alfred Neuman, the mascot on the cover of Mad magazine. I could not look at him at all without wanting to crack up. Maybe it should be someone you can stand to look at, just saying!
3. Training and experience: It’s important to find someone who s knowledgeable in the problems you’re experiencing. If they specialize in substance abuse and you’re having marital problems, they’re probably not the one. It’s also not about the degrees on the wall nor how long they’ve been counseling but can they empathize with what you’re experiencing, and offer sound counsel.
4. Trust your instincts. This is my personal favorite tell on whether or not someone is right for you. It doesn’t matter if someone recommended them, if they are world renown, or all the above tips are spot on, you need to ask yourself, “Does this person feel right?” Even if you can’t quite pinpoint why the person doesn’t feel right, trust your intuition. Sometimes the uncomfortable feeling is a new surrounding, or not able to trust people in general and that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about being with someone for a while who doesn’t understand what you’re going through. You don’t get past the uneasy and queasy feeling you get when you initially meet a new one.They might even just seem out of it and tired. You’re not connecting or on the same page. Just pay attention to your own little nudges of when it’s time to find someone new.
Those are my little tips. I spent much of my adult life in and out of therapy. I met many many therapists. Even the ones who hurt me in some way, did not deter me from finding the right one. I did have some painful therapeutic relationships for various reasons but they all taught me something very important. It taught me that some people are right for you and some aren’t, or they can only take you so far as they’ve healed their own issues. Some therapists have not done their own healing. They carry their own baggage and bias. It’s a natural and normal aspect of being human. You’ll resonate with some and not so much with others. Nothing strange is happening, just move right along. No matter what, don’t give up! If life is painful, not coping or just not feeling right, find someone who will walk or talk you through it. Good luck finding the right one!