There's a huge difference between choosing a medical doctor and choosing a psychotherapist. While both look at symptoms and offer treatment, the therapeutic relationship is far more complex and personal. Even though most therapists receive the same basic training, the dynamics between patient and client are as variable as the personalities inside the room.
When evaluating your own therapy experience, trust yourself. Your therapist might be highly qualified or come highly recommended. But only you know if your therapist is the right one for you.
1.Do you enjoy going to see your therapist?
It's a given that people seek out therapy when they are in emotional pain. Break-ups, loss of a loved one and debilitating anxiety or depression are common reasons to seek out therapy. Just because your life is in pain, doesn't mean the experience has to be painful. Ideally, you should look forward to going to therapy. That's because your therapist provides a comfortable, soothing retreat.
If you find yourself dreading your therapy appointments, it's a good idea to do some soul searching. Are there concrete reasons for your discomfort? Does the therapist remind you of someone else? Would your therapist be open to your feedback? If you feel that there are 'irreconcilable differences', it's OK to see someone else. Just be honest and communicate. The way you behave with your therapist mimics your behavior in real life. Treat her with the kind of respect you'd like for yourself.
2. Do you feel heard?
There's a big difference between someone who listens halfheartedly and someone who hears you. In therapy, the goal is to be heard and understood. You ought to leave each session feeling that your therapist really 'gets' what you are saying.
An attentive therapist will do more than just nod her head. She'll ask probing questions and paraphrase what your'e saying. She'll listen with an air of curiosity and openness. If she's not quite getting you, she'll let you know. You and your therapist are a team. And that team is based on you and your therapy goals.
3. Does your therapist talk too much about herself?
The therapy room is all about you. That's why you are paying a professional. And that's the luxury of therapy. The focus of meetings are totally about your life. Sometimes therapists will disclose something personal in order to make a point. Usually that's OK. However if it is excessive to the point that you feel a need to help her, be careful.
Therapy is not about making a friend. It's a unique relationship based on boundaries and a structured frame. The frame is the therapy room. The less you know about your therapist, the better the therapy. Freud called that transference. He recommended that the therapist be a 'blank screen'. This allows you to experience a relationship with someone who might have been absent or gave you less than what you needed. Usually that would be a parent, caretaker or teacher. Therapy is often about being re-parented or unconditionally accepted by an authority figure. Your therapist needs to let you assign the role most needed for your own personal healing.
4. Does your therapist tell you what to do?
Life coaches tell you what to do. Therapists empower you so that you can make your own decisions. By providing a space of unconditional acceptance and support, you will learn how to tune in and get a sense of what you really want. You will learn to understand the difference between distorted feelings and fact. These skills are life sustaining and will serve you for the rest of your life. You will learn how to make rational decisions on your own. You will never be told what to do.
Sometimes it's tempting to ask for advice. While she may tell you what she would do if she were in your shoes, ultimately only you know what's best for you. Your therapist serves as a guide; never an authority figure.
5. Does your therapist judge?
The therapy room promises to be nonjudgmental. But do you feel that way? Remember that oftentimes we feel judged when we aren't. That's because we project feelings from others on to the person we are interacting with in the moment. That projection is a form of transference. Sometimes we unconsciously seek out disapproval because it's familiar. Just because you feel comfortable in your old shoes, it doesn't mean they are right for your feet.
You need to be cognizant of how you are being treated in the therapy room. Don't assume the worst. But at the same time, don't take the blame. If you feel you are being judged, check it out with your therapist. It just may be a case of transference. Or, your therapist might actually have strong opinions. Remember they are human too. A good therapist will admit mistakes and find truth in what you are saying. You have the right to a non-judgmental environment.
The therapy experience is as unique as you and the person you are seeing. Unlike the doctor/patient experience, it's not all about science. It's a relationship based on compatibility, communication and trust.
These days, online therapy websites are as utilized as online dating websites. And that's the way many are seeking a therapist. They look at pictures, profiles and fees. They send a few emails, make a phone call and set up an appointment. It's very hit or miss.
Sometimes people are happy with their choice but sometimes they aren't. However, unlike a date, most people feel that they are stuck in their choice. They feel compelled to stick it out but more often they give up on the idea of therapy. They judge one experience and condemn the entire process.
You have rights and you have say. It's OK to exercise your opinion. And, if your communications fall on deaf ears, it's OK to break up and move on.
Move on to the next therapist but don't give up on therapy. Therapy is a wonderful, healing and life affirming experience. Yes, I'm a therapist. And yes, I do my best to live up to standards I've shared with you.