Journey to Finding the Right Therapist
"Therapy is amazing! Everyone should see a therapist and open up to a professional”
With the rise in mental health awareness in India , you’ve probably heard variants of these statements frequently in the media , or among friends.
But the question every therapy seeker has had at some point remains –
“How do I know which is the right therapist for me?”
After personally suffering from a great deal of existential crisis and clueless-ness about life last year , I did a good amount of counselor-hopping , trying to find the right person to talk to. Through this , I’ve realized there’s a systematic journey to it. It’s definitely not easy to find someone perfect in the first or even the first few tries.
Many of us blindly
take suggestions from our friends who’ve visited a particular therapist and has great things to say about them, only to realise they aren’t working for you. This isn’t always the right approach. The answer to this question cannot be the same for any two individuals.
The right therapist for YOU might not be the right therapist for your friend ,
and vice versa. While they’re professionals in the exact same field , their way of working almost never coincides.
Does this mean you should worry? Absolutely not. In your journey you will come across all kind of therapists before you find who works for you as an individual.
Here’s a little listicle to help you through the finding process.
1) Consult therapy goers in your circle
Obviously , all of us do a little verbal research before taking any service. Why shouldn’t this apply to therapy as well?
However , as stated above , don’t blindly go by “Yeah , Dr. X is great , helped me get through some dark times.” Ask them why.
What makes Dr. X great?
Why do you like his methods so much?
What drove you to continue seeing Dr. X despite the abundance of psychologists in town?
This is what you should be asking. It might be too direct , but your mental health is at stake here.
2) Do your online research
With websites like Justdial , MouthShut , Google reviews , finding public opinion on any service is far from difficult. Use these tools to find top rated therapists/counsellors/psychologists in and around your area. Read what people have to say about them and seriously consider every aspect defined in each review considering the fact that this person is going to be inside your head and emotions for a while.
While reading these reviews or listings , make sure the following questions are answered.
Do they have a proper degree from a known school ?
The name or ranking of their institution isn’t what is being emphasised here. There are “therapists” out there claiming expertise in a given modality while just having some sort of seminar or online course certification. Putting your mental health in their hands is a HUGE no.
What is their specialty?
Therapists usually only have very few specialities like CBT , DBT , Regression Therapy and such. If one therapist has more than say 5 specialties , its something to be wary of. You cant be an expert at everything and neither can they.
Have they worked with people that have issues similar to yours?
This one is a little tricky because you need to have a conversation with yourself and ask why you’re seeking therapy. For example , do you find yourself compulsively eating or straving yourself ? Do you feel sad all the time? Have you recently gone through a very traumatic experience? Do you just need someone to talk to? After you’ve figured out the why , make sure they’ve seen enough clients closer to your age group.
How long have they been practicing for?
This isn’t a hard and fast rule of thumb. If their experience goes back less than 5 years and you’re just starting to find someone to build rapport with , preferably choose someone more experienced. If you trace back their years of practice and find that they started out during your grandparents’ time , that is also someone you should avoid considering that especially in India , huge generation gaps make for huge differences in attitude towards every aspect of life.
How much do they charge per session?
This doesn’t require much explanation. Make sure you’re not over spending , but at the same time don’t be stingy. These people are as important as doctors , they deserve to be paid well too.
If you go with the “I’m not paying this much just so someone can talk to me" attitude, you will not get anywhere significant.
If you were like me , an adolescent student whose parents refused to believe in therapy and had to use personal savings for every consultation , it would make sense to keep your budget smart and tight , but do not in any case have the attitude mentioned above.
3) Converse with them over the phone
Pay attention to the person’s demeanour and how it makes YOU feel. This step helped me eliminate a large chunk of therapists I had zeroed in on , even after doing extensive online research. Now that you’ve read reviews , etc. on a bunch of therapists , you probably have a fair idea of whom you want to visit. This should be a small list – more than 3 yet less than 10. Call every single one of them. Insist on talking to the therapist , not the receptionist/assistant. Know if their vibe is right for you. The first therapist I decided to see ws based on this. She had this warm vibe to her , her way of speaking felt like she already cared about what I had to say, without even having met me. Find someone who makes you feel that way , makes a great first impression on you. Try to gauge if they are a good enough listener for you.
If they’re selling their service too much, almost like a company salesman , it’s a red flag. If you feel like they’re already crossing some interpersonal boundaries they’re way too interested in your personal life already , it’s again a red flag.
4) See that they understand you/normalise you
So you’ve had a satisfactory phone call with them , felt comfortable with the way they converse , now it’s time to see them in person.
Ideally this person should definitely be wiser than you regarding what’s going on with you. By this , I don’t mean a higher IQ or anything of that sort. They should just know how to put the puzzle pieces together and where to look for the missing pieces in corners of your mind palace you didn’t even know existed.
Someone who validates, but challenges. For example, [saying something like] ‘you have shown me so much self-respect in your stories about work and your relationship with Steve, so why when you are with Stacy did you do XYZ? Help me understand how that process went. Did it feel good? Etc.’
Last but not the least , they should normalise you.
“No , you aren’t crazy for thinking/reacting this way”.
Not because it gives some false sense of validation , but because its true. And if you need a mental health professional to make you believe that , you should get them to.
Can you figure all of this from one consultation? Maybe , maybe not. In the latter case I suggest you simply go with your gut.
Your mind will prompt you with a “Yes” or “No” if you ask yourself whether you really liked them during the first meeting. If yes , book a second appointment. Keep opening up a bit more , but maintain the pace you’re comfortable with , and look for these signs again.
5) Seriously consider even the smallest hint of insensitivity
Your therapist is your therapist, not one of your girlfriends trying to validate you and hype you up. If he/she tries to be that ,consider ditching them instantly. This is something one of the therapists I came across used to do , and it unconsciously made me look at things more bitterly than earlier.
"Break up with him/her , he's not right to have done that"
“Yeah it was a*sholic of him to do that.”
“You’re right , he seems like a real d*ck”
And other variants of these pseudo reassuring statements are red flags.
Experienced psychologists , or even psychology students would know that people aren’t just bad/shitty for no reason , and neither is the person you’ve been bitching about to this therapist. A professional in the behavioral field would never label someone like that based on their exhibited characteristics , in fact they would try to explain to you that people don’t behave badly without a deep reason to it. This is classic people pleasing and screams “I’m inexperienced”
6) See that they keep their biases aside
This one is pretty simple. Irrespective of their upbringing , nurture , environment , religious , political and other beliefs/opinions ,
they should be nothing but objective in your case.
I’ve met two therapists who would relate almost every statement I made to some event in their life. It certainly didn’t help that I was joining a college one of them formerly worked at , and was graduating from the high school the other one used to work at.
What’s worse , they would unprofessionally bitch about one another too. This is a massive red flag.
No self respecting , ethical and secure professional would bad mouth others in the field.
7) Look for that ‘visceral feeling’
Perhaps the most important qualification in all this? Your own intuition.
If you feel instinctively unsafe with a therapist, that will probably inhibit the progress you will make. In contrast, if you feel you ‘click’ with a therapist, that's a good sign that you will be able to build a working alliance with them.
Jor-El Caraballo, a licensed therapist, wellness coach and co-creator of Viva Wellness, notes that while there are measures that are clinical in nature there is also “a visceral feeling of just being comfortable enough to sit in a room with someone for the therapy hour. That can't be replaced and if you don't feel comfortable enough in a few sessions then it's probably best to tell your therapist this and work toward moving on.”
Remember that an ethical counsellor who’s sure of him/herself would never hesitate from referring you elsewhere to someone more suited to your needs. You will not be left stranded without care.
What’s more? If no face-to-face interaction is helping you totally open up , our anonymous and purely online letter exchange with strangers is ALWAYS open to you.