You might be wondering if you should see a man or a woman? Should I pick someone older and wiser or younger and hungrier? How do I find a therapist that is smart, specialized or maybe just nice?
I have compiled a few useful tips, advice, and thoughts on this topic from myself, my colleagues, and my library.
Age and Gender
Some people feel safer seeking a therapist of a specific gender or age group. While it is important to feel comfortable, it turns out that many clients find the different perspective of a therapist from another age group or gender can lead to a broader understanding of their individual issues. Most people come to therapy because they are stuck and are having trouble thinking about how to get moving in the right direction again. New perspectives can be invaluable at times like these. Regarding gender, it is sometimes helpful to pick a therapist from the gender that you may have more difficulty relating to. For instance, if you are struggling with your relationships with men, it may be helpful to work with a male therapist.
"My therapist will not understand my problem because he has not experienced it himself." This is a very common thought when people seek therapy. If my therapist has never had children, how can they help me with my parenting? Well, when we go to see a doctor for a broken bone, we rarely think to ask them if they have ever broken their own leg. It is simply understood that they have education, training, and experience that will help them work with a variety of problems without having experienced it themselves. It is the same process with therapy. We are trained to work with all kinds of people and all types of problems. In fact, a therapist who has not had a similar experience as you, may be even more helpful because they will not be clouded by their own particular bias and belief system surrounding the issue. In the end, each individual can experience the same issue in such different ways that it is more important to find a therapist who is open to understanding your perspective rather than using their similar experience to help you.
Trust your instincts
Set up some meetings. Meet a few therapists and trust your gut reaction to whether you feel comfortable with this person and decide if they can help you. First impressions have a lot of value and you can let your intuition guide your choice. How does it feel to be in the room with them? Do they talk enough? Do they listen enough? I warn people to look out for condescending or defensive therapists. A good therapist knows a lot but is also aware of their limitations. Defensiveness in a therapist is a non starter. Every therapist has trouble helping certain types of clients. So, don't feel badly if you don't gel with a therapist you are trying out. It might be more about them then about you. Therapists are people too.
Shopping for Therapy
Therapy is a unique product to be shopping for, but it is shopping nonetheless. So don't buy something that doesn't fit right. It is okay to shop for therapy. It is not rude to discuss with your counselor that you are "shopping" for a therapist and they should not be offended if you choose to not continue with treatment. If your therapist is offended or feels competitive, that is a bad sign that they may be clingy or desperate for clients. Neither is a good stance for a therapist to be in.
If it is your first time in therapy, I encourage you to go to a few therapists for one or two sessions to find somebody that feels right (or right enough) and then stick with that person for at least 6-8 weeks to give the therapy a chance to work.
MFT, PhD, MD, MSW
If you are curious what all of the little letters after our names are, read more on my article: What do the letters mean?
If you have more questions or you want some information about counseling resources in your area, please feel free to Contact Me.