The welcoming presence of a good therapist can make or break a therapeutic relationship.
I have had both.
When I returned to therapy in my early twenties, I was apprehensive. My previous experience had been less than stellar, and I knew I wanted to give it another go but I was nervous.
I utilized referrals from a few trusted sources (a mentor at the time and then one of the new therapists former clients) and was confident that this next relationship would be beneficial. Having these referrals can be so helpful in finding a therapist. Ask trusted friends for referrals. More people are going to therapy than you think, and you might find a perfect match after chatting with someone you trust.
The other thing you can do is ask to speak to the therapist over the phone. I am happy to have a phone consult or interview for about 10 minutes to answer any questions a potential client might have and as a way for them to hear my voice and get to know me a little. If this sounds like it might be helpful for you than just ask! Of course, the reverse is true as well, if you don’t want to talk before your appointment, you absolutely don’t have to, many therapists (myself included) will schedule over e-mail.
My Dr. R looked like Santa Claus residing in his vacation home in the Appalachian Mountains. He was a tall, older gentleman with a massive presence and a beard and belly to match. He was big in the way an oversized leather chair looks inviting, he wasn’t over-bearing or intimidating instead he was kind and soft and gentle and I immediately felt welcome.
We worked together for over a year. He was crucial in my understanding of my family of origin. How that system impacted me, how I related to the system and how I functioned differently away from the system and then back again in it.
*Because this part of the story isn’t just mine to tell, and many members of my family are alive and in relationship with me, I am going to leave it at dysfunction. There are a lot of dynamics, and not everyone has embraced the healing path of the therapeutic journey so there is only so much that can be done. This is a reality that many of my clients face and I am thankful to have the understanding of how painful this can be to empathize with them in this reality.
I reflect back often on that season of therapy. There were numerous lessons learned in both his content and his character. I built a safe alliance. I felt valued and heard. I was supported and validated, and my story was contained in a way that communicated I was worth listening to. The insight that I gained is something that I still rely on even today. I am so thankful for that experience and hope to emulate that for my clients now.
If I want you to take anything away from this entry, it’s that therapy is a lot like any other relationship. You have the right to have preferences and to feel it out. If it isn’t a good fit for you then you also get to name that and express those concerns. A respected therapist will make adjustments OR recognize when the poor fit is mutual, and referrals need to be made. You aren’t locked in to the relationship and part of your growth is being able to name your need as it becomes more noticeable to you.
You will know when it is right when you felt heard and most importantly when you felt safe.