Choosing the right therapist to work with can be difficult and in some cases definitely a process of trial and error. It is perhaps important to remember that this choice is a very personal one; you are looking for someone with whom you may be sharing very difficult thoughts, feelings and emotions and so this someone needs to be someone you trust and makes you feel safe.
Most first contacts are difficult, it may be that it has taken you some time to decide to get in touch with a therapist and so in many cases you will be expecting that communication to be treated with respect. Some therapists will ask for more details perhaps over the phone or via email concerning your thoughts about how you feel at the moment and you may wish to have this brief conversation to see what kind of response you receive. However in my experience and in these days of websites where information about that therapist may be easily available, all is needed is a brief contact to establish the time and place of the initial appointment.
The first session is crucial and it is worth asking yourself a few questions. Quite naturally your subconscious will be working hard for you and it is worth listening to that inner voice on whether or not this feels right to you, learn to trust your instincts. Go with your gut.
Any good therapist will want to create an atmosphere whereby the client feels safe, listened to and heard in a non-judgemental way. These are some of the essential ingredients necessary for a productive therapeutic relationship, promoting the possibility for change.
- · Do you feel welcome, if you feel anxious are your anxiety levels increasing or decreasing by being with that person?
- · Are you given information fairly quickly to reassure you that anything that is divulged within that space and time is confidential and the background to this explained?
- · What does the room feel like? Can you imagine spending time there? How close is the therapist sitting to you? Do you feel safe and comfortable?
- · Does the therapist clearly say what is going to happen in this initial session? That this is a time for you to ask questions, as well the therapist working with you to establish your needs and goals in seeking therapy. The therapist will need to take an initial description from you including: your view of your life currently, maybe any past life crises as well such details such as past experiences of therapy and any medication you are taking. During this session the therapist may ask you; ‘How will you know that therapy has been successful for you?’
- · Do you feel clear about the basis of your work together? This may include setting out an actual contract; for instance discussion about format of sessions, duration, and a broad idea about a possible treatment path (although this will change as needs change)?
- · Ask yourself are the thoughts and concerns I am expressing to this person being validated? Are they acknowledging what I have to say without giving out advice (this is not the role of a therapist) or being judgmental? Are they thoughtful and feel as if they are with me in this moment? These are all important in deciding whether the therapeutic relationship can work for you?
- · Finally don’t be afraid to say no. Just because you have gone to an initial consultation you don’t have to agree to a course of therapy with that person. The therapist will usually say something like ‘So I am wondering if this is something you would like to continue with?’ This is your chance to honestly express what you would like to do. Even if you have had a couple of sessions don’t be afraid to say this isn’t working out for me. Therapists expect that not all relationships work out, that is the nature of relationships. It is a much nicer way of feeding back than just endlessly cancelling appointments and then perhaps not moving on in the way you would like to.
If you have any comments about this article I would love to hear from you, especially about your experiences.
Michelle Krethlow Shaw 2015.