How to find the right therapist

How to find the right therapist

Therapy works. That said, a therapist who works for one person might be a total disaster for another. I often hear stories of people giving up on therapy because of a negative experience with one therapist. This is akin to giving up on love after one bad breakup. Drawing on my clinical experience, I will share three things to look out for when you are looking for a therapist.

1. Interview your therapist for his life philosophy, not his credentials

It is tempting to choose a therapist based on his academic achievement alone. However, one’s love, courage, and wisdom cannot be certified by academic degrees, which are at most a manifest of one’s intelligence, and discipline in academic pursuit. First and foremost, a good therapist needs a courageous heart to confront human conditions: despair, death anxiety, existential queries, grief, and loss. A good therapist is reflective, introspective, and constantly subjects himself to self-examination. This process of self-examination elevates one’s self-awareness, which is a key success factor in therapy. The abovementioned qualities are not necessarily obtained through academic pursuit. They are cultivated through one’s life experience. You can ask your therapist questions that are relevant to you and get a sense of his life philosophy in the intake session. For example, if you are contemplating a career switch, you might ask your therapist: “How do you know you are in the right profession?” If you are struggling with parenting your teenage son, you might ask your therapist: “What does parenthood mean to you?”; You are paying your therapist, so make him work for it!

2. A therapist who is in therapy

Therapists are human beings; therefore, they are subject to human fallacies just like all of us. They have their own biases, prejudices, and trauma history. A good therapist would strive to become highly self-aware through his journey of therapy.

A therapist serves as a canvas for his clients. A client comes into therapy and projects onto the canvas his life struggles, maladaptive beliefs, anxieties, etc. If the canvas is already full of colours and patterns, the client will not be able to see what has been cast onto it or discern his projection from his therapist’s pre-existing materials. Only a pristine canvas can reflect accurately what has been cast onto it. No therapist has a pristine canvas because we all carry with us our personal histories. However, a competent therapist would strive to become as clean as a canvas can possibly be through his personal therapies.

Therefore, do not hesitate to ask your therapist whether he is seeing someone, too.

3. A therapist who does not always have an answer

Psychotherapy is a journey of self-discovery. You are re-discovering who you are through analysis of your triggers, judgments, values, beliefs, emotions, bodily sensations, and personal histories. A good therapist facilitates but not leads this process. If you ask your therapist: “How not to be bored?”; instead of giving you a list of activities to occupy yourself to avoid feeling bored, a good therapist might respond: “What is so bad about boredom?” Following the same thread, you and your therapist might find out that your fear of boredom stems from the fear of being unproductive, which stems from fear of being useless – fear of not being good enough; or your fear of boredom stems from your lack of passion in what you do – if you are often bored at work, instead of addressing the issue of boredom, your therapist might gently navigate you to examine the meaning of your work. 

A good therapist is not omniscient. However, he persists in helping you find an answer.

Finding a good therapist is an important decision. Therefore, do not settle for an OK or a not-too-bad therapist. 

Be diligent and find the RIGHT therapist for yourself!