You’ve taken the first step, which is having the courage to admit to yourself that what you are doing, the way you are living, isn’t working for you, and that you need help. Before this awareness has really sunk in, you are faced with the daunting task of filtering through the haze of therapists and practicioners out there to find someone suitable. So how do you go about it?
There is no magic solution when it comes to finding the right therapist. However, one thing stands out among all other considerations: TRUST. I don’t mean confidentiality, as this is a professional requirement, liability and ethical standard. What I mean is that first and foremost, no matter how you come across your potential therapist, do your due diligence. Were they referred to you? By whom, a trusted friend? Someone with whom you share intimate feelings/insights, a family member, or a work acquaintance? What was it about this counsellor/coach that moved the person to recommend them?
Remember, this is a unique relationship. As my mentor told me when I begain working with him: “Welcome to the most honest relationship you’ve ever had.” He was right, and what made it honest was that I trusted him–his feeling, his empathy, his directness and unwillingness to put up with nonsense responses, his care and his brilliant insights and interventions.You are paying for this service, so you want to choose someone who will give you not only value for their fee, but also for your hard work emotionally, and your investment of trust in them. No number of university degrees or qualifications can make up for the connection you find with the right therapist. Don’t get me wrong, qualifications are very important–they are an indicator of professional credibility and training. At the same time, no one can train someone to be a great therapist–this is a quality that is relative to the client’s experience, and also an innate ability to imbue trust, vulnerability and willingness to share openly. Without this feeling between you, you might progress intellectually while remaining emotionally stuck. Therapy is not an intellectual process. My mentor also hipped me to that. Intellect for me was a survival tool, and part of the problem!
I once went to a psychotherapist whom I found out a good friend had also seen. My friend had recently ended a tumultuous relationship with a woman, and was confused and distraught in a number of ways, as happens. However, he only lasted a single session with this therapist. Why? Because the therapist made a rash suggestion that my friend say something to his now ex-girlfriend in a confrontational manner, which my friend thought inappropirate, unrealistic and just not correct. “I can’t say that!” said my friend. He said the therapist got very uncomfortable, defensive and his eye started to twitch involuntarily, saying “Well….why not!?” The point of this story is that while this therapist was for the most part very suitable and helpful for me, he was just so wrong for my friend. There’s no right or wrong, just what’s right for you. That said, a good therapist will screen clients as well, saying no thanks to the ones who are not ready to change or do the work. So it goes both ways.
If you are dealing with specific issues, such as addiction, eating disorders, sexual orientation and so on, you are best to find someone whom specializes in the issues at hand. Perhaps the most liberating aspect of therapy–apart from emotional growth and release–is the self-affirmation that one has finally chosen a truthful, respectful and mutual relationship. If fees are an issue for you, any good therapist will offer a sliding scale. However, a word of caution. Like most things in life, you get what you pay for. Better to ask for a reduction in fee from someone whom is skilled, experienced and/or accredited than to go low-balling for fees. There is no greater investment than yourself, so whatever your budget, you want to make sure your choice reflects a conscious decision to get the best value you can–with the above hints in mind–rather than the best deal. Trust your intuition–it’s what guides us, and what has guided you on your journey through life to this crossroads. Once you commit, no matter if you change course (or therapists) along the way, you’ve already begun the long journey that begins with a single step.
Michael Gordon May 16th 2007, Vancouver