In a previous blog post, I mentioned that I view the crisis that I am working through in my life not as “me falling apart”, but as a clear manifestation of “me falling back together” to become the person I was always meant to be. One of the keystones of my recovery has been my relationship with my current therapist. I know that just mentioning the word “therapist” makes many people cringe, and to be perfectly honest, I used to be among that group. Almost everybody I know over 40 has been to or is currently working with a therapist. Even though this is so pervasive, it’s something we as a society are still very reluctant to discuss. Since I’m being open on this blog about everything else unfolding during my year of transformation, I thought it might be insightful to share my thoughts on “How I Selected My Therapist”.
Dr. Abraham Maslow, the creator of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, once said: "All the evidence that we have indicates that it is reasonable to assume in practically every human being, and certainly in almost every newborn baby, that there is an active will toward health, an impulse towards growth.” This is a terrific place to start because I believe that for therapy to effective, the patient/client has to first buy into the concept that he/she is willing to work towards “health” and “growth”. That may seem inanely obvious, but speaking from experience, I spent many years checking in and out of therapists’ offices precisely because I was not “ready” at that time to do the work needed to get healthier.
I would also like to destroy some of the myths about therapy that are circulating amongst the population who haven’t actually visited a therapist, yet that doesn't appear to stop them from voicing their loaded opinions.
Myth One: “Therapy is self-indulgent.” Reality: It’s self-protective and it will have a ripple effect on everyone your life touches. Myth Two: “Therapy is only for people who have mental health issues, in other words, crazy people.” Reality: Therapy is for people who have decided to dig deep and do the work needed to live a fuller life. Some of the bravest people I know are people who have sought the help of a therapist. Myth Three: “Therapy is all about my mother and father; it’s archeology." Reality: In truth, therapists will generally want a context of where you came from to help ground where you are, but most therapists will agree that solutions are found in our present, not in our past. Myth Four: “Therapy should feel comfortable." It might help to visualize the iconic leather couch shown in every movie scene set in a psychiatrist’s office. Reality: Therapy is challenging and hard work, but it should feel supportive. Instead of visualizing a comfortable leather couch, think more of an Ikea couch, firm but not conducive to napping.
When I finally decided that I wanted a therapist as an active part of my “healing plan”, I faced the inevitable problem—how do I find the right one for me? This is where I think it’s very helpful to be open about therapy because it allowed me to ask friends and family if they had any suggestions of a therapist who would be a good fit for me, and when it comes down to it, who knows me better than the people closest to me? I pooled all the suggestions people gave me and then the selection process began in earnest. Whenever I have a difficult time deciding what I want, I often reframe the question into, “What don’t I want?” When it came to selecting a therapist, I knew I didn’t want anyone too “preachy”; I don’t do well when I’m told what to do. This left only one other option—I needed to find someone who was “teachy” not “preachy”. Someone who could invite me to consider different approaches based on valid and explainable theories.
The next major hurdle was arriving at the methodology I wanted in my therapy sessions. This can easily be determined by calling the therapist and asking him or her to briefly explain the vision of the proposed therapy sessions. At the risk of over-simplifying this, let me touch upon the most common approaches in therapy. If you think your behaviour is in some way linked to your unconscious motivation, a psychotherapist might be for you. If you’re adamant about keeping your mother and father out of this dialogue, then behavioural, solution-oriented therapy is an option. Finally, if your goal is to manifest change in your life by altering your thoughts, then check out a cognitive therapist.
Once you’ve whittled your list down, it’s time to meet face-to-face and determine if you gel with your therapist. What’s the vibe like? This is a relationship that both parties need to believe is viable and potentially fruitful. I want to hear what my therapist has to say about where these sessions will lead to, and what an “ending” would look like. For me, I think it’s critical that my therapist explain issues related to boundaries and the ethical regulations that he/she is bound by. Another relevant factor that shouldn’t be dismissed is whether or not the therapist seeks regular peer evaluation or interaction. If I’m to believe that my life is “a work in progress”, I think it’s necessary for my therapist to be “growing” in his/her practice as well.
Alright, you’ve finally found a therapist, so now it’s time to rock your world, but you may still be harbouring doubts about whether this whole process will actually work. Relax, we don’t need to believe it will work; we just need to have faith in spite of our doubt and uncertainty, that it this process is more aligned with having confidence in ourself as worthy of this endeavour.