How to Find the Best Therapy — and Therapist — for You

Posted on March 6th, 2015

The reasons people enter therapy vary as much as the patients themselves. Perhaps family and friends have offered encouragement or an ultimatum. Maybe a person seeks treatment because of a court mandate, mental health system commitment, or condition of employment. Or maybe someone recognizes that their behaviors aren’t in line with the lifestyle they want.

Perhaps you’re considering treatment for one of those reasons — or for reasons unique to you. Research has found therapy with a competent, qualified therapist to be effective in treating issues related to mental health and addiction problems. But finding a good fit for your needs might seem overwhelming. Here are some tips for understanding your therapy and therapist options.

Start With Yourself

Motivation is key to sustained recovery. It drives the willingness to remain consistent with treatment. Even if you feel reluctant about beginning treatment — and many people do — you might find you feel ready to engage fully once you discover the benefits of therapy.

Motivation is internal, according to William Glasser, MD, who developed Choice Theory. He emphasizes that outside events never make us do anything and that internal priorities drive our behavior.

Consider What Kind of Therapy You Want

People in treatment have many options as far as the number of people in the room during sessions as well as the setting and frequency. Some people meet one on one with a clinician, while others might attend therapy with a partner or spouse or as a family. Another option is to attend therapy in a group setting with others who have similar struggles or needs.

Treatment can be inpatient therapy, which is carried out in a hospital or rehab setting. It also can be intensive outpatient — generally half-day sessions three or four days a week — or partial hospital therapy, which is generally full-day sessions five days a week.

Another consideration is the therapy goals and methods that best fit you. For example, you and your therapist might want to work to adjust your core beliefs or adapting behaviors. Some interventions involve talk therapy and may also incorporate movement, music, nature or art. Other treatment methods are animal-assisted, as with equine or wolf therapy. Determining which approach best suits you can increase the likelihood you’ll respond positively and want to continue treatment.

Consider What Kind of Therapist You Want

Not everyone has the same needs, but these are helpful factors to consider when trying to find the best therapist for you. A good therapist:

  • Has solid educational credentials and licensing in addition to a knowledge base of and practical experience with the conditions you might bring to the session.
  • Determines what’s working in your life, not just what’s dysfunctional.
  • Understands the impact of your background, including religious or ethnic beliefs as well as sexual orientation.
  • Listens empathetically and makes you feel fully understood.
  • Demonstrates flexibility with meeting your needs with treatment techniques and scheduling sessions.
  • Sets attainable treatment goals and updates them as needed and is reasonable about potential outcomes.
  • Works in partnership with you using sessions as a “lab setting” to practice skills for outside relationships.
  • Encourages you to assert yourself when appropriate.
  • Challenges you when appropriate, but does so respectfully and in a non-threatening manner.

Consider What Kind of Therapist You Don’t Want

Even a therapist who meets every item on your list might not feel like a good fit. Trust your instincts if you feel uncomfortable in a therapist’s presence. Some warning signs might be that a therapist:

  • Discounts or disrespects your feelings, including objections you might have to treatment ideas.
  • Is chronically late or frequently reschedules or misses appointments.
  • Doesn’t maintain appropriate boundaries, especially regarding physical touch and the professional nature of the relationship.
  • Isn’t clear about his or her confidentiality policy or doesn’t maintain it ethically.
  • Doesn’t encourage you to remain independent of the therapeutic relationship.
  • Keeps you in therapy beyond the point of effectiveness.
  • Is someone you consistently experience worsening symptoms with despite attending sessions regularly.

Remember that your therapist works for you. By considering these factors, you can become an informed consumer and get the most benefit from your treatment.

By Edie Weinstein, LSW

Follow Edie on Twitter at @EdieWeinstein1

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