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  • Writer's pictureSasha Raskin, MA

Beginner’s Guide to Therapy: Finding the Right Therapist for You, Getting the Most of Therapy, and M

  • Are you struggling to find the right match with a therapist?

  • How can I locate a top-notch therapist near me?

  • Are you looking to get the most out of your therapy sessions?

If your answer to any of these questions is yes, then you have come to the right place.

Sure, finding a therapist these days might seem like a piece of cake, but finding the right one for your needs is a whole different story. There are a ton of things you need to keep in mind if you want to zero in on a counselor that will help find the solution to your problem. After all, no two emotional or mental health issues are the same. That’s why it pays to locate a therapist who’ll not only empathize with your situation but also go above and beyond to make sure that you come out a better person.

I get it: you already have a lot on your plate, and admitting that you need therapy is never an easy task. But, you are not alone -- nearly 50 percent of U.S. households have had someone seek counseling from a therapist. Unfortunately, only 40 percent of adult Americans with mental health issues receive proper treatment. No matter how you look at it, you don’t want to be among the unlucky 60 percent of Americans who are battling mental health problems on their own.

Are you ready to find the best therapist for your situation, and take back your life? Today, I am going to walk you through a top-down guide to getting started in the world of therapy. In this guide, we’ll cover:

  • What makes a great therapist?

  • Tried and true tips on how to choose the picture-perfect therapist for you

  • Pertinent questions you need to ask your potential therapist

  • Things you need to know before your first therapy session

  • Tricks and expert advice on how to make the most out of your therapy appointments

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Let’s get started, shall we?

What Qualities Make an Excellent Therapist?

Mental health medicine and science, particularly the discipline of psychotherapy, have made massive milestones and leaps over the last 300 years or so. More specifically, nowadays, there are several different approaches to therapy, and no two therapists use the same approach. Even so, all great therapists share some characteristics.

Here are 10 qualities of a good therapist; they are surefire signs that you have landed the creme de la creme of therapists:

#1. A Great Therapist is a Good Listener

From appointment to appointment, a good therapist is someone who will actively listen to you and reflect your thoughts back to you. They not only listen to what you have to say but also capture your feelings and remember important pieces of information. By listening carefully, the therapist will be able to focus on what you might not be able to convey. You might not want to talk about some past traumatizing experiences, for instance; but a good therapist should be able to read in-between your words.

The bottom line is that great listening skills are crucial to an effective therapy session.

#2. A Great Therapist has Empathy

An empathic therapist is someone who has the ability to identify and understand your problem or experiences. As such, a good counselor should be able to identify with your issues even if you don’t describe your feelings or thoughts explicitly. It doesn’t matter if the therapist agrees with your feelings/thoughts or not, they should be emotionally attuned to your needs. What’s more -- an emphatic therapist should help you make out your feelings and clear any emotional confusions.

#3. A Good Therapist has Confidence in the Course of Therapy

First and foremost, a good therapist should be able to communicate some confidence about the course of therapy. After all, how can you trust that the therapist will deliver results that you’re looking for? In other words, good therapists should exude of an air of confidence that shows they know what they are doing.

Why is this quality paramount? If you detect that your counselor is fully in charge of the course of therapy, there’s a good chance that you will make faster progress. On the flipside, if you aren’t sure if the therapist knows what they are doing, your therapy will likely to hit a snag along the way. The bottom line is that a great therapist should make you feel that you are indeed in “good hands.”

#4. A Great Therapist is Compassionate

In addition to being an amazing listener, a good counselor should be compassionate and should be able to empathize with what you are going through. The therapist should have the ability to “see” and “understand” your pain and difficulties. This way, you can feel at ease and become comfortable sharing more with the therapist.

If the therapist isn’t compassionate, you might end up feeling disconnected and disparaged. A good therapist should “get” you, and help you forge the path towards healing and self-growth.

#5. A Great Therapist is Willing to Establish An Alliance with You

Don’t get me wrong; great therapy has nothing to do with friendship. In fact, if your therapist feels more like a friend, then they are not your therapist. Instead, a good therapist should make you feel that you can form a solid partnership, a therapeutic alliance that will help you become the person you want to be, while still feeling accepted just as you are today. Oftentimes that means that the therapist can establish goals that both of you can agree on.

#6. A Great Therapist isn’t Afraid of a Challenge

An effective counselor doesn’t shy away from painful or difficult areas. On the contrary, the therapist should tackle the challenge head-on to help you sail through a difficult situation. While most of us often avoid painful feelings, emotions, and thoughts, a worthwhile therapist should pick up on when you’re doing so. This way, the counselor can explore these difficult and painful feelings to map out the course of therapy.

#7. A Great Therapist Communicates Optimism and Hope

If you have tried one therapy approach after another without luck, the chances are that you have thrown in the towel. A good therapist should be able to help you stay the course and power through the healing process. But, that will not possible if the counselor doesn’t communicate hope and optimism.

#8. A Great Therapist Shows Remarkable People Skills

Considering the nature of therapy, a good therapist should possess a solid set of interpersonal skills. Great therapists should have no problem expressing themselves. They should be astute at detecting what their clients are feeling or thinking. As far as clients are concerned, a good therapist should show acceptance, warmth, and focus on other people, not themselves.

Simply put, the counselor should have the right interpersonal skills so they could communicate in a language that you understand. When you look at the website of a potential therapist, or during a consultation call, does your potential counselor talk mostly about themselves, instead of you?

#9. A Great Therapist is Flexible

A good therapist is flexible enough to tailor the approach of therapy to your needs. They don’t use a “one size fits all” approach. The therapist should try several different options -- this way, you will have a better chance of healing.

A great therapist takes time and effort to accommodate your individual characteristics in the therapy session. Put otherwise, a good therapist makes you feel that your voice is heard, that you are part of the whole process.

#10. A Great Therapist Has Undergone Rigorous Training, Education, and Is Experienced

A good counselor should participate in ongoing education and training. Whether this is required to maintain their credentials and trading license, continuous training is crucial when it comes to making sure that clients get the best treatment. As such, a therapist who has a current research-based knowledge and skills is a sign of someone who takes your interest seriously.

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How to Choose the Right Therapist for your Needs?

Here are some thoughts and tips on how to pick the best therapist or counselor for your situation.

Tip #1: Seek Recommendations and Referrals from Reputable Sources

The chances are that someone you know and trust knows a reputable therapist. Ask friends, family or coworkers (if appropriate) if they like their counselor. If they do, inquire more about their therapist. In fact, don’t be afraid to ask for referrals from their therapists.

If none of your relatives, friends or colleagues are seeing a therapist or they don’t feel comfy divulging information about their therapist, don’t sweat it -- it is wise that you seek recommendation or referral elsewhere. The good news is that there are several resources and institutions such as APA that can help. And of course, you can simply google "a therapist near me" and see if you can find someone who has good reviews and their website content speaks to you specifically (more about that later). Even so, you need to locate a therapist who isn’t just a convenient, but someone who is really good what they do. Another place to seek reputable referrals and recommendation is your health facility, particularly your physician.

Tip #2: Think about the Gender of the Therapist

The gender of your potential counselor might matter to you, and it might not. Some people just click with female therapist, while other go to a male therapist, or a trans or gender queer therapist. When picking a counselor, almost everyone has an instinctive idea of what gender they prefer to opt for. If you spent most of your life with your father who identifies as male, for instance, it might seem like a good idea to choose a male therapist.

Remember there’s no right or wrong choice when it comes to gender, but it is best to work with someone you are comfortable sharing with. For some people, this is no issue at all. It is also important to seek someone who understands all the intricacies of gender and everything that comes with this social construct, and are aware of issues of power and privilege,

Tip #3: Do You Research -- Shop for a Therapist Online

In the era of social media, everything -- and I mean anything and everything - can be easily be found online. Gone are the days when you had to scour through the yellow pages to zero in on a great doctor or therapist. That’s why it pays to starts your hunt for the perfect counselor online.

How to find an effective therapist near me? That’s now a click away thanks to apps and websites with a simple phrase "Find a Therapist". But that isn’t all you can do online. Even before you use these websites or apps to connect with a therapist in your area, you want to do a little homework. Oftentimes that means online reviews and client feedback.

When it comes to reviews, it is important to look beyond star-ratings. What do unhappy clients have to say? How did the therapist handle a bad review? Does the therapist have an online presence -- do they write informative articles, blogs or social media posts? You want to work with a counselor who is not only experienced but keeps up with what affects the clients.

Tip #4: What is the Theoretical Orientation of the Therapist?

A theoretical orientation entails the technique or approach of therapy. What kind of school of thought does your potential therapist belong to? If you believe there’s an unconscious motivation for your condition or habit, then it’s best to see a psychodynamic therapist. On the other hand, if you don’t believe in the unconscious but you think that changing your thoughts will transform your life, you stand to benefit from a cognitive therapist.

If you don’t feel comfortable talking about your feelings, family or problems, and solution-oriented therapy might do the trick for you. Obviously, if you think it is best to seek help as a family, you are better off working with a family therapist. My specific approach is that there is a tremendous value in be as much knowledgeable and skilled as possible in a wide array of therapy approaches, and to either combine or choose the best approach, to fit the specific needs of each client at that specific point in their lives.

Tip #5: Call and Ask Questions

When you locate your ideal therapist, it is high time you make the call. Calling a therapist, however, is easier said than done. It’s not uncommon for people to sit on the number of a therapist for months on end. Once you have summoned the energy to call, make sure you have important questions handy:

7 Key Questions to Ask your Potential Therapist:

1. What do you specialize in? Be wary of therapists who claim to specialize in everything. If you’re looking for marriage counseling, for example, it is best to work with someone whose specialty is in the area, and have training in marriage and family therapy.

2. Where did you go to school? Don’t pin your decision on this question. After all, the best schools don’t necessarily churn out the best therapists. However, you want to know if the school is actually accredited.

3. Have you worked with patients with my condition or issue before? If the therapist has worked with someone with similar issues, you likely make the most of therapy. While on the phone, share a bit about your issue and gauge how the counselor responds.

4. Do you share what the patients tell you in therapy? Naturally, you want to work with a therapist who respects your privacy and confidentiality. Ask about the kind of forms that you will fill out before commencing the first therapy session.

5. What is your training? The right therapist is some who has undergone several years of training and continues to seek ongoing education.

6. Are you a registered/licensed therapist? Anyone who practices therapy without a current registration or license should give you the heebie-jeebies.

7. How much experience do you have? Of course, you want to make an appointment with a therapist who has sufficient experience.

Tips on How to Get the Most Out of your Therapy

Here are some helpful advises and tips on how to make your therapy appointments more proficient and more effective:

It’s okay to feel uncomfortable during the first few sessions

When starting out on your therapy, it might become uncomfortable at times, but don’t worry -- it’s part of the process of the healing. Learning to become more vulnerable will lead to more satisfying relationships.

Consider therapy as a collaboration

While you want the therapist to do all the heavy lifting, therapy should be interactive. Ask questions, express your concerns, and do your “homework” ahead of the session. If it’s a couples therapy, ensure that you are on the same page before the next session begins.

Schedule your sessions at a time that works best for you

Traditionally, therapists allow you to make appoints around their schedules. But, if you want to make the best of your sessions, schedule your appoints at a time that really fits you.

Set milestones

You should set goals and markers for change together with your therapist.

Think of therapy as 24/7

It’s important that you work on processing and integrating outside of the 50 minutes or so of therapy. You can keep a journal so you can reflect on what you learned from the previous session and prepare accordingly for the upcoming ones.

There you are -- the guide to finding the right therapist and a little on how to make the most out of your therapy sessions. Don’t forget that a good “fit” in a therapist can go a long way to make sure that you get the right help.

Sasha Raskin, a therapist in Boulder, provides individual ,family, and couples therapy / counseling in Boulder, Colorado, and worldwide via video and phone calls, drawing from over ten years of clinical experience. Schedule your free 20-minute phone consultation with Sasha Raskin

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