Finding the Right Therapist

BY: ASHLEIGH TOBIN, MA, LLPC

 

The process of finding a therapist can be daunting. There are many factors to consider - whether your insurance is accepted, their availability, the convenience of their office location, their theoretical orientation, other services they offer, etc. And then, of course, once you sort out all of these details, it needs to be someone you actually trust and can build a relationship with. This is why I feel so honored to work with my clients - I recognize that their landing in my office is the result of a lot of work on their part. Therapy is an investment of time, finances, and energy. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it.

A couple of months ago, I began the process of finding a therapist myself. I’d been feeling ready to return to therapy in this season of life to do some deeper level work and to ensure that when I am in the room with my clients that my own issues and insecurities don’t seep into their space. It is so important that therapists learn to practice what they preach! In beginning the process, I began to appreciate more fully how challenging it can be to find the right fit. After several weeks of research, asking colleagues for referrals, and scrolling through multiple websites, I finally set an appointment. It felt like a relief to finally have something scheduled. And so I went.

The therapist was welcoming, kind, and non-judgmental. I felt comfortable sharing significant parts of my story with her as early as our first session. She was knowledgeable, patient, and I benefitted from her presence. But then there was her office. At my first appointment, I walked into a sad looking building and into an ever sadder looking waiting room. It was as if I had been transported back to my pediatrician’s office in the early 90’s, but the fish tank wasn’t as cool and they were out of coffee. I didn’t know if I needed to check in anywhere, so had to resort to knocking on this glass window so the woman behind it would look up from her work. I was handed a clipboard and four or five different forms to complete. I had only finished about three-quarters of the first page when my therapist retrieved me from the waiting room. She asked me to follow her down the hall, and then down to the basement level to her office. The room was awkwardly large and I was immediately greeted by the irritating hum of a water dispensing machine in the corner. It felt trapped in an era where a lot of my core wounds are rooted. I was off to a strange start.

Was this the space where I would experience toward insight, healing, and transformation? I debated this for a month. I asked for the opinions of others to help me weigh the pros and cons, though I already knew what I needed to do. I had to break up with my therapist. And a few days ago, I finally did. Though I had only seen her for a few sessions, I still feel guilty about having done so. In thinking about ending the relationship, about a million thoughts ran through my mind: Will she be mad? Was the depressing office space a good enough reason to end it? Will she be disappointed? Think that I am avoiding my issues? Feel relieved? Is this behavior a symptom of my greater struggles? Will I be able to find a better fit? Is this a mistake?

In order to quiet all of the questions, I knew I had to center myself. I reminded myself of the purpose of the journey - to find a therapist so that I can care for myself well. When I really let this reminder sink it, I recognized that it was ok for me to not like the space. In fact, it was more than ok. Finding a space you feel comfortable in should be a priority - it’s about you, after all! And there are many places and people to choose from because people are different and have different needs. The best therapists understand that. Mine did. When I contacted her to end things, she was so gracious. I told her about how the space was a barrier for me and she actually thanked me for my honesty. She told me she respected my decision and to continue to place value on finding the right fit - even if that wasn’t with her. Ironically, in ending things with this therapist, I did gain some insight, find some healing, and move forward in transformation - I learned to place value on my needs and that it is ok for me to prioritize myself. I am grateful to this therapist for giving me permission to do this. And so, my search for the right therapist continues. I am on my way.