Simple Tips for Choosing the Right Therapist
Entrusting the most important relationship of your life – with your significant other or with yourself – to a therapist in Chicago you’ve never met can be anxiety producing and scary. But it doesn’t have to be. By asking the right questions, you can determine if the counselor is the right person to fit your needs.
In this article, you will learn the 7 characteristics of a good therapist, which are offered as tips to help you on your quest to find the right therapist in Chicago (or elsewhere). The material is presented in a way that free of the clinical jargon and fairly straight-forward.
We’ll begin with exploring the characteristics of a good therapist and move on to providing suggestions on what questions you may want to ask in order to determine whether the psychotherapist is a good match for your counseling needs.
Let’s jump right in!
7 Characteristics of a Good Therapist
- Warm and Non-judgmental
- Strengths focused
1. Warm and Non-judgmental
A lot of what creates “stuckness” in an individual relates to beliefs that others are judging or shaming you. Shame and judgment reinforce a negative self-narrative and are really hurtful. You need a therapist who validates you as a human being with whatever challenges bring you to counseling. The last thing you need is to feel judged.
Talk therapy is just that – talking. And it’s the two of you discovering together where you are, what may be helpful, and the barriers that are keeping you stuck. The key to emotional health is finding your own answers, which can be facilitated by an effective therapist.
Good therapists help to provide structure and focus. Without this, the counseling can be directionless, and can re-create the circular thinking which may be keeping you stuck. Focus helps anchor your thoughts in the here and now, and to your goals. Without focus, it’s difficult to know what you are hoping to address, and can waste your time and money.
At its core, relational means you can relate! This means that the interactions can be casual, interactive, and even humorous at times. It’s important to find someone that’s easy to talk to.
Relationship problems are primarily what bring people to counseling, so doesn’t it make sense that a relationship with your therapist would provide healing and some solutions? And so a simple question you may want to ask yourself is, “Does this therapist get me?”.
Therapy is not simple, just as you are not simple. It’s about accepting and embracing all of you – pluses, minuses and contradictions. Your story is rooted both in the past and present. The past can be complex, painful and hard to figure out. And the here and now – where change happens – is not simple either, as changing life-long patterns can feel difficult and baffling. A smart therapist helps navigate this.
While life is very complex, sometimes the best explanations in the world are the most obvious and simple. Simple, however does not mean easy. If it were “easy,” people would not need therapists. Practical therapists won’t get lost in the maze of the past, but rather allow an earlier point in time to inform how change can be created in the here and now. Additionally, a good therapist will offer concrete feedback to help you get where you want to be.
7. Strengths Focused
Some therapists are schooled from a perspective of sickness. Much of modern medicine works this way. It’s looking for what’s wrong instead of what’s right. All too often clients are way too in touch with what isn’t working in their lives – and need reminders regarding what’s right.
Sickness keeps you tracked as a victim. Strengths allow you to tap into your inner resources to challenge patterns of thinking and believing that are getting in the way. You’re not sick. You’re stuck. You’re human. Remember that.
Strength based therapists are good at flipping that sickness model on its head and approaching life challenges from a wellness perspective. In other words, the therapist will help you uncover your strengths and then use these already existing assets as a tool to tackle problems. At 2nd Story Counseling, we subscribe to a strength based counseling approach to help clients wherever they are in their life journey.
What to Look For in a Psychotherapist
So what do synthesize these 7 tips into real world action? Below are six concrete suggestions you may want to consider.
1. Response Time
Did the counselor respond to you within 6 hours of your initial phone call? This can be a predictor of how responsive they are in the future. Just food for thought.
2. Listening to your story
Was the therapist willing to hear your story and find out what you are hoping to achieve in therapy? If they rush to simply say, “When can you come in?” during that initial phone call without hearing anything about you, you may want to look elsewhere. This is particularly true if it feels like they’re only interested in money or don’t have time for you as a person.
IF however they take the time to talk with you, it means that they are seeing whether it’s a good fit for you as well as them and demonstrating genuine concern for your well-being. Plus, a meaningful conversation prior to a face to face meeting can help take some of the anxiety out of that first session. This makes sense because they know a little bit about you and hopefully, you about them.
Are they easy to talk to? Can they put you at ease? Are they warm enough for you? Do they sound confident? Do they make an active attempt to understand you? Since therapy is about talking, it’s important that you feel you can talk with your therapist. Pretty simple, right?
Do you have strong feelings about their demographic? In other words: a man? A woman? Straight? Gay? Older? Younger? Black, White, Hispanic or Asian? Transgender? You need to feel comfortable with your choice of therapist.
How do they tend to view therapy and work with people? Do you think you need someone primarily as a sounding board with little feedback? Do you need lots of concrete feedback, tools and “homework”? Most therapists fall somewhere in between, truthfully. But what’s important is that you have a sense of how they do counseling, and whether that’s a good fit for you.
The question to ask is, “What is your basic approach to therapy?”
6. Discussing your issue
Everyone comes to therapy with different issues, and needs to feel like they’re in the hands of a competent and caring therapist. Ask questions specifically with respect to your issue. “What is your approach to working with ________ (fill in the blank with what brings you to therapy?”
This question can help you understand their comfort level with whatever issue you’re bringing, as well as their level of expertise.
For instance, if you ask about their experience working with gays and lesbians, and they answer that they are “okay” with them, consider this a potential warning sign that you may need a different therapist. Good therapists are affirming. This goes back to not judging you.
Another example: If you ask about how they treat a specific condition (anorexia, post traumatic stress, depression, etc), and they provide a vague answer and imply that they work with “everything” – you also will want to think about a different therapist. You need a therapist who’s both validating and knowledgeable.
Hopefully, this article helped to take some of the mystery and anxiety out of finding a good therapist in Chicago or wherever you are to fit your needs. As previously mentioned, the process can be scary. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be!
By having a basic understanding of what to look for, you can feel more comfortable in approaching therapy, and discovering some hope that there are solutions to your barriers to happiness.