How to find, screen and work with a therapist

October 27, 2022

My first therapy appointment was productive and even exciting. It’s a relief to know that I’m now on the right path. If you read my post, “Why I Looked for a Therapist”, you know that I wanted to catch my intermittent blues before they became a full-out depression. So I sought a therapist.

After the first session, it felt like a good match.

When it comes to therapists, your first one is not always your best match. Sometimes you do have to go through a couple. But. No one wants to tell their story over and over in the hopes of finding someone who is a fit. That experience is one reason many refuse to seek help after working with a therapist that isn’t a match.

Many of my friends have said they feel absolutely lost when they consider how they might find and work with a therapist. I figured I’d share some of the ways I increase the odds of my first choice being a fit.

So here’s what I did:

Screening.  I first checked Yelp and read reviews, good and bad. I did not instantly choose the one with the most five star reviews–in fact, my therapist had a few bad reviews, too. But reading them showed me that the issues those clients described were not relevant to me.

Connection. Some therapists want to make the appointment and start there. I don’t want to do that. I make sure I have a real phone conversation with anyone I am considering seeing before spending in-person time (and money). This therapist called me right back. Our phone call was focused and told me right away that she knew what she was doing. I liked  her approach, felt we had connected and booked.

The second therapist I contacted responded with an email and appointment times. The third didn’t respond at all and still hasn’t. That tells you something, right?  I decided to throw in with the first woman–it was only a coincidence that she responded first.

Planning. To make the most of my session, I thought through in advance how I would tell the very involved story of my life so far—-hitting on all the key points and players. I didn’t want to spend weeks on background data.

As you know from my prior post, this isn’t my first therapy. I did manage to describe the salient points of my story in about an hour (kind of her to go over 50 minutes).  Because this wasn’t my first time, I pretty much knew what she needed to know and I trusted she’d dig deeper if she needed to.

I should also say that I am, by nature, introspective. I had done some of my own work all by myself.

It was obvious that she got it. We both identified the same root of my blues. I knew we’d be a good partnership. Now we’ll work on how I can move my life forward in a healthier fashion.

Expectations. My past experience also helped me see that this round of therapy would not be long and drawn-out. In this instance, there was no need to dig around to find the issue–I already knew what it was and after I told my story, so did she.

BUT, and I want to be clear: this is only because I invested many years in therapy earlier in my life. On multiple occasions. If this is your first or second foray with a therapist into the unknown depths of your psyche, it could be a longer process. As it has been for me in the past.

Ground rules. Back then, I made a ground rule with my then-therapist. If I wasn’t getting something obvious, I wanted her to tell me. Had she not, I’d probably still be in that first round of therapy. Because I can be pretty dense at times.

It’s also important to be honest. This could mean disclosing some very private stuff. She’s there to help you, so you might as well start out trusting her.

I came out of my first session energized and excited to do the work. Instantly upbeat and positive. I’m not sure what’s on the other end, but I know it’ll be something useful. It’s a good feeling.

And this is a good time to do it. Symbolic, even. Autumn is the season to make plans for old ways to die…. a necessary precursor to the rebirth that will come this spring.  Some time in winter, I expect old ways to be put to rest, and, with some hard work, a rebirth of sorts.

Oh, and this:

One-on-one therapy is quite different from group therapy. One of my friends is involved in several groups–and has been for decades–even facilitates them– and another has found her past experience with group useful.  Group work  can be helpful. But not in all situations.  One size does not fit all.

It can be good to run ideas by a group or to hear other situations as they might apply to our own. But not in my specific case. I don’t need to share my story or get validation from a group. Nor would it be helpful to me to hear others’ stories.  I need to dig in with a good professional and wrestle with some tough issues and experiences. Not for the faint of heart. Also not something lay people are equipped to help with. This is deep and personal work best done one on one…. and I am aware of how deep it runs.

But in other circumstances, a therapist may recommend a group for your situation and it is always worth considering.

fall candlesOh and another thing to help my mood: 

I’ve still got some amazing fall candles –their fragrance is definitely spirit-lifting! Thanksgiving hostess gift, maybe?

Check out my shop right here.

And yes, I do have the holiday candles up there already, too. They are fabulous!

9 comments on “How to find, screen and work with a therapist
  1. Susan Cooper says:

    Very good advice. Thank you for that.

  2. Tricia Meyer says:

    I particularly like what you said about reviews because I can see how something another patient would think was bad in a therapist would actually be something that I was looking for. I haven’t had a therapist in a few years but have been considering going back because I know the things I was dealing with haven’t gone away. I’ve just gotten a bit better at avoiding them–which isn’t a good thing! Thanks for your perspective on the process.

    • I was good at avoiding, too….but it blindsided me when it built up into a little depression. I’m a fan of therapy. It really made a difference for me. Yeah, reviews are tricky. It’s human nature to go right to all 5 star reviews. But sometimes the others tell you more. Glad you found this piece noteworthy. I will be reporting in from time to time.

  3. Laurie Stone says:

    I found a very good therapist a while back. I became fixated on whether I was boring her with my problems. If her foot started twitching, I’d worry I wasn’t interesting. Very dumb, but true.

  4. Diane says:

    I’ve never had a therapist, I’ve had girlfriends! Probably not quite the same…?

    • Not the same at all. If all you want to do is vent, friends are fine. But … They are not trained professionals. if you have deep-seated issues, or depression, any kind of mental illness or need marital help, trained professionals are the only way to go.

  5. Rita says:

    Great article. More people need to find a therapist and work through their issues. Some never do and lead caotic lives that hurt other people.

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  1. […] Over on her blog, Carol Cassara is sharing some of her insight into how to “Find, Screen and Work with a Therapist.” […]

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