(An excerpt from the original article written for White Swan Foundation for Mental Health, partnered by NIMHANS. You can access the original article here: https://www.whiteswanfoundation.org/article/how-can-i-tell-if-therapist-is-right-for-me/)
A good therapist provides a safe, non-judgmental space to talk about our psychological distress and is qualified to support us in ways that are insightful, knowledgeable, empathic and empowering. Here are some practical tips to think about while choosing a therapist.
Pick a good therapist, not a convenient one.
There are always going to be practical constraints such as job/college timings, but remember, therapy doesn’t always fit into free time. You have to create time in your schedule for self care. Therapy is an active process on the client’s part and so picking the first name that comes off Google because it is ‘easy’ or going to the first referral without researching them might be quick but not valuable. Make time, take effort in this process and it will be a lot more gratifying.
There is no universally good therapist, find a therapist who is good for you.
Calling up a few therapists before you choose yours might give you an idea of what you are looking for. Most therapists' websites/write-ups give you a fair idea of their approach with which they work. It is worth taking some time exploring and comparing these in order to find the right fit for your worldview and needs.
Trust your intuition
Explore how you feel when you speak to the therapist either before you take an appointment or after your first one. How did you feel before/during/after you spoke to/emailed them? If you just don’t feel comfortable talking to the person in the first few sessions – they might not be the right fit for you. It might be helpful to address this with the therapist directly and explore why it is happening. Addressing these issues honestly is at the core of a healthy therapeutic alliance.
Understand their theoretical orientation
A theoretical orientation is the intervention approach a therapist uses to address the particular psychological vulnerability that the client presents. There are two overarching schools of thought in counselling and psychotherapy – solution focused and insight oriented. To simplify, a solution-focused therapist focuses predominantly on the problem at hand and perhaps some others linked to it.
An insight oriented therapist might want to explore the deep-rooted issues that drive a client. It involves exploring the more unconscious, repressed motivations and desires leading to a more comprehensive examination of one’s feelings, intrapsychic dynamics and accessing parts of the self and our memories that are usually repressed to gain insight into our pervasive patterns.
Qualifications, qualifications, qualifications
Unfortunately, due to the lack of a regulating body, there a number of people who call themselves ‘counselors’ in India without having a formal education. Before you visit one, it is essential to look up the person’s qualifications. A minimum requirement is a masters degree from an accredited university/college. Be wary of counselors with online degrees as they may not offer supervised clinical work without which, by international standards, the person cannot ethically see clients. Many private institutions in India offer counseling ‘certificates’ or ‘diplomas’. Note, that these are not interchangeable with masters degrees and do not qualify their students to work with clients.
Ethics are paramount in the work therapists do. Confidentiality is the most significant one and must be broken only under exceptional circumstances (For eg. if the person is actively suicidal, if there is a risk of harm to somebody else, if it is court mandated etc.) Good therapists are also nonjudgmental, encourage independence and empower clients to be themselves. It is worth looking up the code of ethics for international accrediting organizations to know your rights.
Therapy is not friendship
Good therapy is not like friendship - It does not involve receiving advice and imposing opinions. It might not always make you feel better because it holds up a mirror of truth – one that your friends cannot because of their own biases. Good therapy is when the client does the work. The therapist provides a crutch but the client has to walk.