*Disclaimer: I want to emphasis that any kind of romantic relationship and/or sexual contact between a therapist and client is unethical, illegal and should be reported to the Grievance Board of the state the therapist practices in, if any misconduct occurs. I draw the parallel between dating and finding a therapist to bring some humor and levity to the sometimes frustrating task of finding a therapist.
Finding a good therapist, like finding a romantic partner, is not always easy.
However, in both cases, finding ‘the right one’ has a huge pay off when it comes to your overall sanity and well-being.
Surprisingly, there are many similarities between the initial stages of dating and finding a good therapist. If you have ever gone through the modern dating process in the United States, you may already have some of the skills needed to find a good therapist. (See, all those tedious coffee dates with strangers really did benefit your mental health!)
The Search Begins…Online?
Nowadays, most people are going online to find potential dates. If you have ever been on a dating website or app, it can be overwhelming to search through a sea of similar faces and profiles to find the person you want to meet.
The same can apply with searching for a therapist. When you first look for a therapist online, it is very normal to feel bombarded with choices. However, just like with online dating, there are ways to narrow down your search options for a therapist.
Isn’t There Another Way?
While it’s not as common in the modern dating world, when it comes to finding a therapist the ‘word of mouth’ method still rules. Ask a friend, a mentor, a spiritual teacher, a co-worker: “I’m really struggling with ________, do you have someone you recommend?” The great thing about this way of searching is someone else has already vetted the potential therapist and you can have more confidence when you book that initial appointment.
It’s like when you ask a friend to set you up on a date. Chances are you will click better with a friend of a friend, than a random swipe on Tinder. (You never know, though. Those matching algorithms are getting pretty good.)
A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words
Have you noticed how, over time, online dating profiles have gone from page-long soliloquies to just a couple photos and an emoji? While some would argue for or against this change, I believe it really highlights how photos can give us such instant information about a person – in a way a written paragraph of someone’s personality or qualifications never could.
The same applies when therapist searching. It’s not superficial. It’s okay to want to see a clear photo of the potential provider. When you read a therapist’s website, their credentials and experience are important, and it’s also critical to trust how you feel when you look at their photo.
Continuing the Search
When you date someone, you want them to have similar values and interests, right? The same way you may filter out potential mates based on values or interests, can apply to finding a therapist.
- Values/Beliefs: Do you you want a therapist who shares the same religious or worldview? Use that information to narrow down your search.
- Techniques: If you want a therapist who uses a certain approach to therapy (i.e. EMDR, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Psychodynamic), that is another way to narrow down your choices. (If you have no idea what approach works for you, that’s perfectly okay! A good therapist will explain their approach to you in laymen’s terms.)
- Specialties: If you want a therapist who specializes in a certain issues (i.e. LGBTQ+, Trauma, Chronic Pain), you can use that to create a smaller pool of options.
The First Session
Ever had a date with a person who was perfect for you on paper, but once you met face to face, the spark just wasn’t there?
It’s ok for this to happen when you meet your therapist for the first time. Research has shown us the most important piece of effective therapy is the (platonic) relationship between you and your therapist. Yes, shared values and qualifications are important, but how you connect with your therapist and how comfortable you feel with them plays a significant role in the outcome of your treatment.
When you meet with a potential therapist for the first time, you may feel awkward, at ease, or somewhere in between. You may feel uncomfortable revealing all these personal details to a stranger. You may feel a great natural connection. Or all of the above. All of these responses are normal!
In some dating philosophies, the best way to view a first date is not to determine if they are your ‘forever person’, but to just assess if they are a ‘No’ or a ‘Maybe’. The same can be said when you meet with a therapist for the first time. If they are an instant ‘No’, trust your gut and keep searching. If they are a ‘Maybe’, then try to see them one or two more times before making a final decision. Once the anxiety of the first few sessions wear off, you can continue to assess if they are a good fit for you.
(Side note: Most therapists will be open to hearing your initial impressions of them and how you feel around them. If you find yourself seeing therapist after therapist, without finding someone who clicks, then it might be worth looking inside yourself to see if there is some fear to starting the therapy process or you need to change your search process.)
The Take Away
If you take away one thing from this post, remember the relationship between you and your therapist is key. Yes, skills and training are also important. Make sure potential therapists are qualified by asking about their education, experience, and credentials.
All that aside, you will want to experience a sense of ease and familiarity with your therapist within the first few sessions. You can’t make any progress or growth if you aren’t feeling respected, comfortable and safe during therapy.
If this isn’t the case, trust your gut and keep searching until you find the right therapist. Just as in searching for a mate, finding the best fit with a therapist will pay off in the long run.
What insight or advice do you have about searching for a therapist?
Arianna Smith, MA, LPC