Mental Health Moment: Shopping for A Therapeutic Connection

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Choosing a therapist is no easy task. There are thousands of psychologists, counsellors, and therapists in Alberta alone! Selecting a professional with the training, experience, and personality that fits your needs can be daunting. You will be forming a relationship with this person, whether it’s for three sessions or a lifetime. A great therapist is just like your family doctor…they are there for you through the many transitions and challenges of your life. It’s important you feel comfortable and safe.

The factors ranked as most important in making therapy successful are, the therapist’s listening skills (63%), the therapist’s personality (52%), the personal connection with the therapist (45%), the therapist’s being active in the session (38%), and the cost (38%). As you can see, it’s important to choose a therapist that’s a good fit. It’s something we therapists learn early in our training. It’s all about the relationship. A clinician with a wall full of credentials and 25 years of experience may seem to have the edge on paper, but if the first-year therapist has a better connection with you, they may provide a better outcome. Referrals, degrees, and demographics matter, but the quality of the relationship seems to matter more.

Here are a few things to consider in your search:

Referral: In order to develop a therapeutic relationship (which is crucial in any type of therapy), you have to feel some ease of rapport with the therapist and feel comfortable opening up to us. Asking friends, family members, and colleagues about their experiences with their therapists is an excellent way of getting a sense of different types of therapy and therapists. Have any of your connections gone into therapy and had a positive change as a result? These are the people to ask. Although it’s not always easy to find the right therapist for you, referrals from people you trust are a much better basis for choosing a therapist than who has the lowest fees.

Age/Ethnicity/Gender/Sexual Orientation/Religion: In general, people tend to choose therapists similar to themselves in these areas, with the belief that someone with shared demographics or shared experience will better understand them. Have they walked a mile in your shoes? A lot of the time knowing that we have experienced or overcome a similar challenge may feel more comfortable for you, like we get it. That’s worth thinking about.

Cost: Fees for therapy vary widely, from free (or nearly free) at some community agencies to $250+ in private practices. Great therapy is an investment of not only money, but time and emotional energy, so it’s important for you to honestly assess your resources. Therapy can be expensive, but consider how much money you would spend on other things like, shopping for clothes, dining out, nail and hair salons, the latest cell phone, accessories, and entertainment to help us feel better, but don’t produce a lasting change.

Insurance: Licensed therapists are registered with major employee health insurance providers which cover most, if not all, therapy fees to a set limit per year. You can check with your insurance provider to determine how payment works.

Location/Availability: How flexible is your time? Some therapists offer evening and weekend appointments, but these tend to fill up quickly. How close to your workplace or home is the therapist or clinic located?

Degree: Many paths lead to careers in psychotherapy. Psychiatrists have an M.D., so they tend to focus on the biological elements of behavior and may or may not do psychotherapy. Psychologists have a Ph.D., Psy.D., or a Masters in Counselling Psychology, typically conduct psychotherapy, and may have training in psychological assessment. Clinicians with a Masters in Social Work provide therapy with an emphasis on the client’s social system. Marriage and Family Therapists or Marriage, Family, and Child Counsellors, hold a master’s degree and specialize in relationship issues. Licensed Professional Counsellors have master’s degrees and conduct general therapy as well. Again, cost and areas of focus vary widely among these professionals.

Experience: Clinicians with years of experience have seen and treated many people with a variety of issues; they know what has helped and what hasn’t. Newer clinicians are fresher in their training and are potentially equipped with the latest techniques and theories. More experience usually means higher fee.

Therapeutic Orientation: Also called treatment modalities or theoretical orientations, influence how we understand and treat your problem – even how we relate to you. There are hundreds of therapeutic orientations, but they tend to fall in a few major groups that help explain your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Some therapists use several theories, based on what their client’s needs are, which is referred to as an integrative approach.

Expertise: Through training and/or experience, most of us focus on a few areas of clinical interest or specialty. Some of us have written books on the topic, published articles, spoken at conferences, or received special training in the special areas.

Call your three top choices and arrange for an initial consultation – most of us will offer a complimentary consultation. It’s okay to let us know you’re consulting several therapists. The consultation is not meant to go into the details of your challenge, but instead, to interview the potential therapist and get a feel for our expertise and personality. When you consult, ask us to elaborate on anything you’re not clear about. The therapist should be able to communicate their experience, style, and approach in a way that makes sense to you.

The research is pretty clear; the therapist’s ability to listen, our personality, and the connection you feel with us is vital for successful therapy. Your subjective experience of us is just as important as our credentials. Whom did you feel the strongest connection with? If you don’t find a match in your top three, please continue your search. We want the best fit for us both.