I am really fortunate (and crazy blessed) to be able to do the work that I do. Every day people contact my office inquiring of how to get an appointment. Some of the folks are out of the state and even out of the country. My licensing requirements are that I can only work with clients who are in the state of Texas. Even then, I really prefer counseling sessions that are face-to-face and not on the phone or online. Some counselors do distant counseling and that meets the needs of many people. I just find it more enriching to be in person when walking through different life experiences.

Whether you are in the Dallas/Fort Worth region or across the world, I thought it might be helpful to list out some key highlights when looking for a therapist. Many people know the waste of time it can be when working with the wrong therapist. Clients report back that they feel they spent more time trying to get the therapist to understand the situation rather than moving forward to healing whatever was the issue at hand.

If you find yourself looking for a counselor, here are some things to consider:

Rapport goes a long way

I highly recommend not trying to schedule an appointment through email. Call the potential therapist and interview them on the phone. By that I don’t mean ask a whole bunch of personal questions that they won’t be able to answer. It’s unethical for therapists to share too much about themselves and we all know that limitation. Instead, ask them about their approach to whatever issue you want to work through. Give them a brief sentence or two about what you are looking for and why. Explain that you want to meet for a session and see if it’s a good fit for you both. When therapists make the first appointment, we are not automatically agreeing to work with a new person. In the first session, we have to assess if we think we are a good fit and can help the client. You should be doing the same thing. Rapport does go a long way because when there is a good therapeutic connection, the therapist and client can trust one another to have the client’s best interest at heart. When there is friction or an undercurrent of tension in a counseling session, very little growth will be met.

Is it easy to go to counseling?

You will definitely want to find a therapist whose office is easy for you to get to, has appointment times that work with your schedule and the sessions are at a price you can afford. Some counseling clients will try to see a therapist who charges more than what is in the client’s budget so they end up only going into the office once in a while. Good solid growth seldom happens at that infrequent of an interval.  Now, this doesn’t mean a client has to bring a sleeping bag and be at the office so much they feel like they live there but a rhythm of appointments is very helpful to see any progress.

Does the therapist think like you do?

I can’t tell you how often laughter fills the counseling room when I am working with clients. Laughing while at counseling? Absolutely! Sometimes life is so jacked up we have to laugh. Now that’s my style. I have personally walked through many life challenges and have found that a sense of humor helps soothe some of the intense pain. Do we set out to have a good time in counseling? No, but with the clients who think like I do and see life in a similar way, we find ourselves having a relaxed time while we meet.

When visiting a new therapist, notice if they ask questions or expect you to drive the session. Do they seem engaged in your life story or are suppressing yawns. Take note of how you feel. Do you feel good visiting with the person or does it feel like pulling teeth to keep the conversation flowing? When you leave the session, do you have any nuggets of new insight or a new good book to read?

Basically, was the time you spent with the new therapist worth your efforts and money? If not, keep looking.

In every city there are plenty of counselors to choose from so shop around until you find a good fit. Remember, you are not there to meet the needs of the therapist, but the therapist is there to walk with you on your journey.

A huge red flag is any therapist who makes you feel like you are there for them. It could be a number of ways but if something doesn’t feel right when you meet with a therapist, something probably isn’t right. At least for you and that’s enough evidence to move on.

Do you agree with the therapist’s approach?

There are as many therapeutic theories as there are therapists. Most of us have an eclectic mix of theories and interventions that we use. We have key books we like and have go-to handouts that help the majority of our clients. Make sure the approach to working on the problem fits with your own ethics and values. You will find this information out as you visit with a therapist. It may take a few sessions to really know if you are compatible and if you find you are not, don’t reschedule. You owe the therapist no loyalty other than cancelling with enough notice for them to fill the time spot. I have heard that some therapists use guilt with their clients and that is completely unethical. Clients are in charge of their treatment and are free to come and go as they see fit.

On a humorous side, many of us in the field are familiar with a clip that shows exactly what NOT to do as a therapist. I thought I would share it with you as an illustration of a horrendous therapist and for some chuckles The clip is from a Mad TV episode that featured Bob Newhart as the worst therapist on the planet. Go head and take a few minutes to enjoy! I will wait 🙂  “Stop It – Therapy” 

Pretty awful right?! You’d be shocked at how some therapists come across a little similar to Bob’s character or at least that’s how it feels to clients. In some settings, a faith-based therapist may add “and pray more.” It is my personal pet peeve to hear how my fellow counselors have added spiritual guilt to clients.

Now you have a few key areas to think about when looking for a therapist in your area. If you don’t find one you click with, keep looking until you do. I assure you that there is someone out there who is a good fit and will be more than happy to journey with you toward deeper healing and joy.

Keep Dreaming Big!