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!
We hear it said all the time, ‘where words fail, music speaks.’ Yet, we underestimate how true that statement can be. Music can help us release emotions, de-stress, and overcome pain; among other things. In my work as a therapist, I’ve discovered how powerful music really is. During sessions, I utilize music activities to help individuals grow and overcome.
One example of this is my use of song lyrics. Individuals listen to songs with the lyrics printed out and are able to mark what they feel, relate to, and so forth, but may not be able to vocalize. They are empowered to open up to how they feel, because someone has given them the words. The concrete verses allow for a dialogue to happen with the individual leading the way.
Furthermore, music can help put things into perspective and show different sides of situations. It can set a tone that allows people to reflect. In addition to having individuals use song lyrics, I also have them listen to songs that relate to them on some level, i.e., situation, emotion, or mood that they have experienced, and focus on their feelings and thoughts. This can create an energy that leads to personal reflection and insight. The songs create a bridge between what someone has experienced and the words they need in order to cope and move forward.
I believe that everyone has an innate strength and resilience inside them; sometimes they just need assistance with discovering it. That’s where music comes in. After all, it says what we can’t.
People often ask me that as a therapist, what “issues” do I specialize in for counseling. My honest answer is that I don’t really specialize in any one topic but rather work with clients who are facing a variety of life experiences; both past and present. Now with that said, I do happen to see a lot of clients who are trying to manage chronic anxiety.
Like all therapists, I have my own beliefs about what works and what doesn’t work in treating the type of anxiety that doesn’t seem to completely go away when life circumstances change. Just about everyone has experienced brief moments or a season where anxiety was present and when the situations were different, the anxiety faded. There are, however, many folks who must learn to manage anxiety as the go-to response their nervous system chooses on a regular basis. To those people I say, you are not alone. Many of us have anxiety as the thorn in our flesh, so to speak, and we must learn to manage it so it doesn’t manage us. Everyone has a portal that stress shows itself and for some people, it’s anxiety. For other people, it might be anger or depression or isolation or a combination of a few. But put a person under prolonged stress and everyone will have an unwanted coping skill that pops out.
For those of us that have anxiety as our mechanism of letting off too much emotional pressure, I have a few suggestions that I think really help to keep our internal rubber-band from getting too stretched and leading to a snap of anxious feelings.
If you find yourself dealing with anxiety on a regular basis, consider whether you are implementing a few of these ideas:
Exercise, Exercise, Exercise
It is a must for a chronically anxious person. There are all sorts of good physiological changes that take place during and after exercise that aid in decreasing anxiety symptoms. If you are a science nerd (and nerds are awesome, I consider myself one actually) you can do a simple Google search and find a truck load of research that supports this belief. I have to say though, that exercise to reduce anxiety should be done in a simple, fun and engaging manner. If you hate swimming (which I happen to) then please do not go swim to help with your anxiety. It will only make things worse by creating frustrations. But please do find something that you hate less than some other form of exercise and stick with it! We don’t have to become a gym rat in order to gain the benefits of exercise for our anxiety. A thirty minute walk, three times a week, on a treadmill or elliptical or outside could do wonders for lowering anxiety naturally.
Stay Clear Of Rude, Draining, Selfish or Otherwise Negative People
I know this might be easier said than done, especially if said awful person or people are co-workers or family and you don’t feel you can stay clear of them. But when and where you can disconnect from toxic people, please do so. Spending time with individuals that create drama or just have a negative mindset will cause us more anxiety and our nervous systems just don’t need any additional help in this way. Setting boundaries and letting relationships go can be hard but in the long run, you and I will experience a lowering of annoyance chemicals and that’s always a good thing! Now, for those people we wish we could steer clear of but can’t, we need strategies for how we are going to take care of ourselves so that their issues don’t become ours. There are several great books out there to help on the subject and counseling is also very useful for sorting through the options of setting limits and taking care of ourselves.
See Your Doctor and Get A Physical
There are surprisingly many health issues (and not just the big scary ones) that can cause symptoms of anxiety so it’s super important that we are up-to-date with our physicals and have scheduled blood work drawn. Issues related to thyroid, low/high blood sugars, inner ear issues, allergies, dehydration and a bunch of other treatable medical conditions can make our anxiety symptoms worse or even be the cause of them.
Eat, Sleep and Drink Water
To know me is to know I love coffee. To know me even more, is to know I love Dunkin Donuts coffee. Since my own nervous system likes anxiety, I have learned that I can’t OD on coffee or I feel awful. Same goes for sugar. If I really want to make myself feel miserable, having really high sugar desserts like eating a whole donut or piece of cake will surely give me a lingering sick feeling. What we eat is really what we feel. Eat junk, feel like junk. So those who deal with chronic anxiety, need to understand the cause and effect of diet on our nervous system. Sleep is critically important and a lot of people report an increase in anxiety symptoms after they have been burning the candle at both ends and sometimes in the middle! Dehydration is also a cause of symptoms for some folks so start carrying water and keep yourself hydrated; especially with the summer months approaching.
Be Honest With Yourself and Others
I often say that feelings are like Jello, you can push it down but it will squirt out somewhere. We can deny our feelings and ignore them for only so long before they make an appearance and want to be dealt with and this is especially true for those of us who have experienced chronic anxiety. Now, this doesn’t give us license to be overly blunt or rude in the name of lowering OUR stress levels. But it should encourage us to first be honest with ourselves about our thoughts and feelings. Lying to ourselves is a really dangerous habit to form and we often will employ less than stellar coping skills in order to mask and numb our true feelings. Instead, be brave and be honest within your own thoughts. Then find a trusted friend and confidante to share those thoughts with and release the burden of carrying them alone. Many people I see in the office say they like coming to counseling because it provides a very safe place to say anything and not be judged or told thoughts are “wrong”. We all need that level of authenticity in our lives.
There are probably half a dozen additional suggestions of how to overcome chronic anxiety but I just wanted to share a few today. If you are struggling with anxiety, I hope you will implement some new things now and remember, that doing something one day doesn’t bring about change. It must become a lifestyle shift to truly be free from anxiety.
What do you need to do today to lower your anxiety?
“Numb: Deprived of the power to feel…Emotionally unresponsive; indifferent”
Many people come into counseling because they feel that they need to make a big change in a relationship and are not sure which course of action they should take. Often times individuals wonder if they are seeing their spouse/significant other correctly or have distorted vision and are about to make a huge permanent mistake by making radical adjustments in their relationship.
The number one thing I hear from folks who are having trouble with moving forward with a decision is that they don’t know if they can trust their feelings about what they need to do. The word “numb” often comes into the conversation. People wonder if they have become so comfortably numb to the pain of an unhappy relationship that they don’t feel confident in their own judgement anymore. Is the indifference they may feel towards a romantic partner really just self-preservation and when the numbness should wear off, they would be seeing the situation in a very different light? Few emotions are worse than regret so people work hard to avoid it and that’s ok. On the other hand, few things are worse than living comfortably numb in a relationship that is clearly dead and will remain unresponsive to attempts to resuscitate it.
How does a person know if they are numb to their “real” feelings for a relationship or really have come to the point of being done and caring has permanently left the building? It’s a tricky question and a colleague put it very well in that “some people confuse caring with being numb. Wrong. Numbness is when you can’t feel something you ordinarily would. Not caring is when you don’t feel something because you don’t care. ” I agree.
Caring is at the heart of whether to stay in a relationship, to dismantle the couplehood now or get an exit strategy in place that works for the circumstances. When we have stopped caring we have to wonder if we have gone numb but feelings are still there below the surface (like at the dentist when we are temporarily numb and can no longer feel) or if we have really arrived at the point that “when it’s time to go, there it went” as my colleague put it.
As a counselor I always advocate that people not end relationships until they know that they know that they know it’s truly over and it can not be fixed. Sometimes coming to that place of surety is extremely difficult. If people find themselves simply unable to determine if they have gone numb or are really moved on in their hearts, I find a time of separation to be the number one most helpful tool to cut through the confusion. Whether it be a boyfriend/girlfriend or a spouse, a time of separation can be just the thing needed to determine the best next step. I have seen many people gain insight, clarity of mind and a clear purpose through a time of stepping away from the hyper-focus on the relationship and get a better perspective from a few steps back. It never ceases to amaze me what we can see when are not looking at just one corner of a painting and step back enough to see the whole work of art.
If you are facing the confusion of numbness vs feelings of being done, I encourage you to not do anything permanent until taking a period of at least thirty (30) days away from the relationship. If you need longer to get some clarity, then take it, but start with thirty and see what you learn. You might see that there was numbness masking feelings that you will be able to find or you might have the confirmation that you need to move forward in a direction that is right for you and your future. Staying comfortably numb in a relationship should not be an option though and a time of separation should be after all other actions to repair the relationship have been tried and been unfortunately unsuccessful.
Five Things I’ve Learned This Week or Was Reminded Of:
1) Exercise keeps old age from creeping in as strongly; even though I am a year older this week. When I don’t work out on a regular basis, I feel much older than I really am. I am amazed how painful it is to NOT work out.
2) Not all clients and therapists are a good fit for one another. Communication style, training and personality are some factors to consider when looking for a therapist. There are many of us out there and finding the right one for the client’s goals is vitally important for everyone involved.
3) Sometimes we just have to throw caution to the wind and go have an adventure in life. I had the privilege of watching a friend do this and it inspired me! What big adventure would you like to go on?
4) I love Dunkin Donuts coffee and three glazed munchkins (donut holes). I do not love the crash that comes from eating almost two whole donuts. I felt ill almost the entire day. Life lesson: enjoy what works and don’t be greedy for more, more, more 🙂
5) Air conditioning in June in Texas is a lovely addition to life. One doesn’t truly appreciate it until one goes to make the room cooler and a whole lot of nothing happens. It had stopped working! Elation it is when the A/C responds again on command.
What’s on your list?