Heard of a Good Therapist? - Some Key Thoughts

By Spencer Overgaard, Copyright 2014

Fall is upon us and the routines we suspended with the arrival of summer are now once again a part of our lives. My son speaks about his 'epic' summer: he had many adventures and was certainly not looking forward to filling up his knapsack with binders and a lunch bag and heading back to school. As a kid, I remember returning to the city near Labour Day with a sense of dread about the new school year beginning. While I've met some people who told me they absolutely couldn't wait for the first day of school, for me it made my heart go cold. Who would want to give up playing at a beach for the hard & desolate asphalt of a schoolyard? Nevertheless, before long the routines got going and I found I liked going to school, especially because I could participate in all kinds of sports and see my buddies again.

Although the natural world begins to wind down in the fall, for many people it's actually like a new year, and is often the impetus for trying to start some new challenge. For kids, it's a new school year, so they need to adapt to new teachers and new classmates. For adults, this time of year gives us an opportunity to re-imagine ourselves. We sign up for courses that we've considered for months or even years: finally I'll do that learn to cook course. Or we join a book club or take up some new athletic pursuit. We might extend ourselves socially by striking up conversations with neighbours long in our area but not well known or by inviting someone for dinner. And we might even look deeper and consider our emotional well-being and commit to finally acting on a long needed project.

Long needed projects often have a gestation period. My wife and I have talked for a couple of years about replacing the windows in our home. She's for it; I'm a 'solid maybe' as some people say. I love our windows because they are old, wooden frames with beautiful lines in the trim. She thinks they leak and that the house would be warmer with them replaced. Finally, this summer we had a couple of quotes. Now I'm even more of a 'maybe.' Actually - not really. I have finally been convinced. It's time to do something about them. Somewhere along the line I was converted to her opinion. It just took some time - about two to three years!

So, if something is worth doing, it's worth doing slowly. This is how I feel about deciding to make a commitment to therapy. It is not a decision most people will make over a weekend. It could be, but often, if it's hastily considered, it's likely to be short-lived. If you're contemplating therapy, it's probably best to take your time to thoroughly think it through. Many people, even after they have a referral will wait months before they take the step of picking up the phone. It's not only that for most people it will involve money out of pocket. It will also involve time in getting to and coming from appointments. Most importantly, it will involve you having a deep conversation with yourself and, if they are in the picture, possibly your spouse or partner. You will likely be changed by the experience and, as a consequence so will they. This is why you want to give it thoughtful consideration. Let it gestate! If you're uncertain about it, and it's not the right time, the idea will probably drop off your radar. If, however, weeks and months later, it's still on the horizon, then you'll know it's something to proceed with.

Perhaps after you've decided to go ahead with therapy you might be wondering where will you get a name. A word of mouth will likely bring you the best results. Your family doctor would be a good place to start. You might also check with friends. I know a lot of people use the internet. However, I would recommend you make sure these people are members of a reputable association. Before long, psychotherapists in Ontario will have to be registered, so this will make the search somewhat easier. Nevertheless, once you have a name, you should still meet the therapist to see if they are a good 'fit' for you.

When you contact the therapist, feel free to ask any questions you like. Most will offer an initial meeting at a reduced fee or no fee. Take your time. Come prepared ahead of time with a list of questions. But, don't let it simply be a fact-finding mission. Ask yourself whether you feel this person would be able to listen deeply to me, be honest with me. Am I able to understand them? Is there a good rapport or connection? This last matter is of utmost importance. Regardless of the particular therapeutic approach (psychodynamic, interpersonal etc.), what really matters is whether or not you feel this person is likely to 'get' you. Don't be baffled by someone who spouts a stream of diagnostic terms. These categories of disorders are not going to do you much good when you leave. What you need is someone who has some theoretical knowledge, but, more importantly, is able to assist you in opening up emotionally and psychologically so that you can begin to address your issue.

On this last point, ask whether the therapist has undergone their own therapy a standard requirement in reputable training programs. If you are working with someone who hasn't done so, then you are going to be led by someone who is leaning on theories and techniques to guide you. Therapists who spend years in their own therapy sorting out their issues and learning about who they are will more likely be able to meet you where you are because they've taken the journey themselves.

If you want to consult a book on finding a therapist, look into The Consumer's Guide to Psychotherapy by Engler and Goleman available through Amazon. It's an old title, but is comprehensive and will give you lots of good additional advice. Another, more recent book, is available through the Toronto Public Library: A consumer's guide to mental health services: unveiling the mysteries and secrets of psychotherapy, by Jeffrey K. Edwards.

I hope these thoughts have been useful and best wishes on your search!