(NEW YORK) — There’s no denying therapy can be a valuable resource for guiding you through life’s ups and downs.
However, it’s also important to recognize that your first meeting with a therapist may not feel like the perfect match for your needs.
For Emily Maldonado, a 27-year-old New York City-based public relations and marketing manager, it took almost a year before she realized her first therapist was not a good fit. After opting to discontinue services, she realized what she actually was looking for in therapy, and that helped her evaluate other therapists with a clearer direction.
“Now, I love my therapist and we’ve been going strong for over a year,” said Maldonado. “My original therapist just listened, but now I know I’m the type that appreciates action items and homework.”
She added, “My current therapist is also Latinx like me so there are some things she just gets.”
Licensed therapist, relationship expert and New York Times bestselling author Nedra Glover Tawwab told Good Morning America the process of finding the best therapist can be done like speed dating.
“It’s a way for you to figure out pretty quickly, in 15 or 20 minutes by phone or video, if this person will be a good fit,” said Tawwab. “You just talk for 15 or 20 minutes and sort of figure out if it would be a good situation — and yes, you can talk to a few therapists within the same week to figure out who might be the best fit.”
What to know before you go to your first therapy session
Experts agree that nerves are normal as you’re talking to a stranger and telling them very deep, personal information.
“There is no other space in which we do that, so there’s nothing to compare it to. So it is an awkward and uncomfortable encounter, initially,” said Tawwab.
Talkspace therapist Elizabeth Keohan advised that you shouldn’t expect immediate resonance in the beginning.
“It takes time to acquire a good fit with a therapist, so an openness to feeling emotionally challenged can help navigate whatever is causing tension,” she said.
Kate Rosenblatt, another Talkspace therapist, suggested doing a pre-interview to ask questions such as, “What would our therapy look like together? And have you worked with other people in a similar situation? How were the outcomes?”
It’s generally recommended to attend a minimum of three sessions before evaluating if a therapist is or isn’t right for you.
Once you’ve had a few sessions, and you are unsure if your therapist is the right fit, Rosenblatt shared that there are quite a few factors to consider before choosing to “break up” with your therapist.
Three key questions to ask yourself before moving on
1. Am I making progress in therapy?
“If you’re not where you want to be, and you’ve brought this up to your therapist and you’ve tried something new in therapy, but nothing has changed, it might be time to consider finding a new therapist,” said Rosenblatt. Or, alternatively, if you have made incredible progress, she suggests letting your therapist know it might be time for a break.
2. What do I want more of in therapy that I’m not currently getting?
It’s common for your focus to change throughout therapy, but it’s important to work with someone qualified to support the specific needs you’d like to focus on.
“If you speak with your therapist about your needs, and your therapist cannot adequately meet them, it might be time to find a therapist who can best support you,” said Rosenblatt.
3. Is therapy in general making me feel uncomfortable, or am I feeling uncomfortable with my therapist?
As therapy can bring up some difficult memories or experiences, Rosenblatt highlighted that you’re not going to leave every session feeling better immediately. However, she also advised that it is important to distinguish between your experience in therapy versus with your therapist.
“If your therapist has said or done things that feel unprofessional, uncomfortable or demonstrate a lack of cultural competency, see if it would feel right for you to address these with your therapist and then go from there,” she recommended.
After closely examining your experience, and coming to the conclusion that you’d prefer to move on from your therapist, Tawwab said that it’s truly a matter of preference when it comes to “breaking up” and your therapist, as a professional, is prepared for your relationship to end on your terms. “Believe it or not, therapists are ghosted all the time,” she said.
“It’s a part of the culture. We know everyone won’t come back,” added Tawwab. Still, she suggests that it is helpful to give feedback to aid the therapist in understanding where things might not have aligned.
Once you’ve parted ways with your initial therapist, there are a few tips to help navigate the process of finding someone new without getting discouraged.
Rosenblatt’s best practices to keep in mind include being clear on your priorities in what you want, sourcing therapist referrals from your communities and doing your own research.
With patience and hope, many people have found amazing therapists after some trial and error, and experts concur that one bad experience shouldn’t be the end-all when it comes to taking care of your mental health.
“Meeting the right therapist is like any sort of relationship where you’re learning someone else,” said Tawwab. “If you’re in school, it’s going to be 20 people in your class and you may have one to two friends.”
“If you’re dating, every relationship won’t work out and it’s that same sort of thing,” she continued. “You keep going. Hopefully, you don’t give up on dating or making friends or any of these sort of things, so please don’t give up on finding the right therapist.”
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