“I hope you aren’t paying for that,” said my old high school friend who’s currently employed a social worker and therapist. We were talking about my therapist…in that non-clinical, conversational way I chat with my mental health and researcher friends about therapy.
My friend asked if my therapist had a plan to treat the post traumatic stress disorder symptoms that still plagued me – adding that those same PTSD symptoms had likely triggered my drinking in the first place.
“Not really. I mean, he’s pleasant enough, but he mostly just sits there. Sort of like a houseplant,” I said, looking over at the tall ficus tree that had been my silent companion for the last twelve years.
In that moment, I realized I needed a new therapist – one who wasn’t afraid to take on my tough issues.
I was terrified of the coercive and confrontational therapists who long dominated addiction treatment (and still do in in many places). I needed someone who could work with me to make a plan – a plan that I could own and use to make positive changes.
Here’s a list of the characteristics I looked for (and found) in my new therapist:
In a therapeutic relationship, the importance of feeling understood can’t be overstated. After the very first conversation with my new therapist, I said to a friend, “She combines the perfect amount of horror and humor.”
- Recommendations From People I Trust
My new therapist was suggested and vouched for by a contact I made through my harm reduction work. This is a person whose opinion I greatly value and trust.
I understand that they have the next patient in the waiting room, but it makes me shut down when I feel like I’m being rushed, especially when we’re talking about difficult personal issues.
- Industry Credentials
This is characteristic is less important to me than some of the other things on my list, but it’s necessary to go to someone who is well-educated and keeps up with new developments in the therapeutic field.
- Puts in the Effort
I need someone who will work with me to make a plan and address the specific issues I’m dealing with, instead of just sitting there nodding his or her head, listening like an unusually well-dressed houseplant.
In the end, it has to be my choice, whatever “it” is. I don’t need to have a therapist pushing his or her personal beliefs on me; I need someone who guides me to make my own best choices.
- A Team Approach
My new therapist works closely with a psychiatrist and a psychotherapist specializing in pharmacology, so everything is coordinated. For too many people, they see one therapist who never talks to their psychiatrist, leading to a lot of confusion. People are on the wrong medications for years and no one connects the dots because the therapist sees the patient’s struggles, but the psychiatrist prescribing medication barely even knows the patient. A team approach is the way of the future in healthcare!
By putting in the work, I found the right therapist for me – a therapist who could never be mistaken for a houseplant. But don’t worry, my ficus tree is still on the job, sitting silently in the corner. He’s a great listener!
Additional Reading: 5 Signs It’s Time to Break Up With Your Therapist
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