There are a variety of reasons a person may choose to seek professional mental health assistance, all of which are valid. You may be experiencing anxiety or depression, have mental blocks you just can’t seem to move past, have gone through a divorce recently, or need to talk through a major life change. Whatever your reason, there is always a mental health professional waiting to help and offer advice for your circumstances. Going to therapy is brave, and there is a lot to consider and think about as you choose a therapist. A therapist who is perfect for one person might not be a good fit for another and that’s okay. Everyone has different needs and personalities they get along with. The important part is to do your research beforehand and never be afraid to speak up if your therapy experience isn’t what you had in mind or is unhelpful.
Do you want a therapist who is older or younger than you, or around the same age? Does this matter to you, or would you be okay with any age? While age doesn’t necessarily say a lot about a person’s qualifications, therapy is all about making you feel the most comfortable you can possibly be. Those who are intimidated by authority figures might do best with someone younger. Those who are worried about boundaries with someone around their age might work better with an older therapist. Every situation will be different, and you might not know your preference until you’re already in therapy.
Some people know right away whether they’d feel more comfortable confiding in a male or female therapist. Others aren’t so sure. Your therapist’s gender doesn’t always have a lot of weight, but in certain instances it does. For example, if you’ve experienced any type of trauma with someone of a specific gender, it may be too difficult to work with a therapist who shares that same gender. The last thing you want is to be constantly triggered in therapy, so consider your personal experiences before choosing a therapist. If you start therapy with someone of a specific gender and then realize it’s not the fit for you, you can always change therapists.
If you practice a religion of any kind, you should consider whether you want your therapist to share that same faith. Sometimes the questions you ask, and the advice sought in therapy can have different answers depending on your religion. If you expect advice to come from a religious perspective, you’ll need to seek out a therapist that practices your same religion. Some therapists practice religion in their personal lives but don’t take it into account when offering advice to their clients, which you should also keep in mind. This is why it’s important to ask a lot of questions as you’re searching for the right therapist.
While all therapists receive special and advanced training to become mental health professionals, some have more experience and advanced training than others. Some go to school for their master’s degree, while others hold a doctoral degree. Keep in mind that no matter what credentials your therapist has, the fact that they are practicing therapy means they’re certified to do so. Credentials may not always matter so much as other factors.
Some therapists get training or go to school in order to treat specific conditions, while others are more generalized in their training. If you have a specific issue you’re wanting to discuss in therapy, such as trauma, domestic violence, OCD, or other issues, it may be helpful to have someone who is familiar with these. Therapists will always try to help you no matter what problems you come in with but be aware some have more experience treating certain conditions than others do. This doesn’t mean a new therapist can’t help you just as much as a very experienced one can though.
Treatment options for mental illness and other mental health issues are endless. If there is a specific treatment you’re wanting to try, look for therapists who offer it. For example, EMDR therapy (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is useful for patients who have experienced trauma, but not all therapists are qualified to perform it. Exposure therapy is common for treating people with OCD, but not all therapists have experience with conducting exposure therapy. Your therapist might also recommend a different treatment plan than what you had in mind. Still, if there are specific things you know you want out of therapy, look for those from the start and ask about them upfront.
Choosing the right therapist can be a lengthy process, but it will pay off in the end. It’s best to be open and honest about your wants and needs from the start. If you choose a therapist but then discover the therapy just isn’t working for you, you can always switch therapists. After all, therapy is all about what is best for you. Your therapist won’t take it personally, and they are used to clients switching to better suit their needs. Keep in mind you might feel worse before you start to feel better when first going to therapy. The experience is new and can be intimidating, but hopefully you will find a great therapist who will offer advice and help as you heal and grow. Your mental health will always be worth it, even if it’s hard.