Finding a good therapist isn’t easy. Even with the best matchmakers for you (I consider myself a pretty good matchmaker both professionally and personally lol) there are still many factors to consider.
In many ways, finding a therapist is like dating.
You may have looked up his, her or their online profile before you met. Psychology today works pretty much like Tinder or Hinge, right? You saw the picture, read a professional or personal bio and got a flavor for their therapeutic style or personal philosophy. But until you are sitting across from each other, you don’t know if you can connect or bond. A lot of us offer free 15 min consultation mostly for people to get a sense if there’s the right chemistry/vibe.
Ideally, each of you is safe and comfortable with each other. There’s something in common between you, maybe a shared political view (seriously, politics is now a dating deal-breaker), similar racial or cultural identity. Just because there’s chemistry or right vibe doesn’t necessarily mean the therapeutic work or union will be effective, of course. There’s still plenty of work to be done.
Well, if the chemistry or vibe isn't there. It makes more sense to move on.
But how? Doctor shopping or casual dating is OK but please make sure you're transparent about your intentions.
It’s extremely challenging to be the one who breaks it off. If we put too much thought into this, the urge arises to just disappear. A lot of times we have to do it impulsively or to not show up when expected, to not return any calls. Let’s try to cultivate a better therapy or dating culture by naming the big elephant in the room first…Ghosting….We’ve been talking about this a lot in the dating world but it happens a lot in the therapy world as well. I have to say sometimes therapists may intentionally or unintentionally ghost our clients as well and we have to take responsibility on our part to make the initial engagement more transparent for us and clients.
Now please allow me to vent a little bit. I get it, it's every client’s right to ghost therapists. But if it’s a brand new relationship or you were seeing each other for a long time, consider that it might be very therapeutic-to send an email (if a phone call or an in-person meeting is too much) at some point to explain why you’re leaving instead. I’m saying this because I know deep down, a lot of ghosts don’t want to be ghosts, and it hurts them when they have to.
Most people benefit from dating several potential partners before settling down with someone or staying in the casual dating world for a very long time. In the therapy world, if you can afford the $ and time, therapist shopping is also recommended but not indefinitely–that would be confusing for you and therapists. So consider meeting up with maybe a certain amount of therapists, just once. Check in with every part of you and be sure to ask: was the conversation labored or effortless? How do you feel toward the therapist? More importantly, how do you feel toward yourself in session? Are you hopefulyou and your therapist can be a good team together?
Once you find someone that you connect with, then check in with every part of you again, be sure to explore how much personal information should you reveal in the beginning? We’ve all had clients pouring the most painful and difficult events in their lives right away. We’ve also seen others choose to hold the more sensitive material back until they know they can trust the therapist to respond with compassion. It makes a lot of sense. Trust to someone is built instantaneously but to others is built over time. This is exactly the same in the dating world.
Now let’s get down to the differences
Let’s start with the obvious, physical intimacy, which should go without saying, but surprisingly doesn’t. A lot of clients ask us if they can get a hug or if we can hold them when they’re emotional or vulnerable.
Traditional talk therapy including sex therapy does not involve any kind of physical contact.
A therapist/client relationship differs greatly from romantic or sexual relationships in this aspect. Many therapists try to avoid even handshakes and hugs. Well, most of us won’t freak out if clients try to hug us, but it’s not something we’re likely to initiate and reinforce. Anything beyond that, any intimate touching or sexual behavior, is illegal, unethical, and damaging for both clients and therapists.
The other way that finding a therapist is different from dating involves payment for services rendered (Well, dating sometimes can be more expensive). You see, the topics of discussion in therapy sessions are extremely private but the two of you aren’t friends, family, or lovers. One of you is paying the other for a professional service.
Let me clarify that, paying for the service doesn’t mean the therapist won’t care about you and only wants your money. Another thing that some clients may complain about is the many regulations therapists have regarding late cancellations.
There are other limits placed on how many contacts you can have between sessions. Well we have to admit that in the dating world, there’re also boundaries and limitations but may not be as rigid as therapy setting. Last minute cancellation and no shows are also a huge concern in the dating world but usually you don’t have to pay a fee for it.
While you may only get 50% or even less attention in the dating world and you have to pay a lot of attention to your date to listen to their life stories, take care of their feelings and needs. You can get exclusive attention in therapy and the provider usually doesn’t self disclose unless it’s necessary for the client’s growth.
In fact, the therapist/client relationship is usually the only or the main relationship you two can have. Otherwise it can be either unethical or even illegal. If you passed each other in a grocery store or a bathroom (why am I thinking of this, wellyou may also have run into your client in the bathroom outside therapy office), you’d probably both look the other way. If you’re dating someone, you two can be more than just romantic lovers, a lot of people go to school, work, share hobbies with their romantic partners (well dual or multiple relationships can be challenging to navigate in the dating world as well but it’s usually not illegal or unethical)
So my friend out there, are you still looking for the ideal therapist in an ocean full of mental health professionals? If you have been therapist shopping for a while but still cannot find your ideal therapist, perhaps think about dating for a minute, would the good enough principle work for you.
For anyone who is in an unhappy therapeutic relationship but doesn’t have the courage to break up or want to break up, remember you can always address your relationship issues together just like you and your romantic partner. At least, allow the uncomfortable feelings and confusions to come out in a respectful way so that both of you can make your relationship decision together.
If you absolutely resent this opening up approach, you can always work on yourself, therapist is always a small part of your life journey, if the discomfort motivates you to work it out without your therapist actively being a part of your life, you may end up being your own best therapist .