For those committed to a 2018 characterized by self-awareness, mental clarity, and healing, the first step to New year, who ‘dis? is finding a therapist. Where do I start? is a question I often get from friends and family who I’ve officially weaned off the Free.99 “My loved one is a therapist” plan. Fortunately, there are several online provider directories that make this process smoother than it could be. The two I pay to be featured on are Psychology Today and Therapy for Black Girls, both of which give potential clients the opportunity to view photos of prospective therapists, read blurbs about what types (i.e. individual, group, family, couple counseling) of services and modalities (i.e. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Motivational Interviewing, Narrative Therapy) prospective therapists provide/use, and one-click visit prospective therapists’ webpages. If this isn’t enough to completely sell a client to a specific therapist, both directories give potential clients access to provider phone numbers so they can call or text to better determine fit. So, what exactly does it mean for a therapist to ‘fit’ you?
When I searched for my first therapist, I knew I wanted someone who offered services to Christians, but meditated to determine what “type” of person I’d feel most comfortable talking to. In my experiences with older black women, they were often intimidated by how much I’d achieved at such an early age and chose to subjugate me by treating me/addressing me like they would their daughter or little sister. I knew I wanted my therapist to regard me as an adult woman with valid experiences and responses, so I crossed them off my mental list. I also didn’t want a black male, because of my rape history and the potential for motive misinterpretation, attraction, and discomfort. I subsequently crossed them off my mental list. I continued this process of elimination until I reached older white men and realized I felt I’d be the most heard during sessions with someone fitting that criteria. In my mind, an older white male was the complete opposite of who I presented as thus providing a safe space for treatment to thrive. While I truly loved therapy with my older white male therapist, I eventually became a therapist and realized it wasn’t his demographics, but the fact that we fit that made therapy with him effective. Fit was even more important than whether or not he was a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), Licensed Psychologist, or Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC). On the couch, none of that mattered. I learned that fit was bigger than ethnicity, gender, or educational journey, it was personality, style, ability to instill hope, and above all, ability to provide gut peace. That’s right, meetings with your therapist should leave you with a deep knowing that you’re in the right place.
My biggest piece of advice to potential clients searching for a therapist is to construct a sentence of loose qualities you’re looking for (I advise the same for intentional dating) and use one of the aforementioned directories to locate someone who fits that criteria. While this sentence can be as specific as “Young black male psychologist with an office in West Philadelphia who has experience treating clients suffering from severe trauma using Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EDMR) ,” it can also be as broad as “Mental health professional in Metro DC who treats anxiety and depression.” Because needs and wants change over time, you may find yourself with more or less specific criteria at different moments in your life. I was far more specific initially than I would be now, which likely reveals that most of the issues my first therapist and I worked through were related to my need for control. The prevailing factors are that you feel safe and comfortable with whoever you’re meeting with, that you believe in his or her clinical competence (WARNING: not everyone who practices has had proper training) and that he or she is helping you develop a deeper understanding of how your heart and mind work, particularly in relation to other people’s hearts and minds. Your therapist’s office should not be just another place to vent (you can do that with your friends, for free). Your therapist should not offend you or make you feel judged. And most importantly, your therapist should click with you! Because, well, you deserve to embark upon wholeness with someone who clicks with you!