I recently started seeing a new therapist. I had been with my previous therapist for 6 years. This is not a change I made lightly. Or should I say, it’s not a change WE made lightly. She and I had a discussion around the work we were doing, its effectiveness and how our doctor-client relationship had evolved. We agreed together that we had become very comfortable with each other and were using our sessions as more of a check in rather than actively working on behaviours, skills or tools. Considering the mental illnesses I live with, it is especially important to focus my therapy on tools and skills to manage my symptoms and cope with difficult emotions. We determined it would be more effective to make a fresh start with a new therapist and engage in sessions that were more directed, more intentional and came with homework.
It was at first daunting to have to relive my life for a stranger, to explain my whole world to someone who hadn’t gotten to know me yet. But it also gave me renewed momentum for treatment. It gave me an impulse to really re-examine the things that are currently making my life difficult, that are painful and that are uncomfortable. The point of this, however, isn’t to talk about my therapy sessions. The point is to give some background on my experience with navigating mental health treatment, in order to boil it down to some main points that warrant remembering.
When choosing a therapist, counsellor or psychologist, it is important to remember a few things. Your therapist should be:
· Someone you are comfortable with whether it be due to gender identity, age, cultural orientation, etc. That being said, I am not advocating any kind of homophobia, transphobia, ageism, etc. but it is important to remember that therapy should be one of our safest spaces. This means you are allowed to be uncomfortable with someone who reminds you of someone negative in your life, someone who you feel cannot relate to your age group, someone who you feel does not respect your gender identity/sexuality, someone who reminds you of an abuser or of a traumatic situation
· Someone who is of a similar cultural background, if you feel this is important to you. Mental health can be an area where barriers are different based on cultural background and speaking with someone who understands these nuances can be greatly helpful.
· Someone who understands and respects that you will advocate for your needs. There is no blood test or x-ray for mental illness. You experience your symptoms and thus are best placed to understand them. It is crucial to be able to express this and share whether a style of treatment is working for you or not.
· Someone who can explain what type of therapy or treatment they are offering, what its benefits are and how it works. Ensure the therapist is willing, within reason, to work with your understanding of what works best for you.
· It may take a few sessions to determine whether someone is the right fit for you
· A dedicated and professional therapist will understand if the fit is wrong and refer you to someone else
· For many people, it is important to make sure your sessions are active, that you are actively working on skills and tools and ideally also getting homework to complete. Pure talk therapy can be very helpful and it is important to release emotions, thoughts and experiences but skills and tools as well as homework related to them can help create major changes.
Engaging in therapy is a very personal choice, and choosing a therapist should be as well. Even if it’s just a matter of “the vibe wasn’t right”, you are in your right to respectfully move on to someone else. It may be daunting to open up to several different strangers in order to find the right fit but it will be worth it. Treatment is hard work, it can be scary, it should be uncomfortable, but in the end you are doing the work and that’s what matters. Keep going; it will always be worth it.