First off allow me to say that therapy is weird. So if you are anxious about your first appointment, or even anxious about considering therapy, that is totally normal. Unless you have been in therapy before, or know someone who has been in therapy, no one really quite knows what happens for the 45-50 minute hour behind the door ... unless you are the one behind the door.
Some common thoughts and questions might be:
“Do I really talk for the whole hour?”; “What do I say?”; “What does the therapist say?”;
“How does this even help?”
For each person and therapist, the hour can look a multitude of ways. But for the first appointment, hopefully there are basic things that any therapist will cover, such as:
So congratulations, seriously I mean that sincerely, on beginning or thinking about beginning this journey. It is a scary and anxiety producing thing to call a therapist, meet them, and tell them your problems.
Step 1: Be confused.
There are many therapists out there with fancy websites and enticing profiles. How do you decide who is right for you?
I wish there was a simple answer. Some people luck out and find a good match after one phone call. Others might cycle through a number of therapists before finding a good match.
As much as I wish this process was easier, it makes sense that this process is challenging. You are about to entrust someone with sacred parts of your life, experience, and soul. So it makes sense to take your time, ask lots of questions, and be picky. Taking time to find a good therapist at the beginning will pay off in the long run.
Step 2: Narrowing the search.
Try looking for specific demographics: gender, ethnicity, age, location, etc. If you are not sure what qualities you are looking for, try filtering therapists out by asking yourself what qualities or traits you do not want. A good resource is PsychologyToday.
When I was looking for my own therapist I knew I wanted someone who was female-identified, Asian-American, and relatively young. I was starting off my graduate school journey and wanted someone that could relate to the Asian-American experience while also be a representation of what life after graduate school could look like for me.
I called a handful of therapists that I thought could potentially be a good fit. Some therapists were not taking new patients. I met with one therapist for a brief consult and could immediately sense that her style and my personality were not a good fit. Thankfully that therapist also sensed the poor fit and recommended another therapist. That referral ended up being a great fit.
So if you meet or speak with a therapist who you do not feel comfortable with, you might ask if that therapist has any recommendations for you. This might feel strange to ask, but in all honesty, therapists want to work with people that want to work with them. Fit is just as important for the therapist as it is for the client.
Step 3: Knowing what is a "good fit."
What does “good fit” mean? Your guess is as good as mine! Okay, maybe I know some aspects about “good fit.” But honestly, “good fit” is quite subjective.
For me it was a gut feeling. When I first saw my therapist, I felt like she understood me and provided space for me to reflect on my experiences, but not leave me alone in what I was saying or feeling.
If I were looking for a therapist today, I would want someone who has experience with my presenting concern (either personally, professionally, or both). I would also want my therapist to be able to convey understanding and connect with what I am saying and feeling in a way that I can receive and feel.
Step 4: Knowing what is NOT a good fit.
If getting a sense of “good fit” still feels pretty vague, don’t worry you are not alone. It is a difficult question to answer and articulate. Sometimes answering what is not a good fit can help. If you have spoken to a few therapists or seen previous therapists, take some time to reflect on the aspects that you appreciated about them and your work together. Also reflect on what you did not appreciate or what did not work for you. This reflection will be helpful for you, and it will be helpful for your future therapist.
Step 5: A few questions to ask a potential therapist.
There are plenty of other articles about what questions to ask a therapist. A quick google search will produce a multitude of questions. Here are a few articles that I found helpful.
How to Find the Best Therapist for You
6 Questions Everyone Should Ask Their Therapist
How to Choose a Counselor or Therapist
So, to those looking for the "right" therapist, I wish you the best of luck. I know it can be a frustrating process, but please be patient with the process and yourself.