Therapy can be a transformative & empowering experience.
Developing awareness of yourself & your relationships can allow for a deeper understanding of yourself. If you’re looking to work with a therapist for the first time it can be a confusing process to know what to look for.
There’s no shortage of approaches and professionals to work with. It can be helpful to think about the type of relationship you want to have with your therapist as this is can be one of the most important ingredients in effective therapy!
Below are some themes that can help guide you in looking for a therapist and allow you to reflect on what type of relationship you want.
You feel that your therapist is interested in what you are saying, that they show you empathy and warmth. Often this can be determined in the first phone call or session you have with your therapist.
You are able to develop trust with your therapist. Trust can be demonstrated through clear boundaries, such as keeping their personal information that they share with you limited, being upfront about the limits of confidentiality, and staying awake and alert in their sessions with you. Trust can be demonstrated through honesty as well, this can been seen though the therapist’s discussion of limitations of different issues, or treatment modalities.
Although each session with your therapist may feel different a sense of hopefulness that you experience either from your therapist or from the therapy sessions in general can indicate how useful you may be finding the therapy experience.
A sense of an alliance can improve the relationship, meaning that you feel that you and your therapist are working on similar goals. The treatment plan in which you are working towards these goals are clear to you and you can touch base with your therapist to have a discussion about your work and make any modifications.
The willingness your therapist has to have difficult or awkward conversations in the therapy session with you can be a sign of an effective therapist. This means that topics or patterns that are uncomfortable to talk about are encouraged to be discussed in a respectful and emotionally safe way.
Involvement in continued learning and staying up to date in research demonstrates competency in a therapist. If you’re curious about what your therapist is learning, training in or researching, you can ask them! This conversation can be helpful in understanding their areas of expertise as well as get a sense of their dedication to continued education.
Resources for Finding a Therapist
For further information and a more detailed understanding of some of these point I would suggest the following resources:
What to Expect in Your First Session
The first session with a therapist can be one that is scary, exciting, nerve racking and mysterious. Commonly the first session with a therapist will include a review of the therapy process, the confidentiality policies, and any necessary paper work. Gaining a clear understanding of the boundaries and the agreement of therapy can be a helpful and contained way to understand what you’re agreeing to.
After the administrative work is complete the remainder of the session is often used to get a sense of what brought you to therapy at this time, and what you’re hoping to work on. You can also ask your therapist any questions or express any concerns!
How to get the most out of counselling
Engaging in therapy is a great step towards change! However, the depth of change that you experience is often determined by your willingness and openness in participating in the process. Although everyone will participate in different ways below are some ideas in which you can get the most out of your therapy sessions:
Being prepared can have a few meanings. Having any homework that was assigned in the last session complete, reflecting on what you want to discuss in the session before you arrive, and allowing yourself a few extra minutes to breathe and ground before a sessions starts are all ways that can help with entering a session prepared and ready to engage.
If you’re not sure what’s happening in your therapy session (i.e. a topic or modality doesn’t make sense) or you’re unsure of what your therapist means/ said to you it’s ok to ask clarifying questions.
Be Honest, Even When It’s Difficult
For some of us we do not want to offend someone or make a situation uncomfortable, this can be true in therapy sessions as well. However, if you disagree with your therapist, feel unheard or have a general concern it’s ok to share this with them. Being honest with a therapist you trust is a great way to honour your experience as well as practice communication skills in a contained and safe environment.
Practice Skills In and Out of Your Sessions
You will likely learn new skills in therapy, whether it’s challenging your thoughts, relaxation techniques or communication skills, a the more you practice the more effective you’ll find these learnings! You can practice a lot of skills in session with your therapist as well as in your day to day life. Sharing your experience of practice with your therapist is also a great way to strengthen these skills.