Because of the nature of my work with couples going through divorce, I often field the question of how to go about choosing a therapist. I have seen a good choice make a considerable difference in the clients experience, while some wrong choices have backfired with much money and time lost. So, how do you choose the right therapist to work with you during or after a divorce?
Know what you are looking for
I like to suggest that my clients think about their search for a therapist the same way as if they were looking to hire anyone else, from an administrative assistant to an accountant. Recommendations from family and friends can be a great starting point. If your personal network does not turn up good options, run an Internet search for a directory of local therapists.
Once you have found a few good candidates, interview them all before choosing one. Much of therapy success is a function of personal and methodology fit, and you can only get a sense for those in comparison.
How do you know if a therapist is likely to be a good fit? Look for someone who is a good listener and a clear communicator. Most therapists will conduct the first consultation over the phone at no charge – pay attention to how well you can understand and follow them. Ask when the therapist would consider referring a case out to another specialist – and be alert for those who think they can resolve everything. A good therapist understands his or her method deeply, which means knowing the method’s limitations.
Three signs that therapy (or your therapist) is not working out
Let’s say you made the decision, had a handful of sessions, and just cannot find that warm and cozy feeling. How do you know when to give a therapist more time, and when to cut the ties and look elsewhere for help? Here are three early red flags.
Pressure to do (or stop doing) certain things.
As a general rule of thumb, pressure is never OK. You have come to the therapist because of his or her expertise and skill, but the relationship should feel collaborative. After all, no one knows your situation as intimately as you do. You deserve to be respected, so if you walk away from the sessions with the sense that your therapist has a rigid agenda for what you should do next, it is time to re-assess your options.
Evasiveness in answering direct questions
What is the deeper meaning of marriage if it ends in a divorce? What would have happened had you made a different choice 5 years ago during that one argument?
Certain questions aren’t meant to have a clear-cut answer that is right for everyone. However, the process of coming to terms with a divorce can also raise questions that should have clear answers. If your therapist routinely turns your direct and simple questions around and just won’t answer them, you may need to partner with someone else.
Too much focus on the past and blaming others
Some of the reasons you make your choices and respond to situations the way you do may well have their sources in your past. However, beware of therapists who like to camp out in this “past” territory for extended periods of time. You might prompt your therapist to re-focus the conversation and recommendations on present and future; if he or she won’t do it, walk away.
Advice for getting the most out of your therapy sessions
Once you have chosen the right therapist, how can you get the most out of your sessions? The answer is a simple combination of doing the work and being honest. Your therapist is there to ask questions, offer insights and reflections, and guide you – but he or she cannot do the thinking and the behavioral changes for you. Remember that you are an active participant in the therapy process: take notes, ask questions, clarify what you don’t understand, and do your homework.
In closing, my best advice for choosing the right therapist is not to settle until you find the perfect fit. Therapy should feel like you are getting a collaborator to help you solve a problem. You should feel empowered to make changes and in control of where you go next. If you are having a difficult time finding the right therapist, reach out to us at Brazos Valley Collaborative Divorce Alliance. We have seen clients work with dozens of local specialists and can help get your search off the ground.