Credit: Imo Dimitrov.

Choosing a therapist is among the more difficult of provider decisions.  Unfortunately, there is not much you can do before to ensure the person is right.  Almost like dating, the best test is in interacting with them over the course of time.  However, there are a few things you can do to maximize your chances of having a good experience.  First, start with asking friends or relatives about their therapists (if you are comfortable doing so), then get a referral from one of them.  Second, look up therapists and go to their websites to see if their way of thinking matches your own.

After you’ve started, here are some signs you’ve chosen correctly:

Within the first few meetings, the therapist should take a thorough history, give you a diagnosis and articulate how he or she can help. “They need to come up with something of a formulation that says: ‘This is what I think your problem is, this is how I think it developed and this is what I can offer you,” Dr. Gourguechon says. There should be a treatment plan—specifying how often you will meet, for how long and what type of therapy you will have, such as cognitive behavioral therapy or psychoanalysis.

The therapist also should be able to acknowledge his or her limitations. For example, if you have a major mental illness and you go see someone who does cognitive behavioral therapy, he should explain that while this therapy is helpful with many issues, you may need more help.

Like good physicians, effective therapists are good listeners. “You want an open-minded person who doesn’t put you in their box, but gets to know you in all your complexity,” Dr. Gourguechon says. “You want to hear: ‘Let’s keep talking.’ You want to hear uncertainty—’It could be this or it could be that.’ You want to hear an exploratory, curious stance.”

Therapy is very much a give and take process – much more like a game and less like traditional medicine where you passively receive the treatment:

Give your therapist feedback. He or she will make a lot of suggestions and interpretations. Some will be good and some won’t, Dr. Gourguechon says. Share your reactions, both positive and negative.

“Some people think just coming to therapy is going to change things for them, but it doesn’t work that way,” Dr. Gourguechon says. “You have to venture out trying to change, and then come back with reports on what is working and what isn’t working. It’s an active process, where there are constant adjustments on both the patient’s and the therapist’s part.”

And how can you tell if you’ve gone as far as you can with your therapist—that it’s time to break up? If you feel that your therapy has stalled, the first thing to do is talk to your therapist about it, Dr. Gourguechon says. Ask why he or she thinks it isn’t working and request an updated treatment plan. Your therapist should take you seriously and not become defensive. You might not like the answer (“Sometimes it takes a long time to change”), but you should get a clear one.

Source: Wall Street Journal