There’s no shame in therapy. Once upon a time, there may have been a stigma on therapy, but that’s gone. Society has evolved and learned to praise those who admit to needing help. Also, almost everyone seems to be seeing a therapist nowadays.
Personally, I think therapy is amazing. I love it. I love talking about myself and having someone around to praise me when I accomplish something, even if I have to pay them to do so. And I like to think I’m really good at therapy. I go into that office and am an open book. I will answer all questions honestly and fill up every minute of the appointment. My therapist loved me.
Of course, I say all of this now, but I actually haven’t spoken to my therapist in over three years. As I was preparing to graduate high school, my therapist Dr. G said I was also ready to graduate therapy. And that’s great! I’m glad I have my anxiety and OCD under control, but I also really miss Dr. G.
Even though I haven’t seen a therapist in quite some time, my friends often ask me for advice on finding a therapist. The first thing I tell them is that therapy is great, you just have to want to be helped. The second thing I tell them is to never settle for the first therapist they meet, unless they really feel a connection. A therapist isn’t like a regular doctor. A therapist is like a soulmate, and sometimes you have to look around before you find the right one for you.
Fortunately for you, I have had some bad therapy dates, and I am ready to tell you all about them so you know what kinds of therapists to avoid. (Note, these are based on my experiences. We all have our types, so a therapist who didn’t work out for me might be your Dr. Right.) When searching for you therapist soulmate, these are the people you might meet along the way:
- Dr. Ex: When I was around three or four, I saw a therapist every few weeks to work on my extreme shyness. I don’t remember a lot from those sessions, but when my anxiety got bad when I was thirteen, Dr. Ex was the first person my mom made me see. Dr. Ex worked wonders for me as a child, but as a teenager? That appointment was a disaster! The first thing she said to me was, “Look how big you’ve gotten!” And the first thing I thought was, “Huh, I guess I sort of remember you.” She had all of these memories of my childhood that I had totally forgotten about. She was stuck in the past, and I needed to move on. Also, she was used to talking to me when I was an incredibly shy child who didn’t speak. She got to do all the talking then, but at thirteen, I wanted to do the talking and she didn’t let me get a word in.
- Dr. Friend: An important thing to remember in therapy is that your therapist is not your friend. They are your doctor, and it’s their job to remain professional and be there to help you. They shouldn’t interrupt you to talk about themselves, but that’s exactly what my Dr. Friend did. I would be talking about my anxiety at a birthday party when, all of a sudden, Dr. Friend remembered a similar thing that happened to her over the weekend. She would then talk about herself for a few minutes. I loved Dr. Friend. She was nice and always commiserated with me, but that’s not what a therapist is for. She should have been helping me overcome my anxiety, not agreeing with me that social events were stressful. In the year I spent seeing her, my anxiety never improved. Seeing Dr. Friend provided me with no personal growth, so the two of us were better off as just friends.
- Dr. Pretentious: Part of therapy is learning about yourself and what’s right for you. When I saw Dr. Pretentious, she didn’t pay much attention to what was right for me. She wanted to focus on what the books said were right for a patient. And to do that, she gave me homework. Between sessions, she made me read long chapters from psychology books and answer questionnaires. I was only fifteen! It was a lot for me to comprehend, and I was already stressed out enough over the homework I had for school. I didn’t need Dr. Pretentious’s assignments on top of that, but if I failed to read one of her chapters (even if I explained that I had a major project for school that week), she would be annoyed at me for not taking my therapy seriously. It got so stressful, that I had a full-fledged panic attack in her waiting room. The person who was supposed to be helping me was actually worsening my problems. That therapy relationship only lasted a month or two.
- Dr. Right: Eventually, after many failed therapy relationships, I met Dr. G, who was also my Dr. Right. I saw Dr. G for three years, and she was the perfect therapist for me. She understood my sense of humor and laughed at all of my jokes, and she understood when I was having a bad day and just wanted to rant about something. Most importantly, she provided me with the majority of the tips and tricks I’m suggesting in my column. She challenged me to face whatever made me uncomfortable, whether that was telling a friend I was upset with them or making small talk with the grocery store cashier. My favorite moment with Dr. G was during my senior year of high school. I had just finished applying to colleges and was terrified no school would accept me. She gave the snarkiest look (that might sound rude, but she knew it matched my sense of humor) and forced me to list my accomplishments. After I basically recited my transcript to her, she asked, “And you really think NO school will want you?” Every time I left Dr. G’s office, I felt so much better about myself, and that’s what made her my Dr. Right.
*Bonus* Dr. Friends-With-Benefits: This is technically not a therapist, but if you are like me and see a psychiatrist on top of regular therapy, then you are seeing a Dr. Friends-With-Benefits. You probably don’t see them regularly (I only see mine every six months), and they are less likely to want to hear all about your life and your problem of the week. They mainly just provide you with medication, which is a benefit. But they aren’t a stranger! They will also provide you with support when you really need it.
If you’re considering starting therapy, make sure you ask your family doctor (or anyone close to you who also happens to have connections) for a recommendation. If you’re a student, your school will most likely have therapists you can talk to, and that’s a great place to start. (Although once you graduate, you will have to leave them. So you can’t get attached. The school therapist is like a summer fling.) And if anyone else has tips for how to find a good therapist (or what kinds of therapists to avoid) please share them! Eventually I’d like to get back into the therapy game, so I’d love to hear your advice!