I’ve been through several therapists, most of which have not been all that helpful.
Now, I actually have one that is truly amazing, and has helped me enormously. And we have Skype sessions, strangely enough. So don’t be afraid to look for remote ones, if you can’t find any good local ones, or if you worry about having to go to their office in person.
Here’s what, in my opinion, makes a therapist great:
1. You feel understood
One big issue I had with therapists is that I feel like they don’t fully get what I’m telling them, based on the suggestions they make.
I struggle with ADHD, and was telling one about how much I struggle with procrastination, and her advice was to “just sit and work regardless”. Gee, thanks, if I could do that, I wouldn’t be paying you!
My current therapist can empathize, and we focus on understanding what the underlying emotions are, what triggers my bouts of procrastination, and how to avoid it. I feel like she actually “gets” what I’m going through, and makes reasonable suggestions to address it.
2. They “speak your language”
Many therapists struggle with explaining things in a way that “clicks”. I had one repeatedly tell me, for example, to “accept my emotions”. You also see this a lot with mindfulness. WTF does this mean? I am not in denial about them, should I just ignore them?
It turns out, it was good advice, just poorly explained. My current therapist helped me understand how emotions actually work, and why feeling upset about them and dwelling on them only serves to amplify them. And it’s that extra thinking that makes the emotions feel so bad, not the emotion itself (which can even be helpful sometimes, it would suck if we were just emotionless automatons).
3. They ask the right questions
If you have ADHD, chances are, you tend to ramble. Dr Hallowell explains how this can affect your therapy sessions in Driven to Distraction.
With my first therapist, I would rant about my life the whole hour, without her getting a chance to say much. It sometimes made me feel a bit better, but it didn’t help much overall. A true stereotype of therapists just going “mhm, interesting, go on”.
My current therapist isn’t afraid to occasionally interrupt me and ask for clarification or questions that lead me to the essence of the issue, instead of rambling on. She also chimes in with useful advice or anecdotes related to my issue.
4. They suggest, they don’t dictate
One therapist I contacted said she gives out weekly “homework”, with the policy to stop sessions if I don’t follow it. The tasks weren’t always useful for me, but it made me feel like I was stubborn or lazy if I didn’t follow them. There is no “one size fits all” advice that a therapist or coach can give.
My current therapist never imposes. She makes suggestions, but always reminds me that they are only suggestions, she can’t tell me exactly what to do, I have to try it out and discover it myself. Her suggestions are spot-on about 90% of the time, and she’s always open to listening to my opinion on why they may not work well for me, suggesting other alternatives.
What has your experience with therapists been like? What is the mark of a good therapist to you?