If you’re struggling with your mental health, you’re not alone.
Almost half of all Australians between 16 to 85 years old will experience mental illness at some point in their life, with the most common conditions being anxiety, depression and substance use disorders. In 2018-2019, 2.7 million Australians received Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services. And in 2020, due to the global pandemic, the government has been making mental health treatments more accessible.
While many of us are getting more comfortable talking about mental health, some of us still have hesitations about seeking professional help. Perhaps you don’t know where to start or have been discouraged by past experiences which have led you to conclude that therapy just doesn’t work for you.
Therapy isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach – the key is finding a therapist that’s right for you.
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It isn’t easy to find someone you can trust and be vulnerable with. And even if you do, are they able to address your unique needs? Finding a good match takes patience and awareness. A successful therapeutic relationship would bring about personal empowerment, new insights and fresh strategies for lifelong changes.
We’re prepared some tips to guide you on the journey of finding your perfect therapist.
Before The Session
Understand your counselling goals
To get the most out of therapy, it is essential to establish your goals. Why are you seeking professional help? What would you like to achieve? What does success look like to you? It’s ok if you’re unsure – during your first session, your therapist can figure this out with you based on your values and needs.
Do your research
In narrowing down potential candidates, you’ll probably consider practical factors such as their location, fee structure, whether they offer Medicare or private health rebates, office hours and after-hours options.
You may also want to consider the following:
Some of us may prefer a therapist from a similar culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation or age group. It’s your right to have a personal preference when it comes to choosing a therapist.
People with similar backgrounds share lived realities of certain experiences. This prevents situations where the client has to educate the therapist about their background, which could be frustrating and potentially triggering. Choosing a therapist with similar life experiences reduces barriers and enhances mutual understanding and trust when forming a therapeutic relationship.
Type of mental health professional and therapeutic modality
Are you looking for a psychiatrist, psychologist, counsellor or social worker? Each of these professionals make use of different processes and treatments. Choosing the right psychological treatment depends on your mental health issues and therapy goals.
Some popular therapeutic modalities include:
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
- Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT)
- Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)
- Solution Focused Therapy
- Positive Psychology (Coaching)
- Psychoanalytic/Psychodynamic Therapy
Experience and qualifications
Does your therapist have relevant experience, registrations and qualifications to handle the specific issues you’re seeking help with? Find out about your therapist’s areas of expertise – are you looking for someone who specialises in relationship counselling, child and adolescent issues, trauma and PTSD or something else?
Every therapist has their own approach. For instance, some may be highly structured, establishing a 3-month plan with fortnightly appointments. Others may work more flexibly and book single sessions according to your progress.
There is no right or wrong way – what’s important is that both you and your therapist establish a system that works for you.
Interview the therapist
Arrange a quick phone call with your shortlisted candidates before making your first appointment. You could also email them to give them an overview of what you’re hoping to achieve from the sessions. These initial points of contact will help you get a feel of what the therapist is like and allow both parties to address any questions.
Some types of questions you may ask include:
- What’s your education and training in this area?
- What is your specialty?
- How much experience do you have working with people with my issues or history?
- What kind of treatments do you offer?
- How does this therapeutic modality work?
- Is this intervention effective for my condition?
During The Session
Assess your rapport with the psychologist and notice how you feel
Effective counselling requires the willingness to be truthful and vulnerable, so it is crucial that you feel secure and at ease with your therapist. Good rapport involves genuine connection and engagement. Research shows that the therapeutic relationship is the most important factor in psychological efficacy, even more so than the therapist’s experience, gender, expertise or any other factors!
To know whether you’re a good match, use your feelings as a gauge. How do you feel during and after the sessions? Listen to your gut. Although therapy will be uncomfortable and challenging at times, it should ultimately feel respectful, non-judgmental and collaborative.
After The Session
At the end of your first consultation, you should feel heard, understood, supported and hopeful that things can change. Your therapist should have outlined a treatment plan and strategies to achieve your goals.
To get the most out of therapy, you must be ready to do some work in between sessions. The work doesn’t stop when you leave the room; you’ll only experience lasting change when you implement your new strategies in your daily life.
Allow yourself to assess how the therapeutic relationship feels after the first couple of sessions.
If you feel like you’re not getting much out of your session, it is important to let your therapist know so they can adjust their approach. If something doesn’t feel right, continue your search. It’s is a bit like dating! Most people go to a number of therapists before finding the perfect fit. When you find “the one”, you’ll be on your way to living life to your fullest potential.