The “Fit” in Therapy

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I’ve been through three rounds of therapy in my life. The first time I was a young adult and needed help understanding what it meant to become my own person, apart from my parents. My counselor helped me through that process by very practically coaching me on being myself as an emerging adult in my relationship with my mother. She was a great listener, but she was actively leading me through a process that she could see more clearly than I could at the time.

Another time I had received feedback that disturbed me. I stumbled into therapy bewildered and angry. My therapist was immensely helpful in helping me receive and reject parts of this input. I did great work around some past relationships and did some soul searching around my vocation and calling. My counselor was provocative, yet safe and full of wisdom.

The other time I went to counseling I was in a more confusing, core-rocking phase. Nothing was working spiritually and I was suffering in ways I never imagined I would. My counselor listened to me…..and listened and listened and listened. I grew increasingly frustrated until she finally had the courage to admit that she was not the counselor I needed. Basically, she fired herself. Something I should have done myself.

The reasons to seek therapy are as varied as chili recipes. And how things go depends much on the fit, or alliance, between therapist and client. But it also depends on the particular skill set of the therapist and whether they will work well with you. Every therapist is not going to work well with every person and some therapists just won’t fit the bill for your particular issue. Allow yourself to explore, listen to others’ referrals, read how counselors describe themselves, and listen to your intuition. Likely, you’ll know when you’ve found that fit.

7 Comments

  1. Well said, Janice.
    The only other thing I would add is that I encourage clients to check in to their own feelings about a therapist — is this someone I am comfortable with? What is my reaction to them at the very first phone (or electronic) contact? and yes — trust your intuition!

    1. Yes! First contact is key and tells a lot. In fact, I should have known at the point of first contact with the therapist that fired herself from my case that it was not the best fit. At the time, I was desperate and in a hurry.

  2. Right on, Janice!

    I started meeting with a therapist two years ago when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and an anxiety disorder. She helped me develop skills to manage my disorders, and that was the reason why I went to see her in the first place. However, I’ve found her to be valuable, perhaps more so, in individuating from my parents and in dealing with stress about career.

    -Alex

  3. Right on, Janice!

    I started meeting with a therapist two years ago when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and an anxiety disorder. She helped me develop skills to manage my disorders, and that was the reason why I went to see her in the first place. However, I’ve found her to be valuable, perhaps more so, in individuating from my parents and in dealing with stress about career. I wish I’d started sooner.

    -Alex

  4. I have also had three different therapists in my life. The first one helped me work on abusive mother issues. That lead to the uncovering of incest issues and I was lead to a female therapist that I felt safer sharing those things with but after several years we got stuck. We agreed that she and I were both at a loss how to proceed and it would best to try a new approach with someone else, The third person I did a lot of cognitive work with to accept and move on to taking responsibility for the now in my life. I think we need to understand that as that different life circumstances may require different therapy styles and that is okay. When seeking therapy we are the consumer and need to know what we currently need for our wellness consumption.

    1. Very well put, Gail. You’re absolutely right that different therapy styles and specialties are needed at different times. I have had several clients who have been very happy with their ongoing therapists who have come to me for focused work on their panic or OCD because that wasn’t part of their therapists’ particular skill/training set. And I certainly have referred folks to other practitioners when my skills didn’t match the clients needs. You make a good point that the client is the consumer and “smart shopping” is part of the process.

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