In Part 1 of this series on How to Pick a Therapist, Dr. Dan Allender wrestles with one of the most common questions he receives: What should I look for when I am picking a therapist? Dan offers several categories for us to consider as we seek someone to join us in the deep places of heartache and hope in our stories.
First, Dan talks about the need for a competence that goes far beyond having the right license or degree hanging on the wall, and is more about an emotional competence and a resonance between you and the potential therapist. This is something that develops over time, but Dan says there should be some sense within even the first few minutes that the therapist resonates with you, is willing to engage your unique complexities, and is humble enough to be intrigued by each new client, rather than trying to fit every client into a rigid methodology or pre-packaged framework.
In addition to emotional resonance and humble adaptability, Dan describes the need for therapists who are bright and thoughtful—beyond book smarts or being up on the latest research, though that is important. “I need to know, in the experience of working with them, that they’re capable of thinking richly and deeply, with the complexity and intrigue that will allow them to enter into the labyrinth-like dimensions of my own heart and soul.”
Dan also discusses the need for therapists who have done (and continue to do) meaningful work in their own lives, who don’t rush their work with clients but also don’t drag it out unnecessarily, and who are capable of engaging trauma and the realm of the unseen. “I need somebody who knows how to bear my cynicism and despair without either joining it or being surprised by it. […] And I need for them to be able to live in the tension, the ambivalence, the complexity between my dependence and my detachment.”
At the end of Part 1, Dan admits that finding someone who meets all of these categories is like searching for a needle in a haystack. So don’t wait, says Dan. Don’t wait for the perfect therapist who has everything; find somebody with whom you can begin to work, and take it from there.
In Part 2, Dr. Dan Allender is joined by Rachael Clinton, Assistant Director of Program Development and Admissions for The Allender Center, who shares from her own recent experience of stepping back into therapy, and she and Dan reflect on what to look for and how to take those first steps.
Rachael: “It’s good to honor that, even when our heart really longs for finding a therapist, even when we know that it’s really important, even when there is a deep desire to really connect with someone, sometimes it takes a lot of courage to send that email or make that call.”
Rachael and Dan talk about starting with referrals from trusted friends, then stepping into a few initial consultations to see how you connect, remembering that just because someone is a good therapist does not necessarily mean that they are the right therapist for you. They also discuss dual relationships, the awkwardness of bumping into your therapist at work or church, or the feeling that you need to censor yourself if you and your therapist move in the same social circles.
Rachael shares from her experience of PTSD and the temptation to lean on her experience, knowledge, and community to deal with it without therapy. “I was reaching moments where it was starting to prohibit my capacity to thrive,” she says. Also, working in a helping profession and tending to the trauma of others, Rachael found that she needed a space that was dedicated to her own healing, sitting with someone who was committed to her health and growth.
Rachael: “We enter therapy for different reasons and different seasons. Sometimes we enter therapy because the world is crashing down and we really need help even seeing what is true. Sometimes we enter therapy even though things in our life are going well, especially because things in our life are going well, and we know there are some places of healing that we want to tend to and feel like we have the resources to actually step into some of that work. I felt Jesus actually saying, ‘There are some places of your heart that I think you’re ready to step into. And you don’t have to do that alone.’”
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Posted October 11, 2019 (Updated Oct 11, 2019) by