You were seeing a therapist and wanted help. You wanted this person to help you figure out life and its challenges and to help you get back on track. Maybe your therapist somewhat helped, but along the way, somehow you got hurt. It may have been a piece of advice your therapist told you, a feeling of not being heard or someone not taking your problems seriously, or you feel judged by your therapist. Possibly your therapist kept doing something that made you feel uncomfortable even after you told them to stop. Perhaps your therapist kept rescheduling your appointments or didn’t make you feel like a priority in the appointments.
You know you still want therapy and still want to heal–but how do you after such a bad experience?
1: Recognize There Are Still Some Good Therapists
In every career, there are some workers who are competent in their job and some who need more training. In the therapy world, it is the same thing. Therapists can be kind of like flavors of milk. Some people like chocolate milk, some like strawberry, and some like regular milk. Sometimes the milk is expired and sometimes it is perfectly fresh.
All of these metaphors are to say–there are still some good therapists out there. There are therapists who understand not to give unsolicited advice, who want to hear your story and will listen with an open, non-judgmental ear, and who will make their appointments with you. There is a therapist out there who will relate with you and give you healing strategies–you just have to find them.
2: Figure Out Your Fears Of Therapy
Sometimes, in order to move on, we have to name our feelings and our fears to tame them. What were your feelings and fears in your past therapeutic relationship? What are your fears of starting a new therapeutic relationship?
Sometimes clients fear:
Retelling all of their trauma to a new person
This is completely okay to fear. Reopening old wounds is painful and can cause a lot of big feelings. It is always okay to communicate to your therapist whether or not you are ready to reopen those wounds or if you need more time to build the therapeutic relationship. I, Mary Willoughby Romm, often tell clients that our first session doesn’t have to be anything big–it can just be getting to know you, your likes, your dislikes, your favorite things, and giving you your first helpful skill.
Starting a new relationship and how to build trust
Trust is earned and it takes time. That is completely okay. No one should ever pressure you to open up or share more than you are comfortable with. This is an okay item to communicate to your therapist that you need time to build trust.
Shopping around and finding a good fit
Again, therapists are like milk. It can take time to find the right flavor for you. Shopping around and getting to know different therapists and their styles is okay. It is about finding what will work best for you.
As much as people praise mental health, there still can be a stigma that if you are in therapy, there is something wrong with you. Truthfully, people can be in therapy for any number of reasons. Sometimes it is to help with self-care, to learn to communicate better, or to set boundaries.
According to a National Health Interview Study, in 2019, 19.2% of adults had received any mental health treatment in the past 12 months, including 15.8% who had taken prescription medication for their mental health and 9.5% who received counseling or therapy from a mental health professional. This has only gone up since 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Acknowledging you can’t handle your challenges on your own
It can be scary to acknowledge that you can’t handle what is going on in your life and you need someone to help. However, sometimes when we let someone in and explore what is happening–we feel relief, are able to handle more and have the ability to problem-solve what is going on. Accepting help doesn’t mean it has to be forever–this could be to get you over this hurdle and feel more confident in handling future hurdles.
Worrying the new therapist will do the same things as the last one
This is a legitimate fear. When a big thing happens, it can make it hard to trust others to do the right thing or that this time will be different. However, this goes back to recognizing there are still some good therapists out there and recognizing the warning signs if a therapist is similar to your last one, or thinking about what boundaries you may want to put in place if this occurs again.
3: Finding The Right Therapist For You
This is a challenging one. Nowadays, there are so many ways to seek a therapist. One can search Psychology Today, talk to a friend or colleague who is in therapy and see who they see, as your docor who they would recommend, or do a Google Search for therapists in your area. You could also reach ou to organizations that address your area of concern, such as the National Eating Disorders Association, Anxiety and Depression Association of America, or the National Center for PTSD.
4: Think About Your Goals For Therapy
What do you want to accomplish in therapy? Studies have shown that when you and your therapist are working together towards the same goals–therapy goes much better. Having defined goals can also help you find the right person for you. If your goal is to work on past trauma, it may be worthwhile to seek out a practitioner who specializes in Eye Movement Desensitization Therapy or Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
If you are looking for someone to help yoru family, it may be worthwhile to find a therapist who specializes in family therapy. If you are looking for someone to help your child and you as a parent, Parent-Child Interaction Therapy may be useful.
There are lots of different styles of therapy and different goals that you can have. Defining those goals will help you narrow down who can help you.
You may feel anxious at the idea of finding a new therapist, but it can be an extremely healing experience after having a bad experience. Finding the right therapist who understands you, challenges you, and helps you feel better can be incredibly rewarding. You are worthy of healing and being understood–and the right person will get you there.
If you are looking for individual or family counseling, Mary Willoughby Romm is a licensed professional counselor in the state of Virginia who provides online therapy for Willow Tree Healing Center. She enjoys transforming the lives of women, college students, kids, tweens/teens, and families through providing communication strategies, coping skills that work, allowing a safe space to be heard, and actively working towards helping you with your challenges. She is certified in Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (ages 2-7) and Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, counsels substance abuse in teens and adults, and practices Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy.