The therapy process is complex. Anyone who has ever been in the therapy room can attest to that.
Even before you sit on that couch (or beanbag or whatever bum-cushioning method your therapist is experimenting with), a number of decisions have been made and psychological processes enacted. I know this not only as an active participant but as an intensely curious soul who has researched and read journal articles and opinion pieces till my eyes have fallen out in frustration and amazement. Ultimately, I have concluded that therapy is a truly magical process in which two individuals create a shared reality to observe, engage with, comment on or alter. There is no other relationship quite like it and no way to fully convey the experience unless you’ve been there.
However, I would like to try. In this first post of ‘It takes two to therapy’, we’ll look at one of the first steps involved… finding a suitable therapist to take that journey with you.
“I CHOSE MY THERAPIST BECAUSE HE LOOKED LIKE A CLASSIC PSYCHOANALYST” (TRUE STORY)
Anyone slightly au fait with technology might comment that finding a therapist is as easy as clicking on a relevant, good-looking Google result. I agree that this is a very good place to start and obviously assumes you’ve made a conscious decision that you need help with a certain aspect of your life. On this level, important factors to consider would be the therapist’s location, their fee, whether they accept your medical plan and whether they have experience in treating people who have similar issues to you.
However, I’d also like to propose that you’ve probably zoned in on a certain therapist because of how they look. It sounds superficial but it’s because you most likely didn’t even realise you were doing it.
Retrospectively, I chose my therapist because he looked like he knew his stuff. His mustache was dense above the lip and tapered down to a trimmed bush on the chin. He had an open forehead and a receding hairline that ended with a bush of curly hair Warm and curious almond eyes peeked out from behind black-rimmed spectacles. His profile photo was black and white, which conveyed that he was a blank slate just waiting for me to infuse his room with personality, quirks and words. It screamed classical psychoanalyst. I took a few good looks and decided he was safe.
What do I mean by safe? We all have narratives- personal stories that dictate what we fear, love, hate, believe and trust. You might find you choose a female therapist because you’d feel more comfortable speaking about sex or body issues with her. Or you may feel that females are more nurturing and understanding. Perhaps you have a relationship with your mother that is fraught with tension and, without realising it, you’re seeking that loving motherly relationship you never had. I think I chose my male therapist at the time because he was not “my type”, so to speak. I thought his look, although not at all unattractive, would make it much easier to be emotionally intimate without risking being attracted to him. That in itself is telling. Conversely, I was also longing for acceptance, approval and affection from a powerful man. Go figure.
The point is that a decision which seems very logical and rational rarely is. But sometimes I think these are the best types of decisions. At the end of the day, we subconsciously seek what we need to resolve our past and move towards healing.
HOW DO WE MAKE EACH OTHER FEEL?
As with online dating, looks are one thing but how you click is another ballgame altogether. Organise a trial session so you can see how you feel around your therapist, whether they are easy to relate to and if they seem interested and able to help you. When my therapist first agreed to see me, I assumed this meant he had taken me on as a client. What I didn’t realise was that therapists use the first session to see how they feel about you too! It doesn’t make sense to work with someone if you have an absolute aversion to them or do not feel like you can help them. They also take in your facial expressions, how vocal you are, what you’re wearing, your level of personal hygiene and the way you speak or describe something or someone. If I had known this beforehand, I think I would have been a lot more nervous about how I was coming across, like one would in an interview setting.
That said, therapists are trained to tune into your world and feel empathy for what you are going through. I think it would take something extremely obvious, or powerful, for them to not like you or see something in you that they could work with in follow-up sessions. Ultimately, you should come out of the therapy room feeling like you have someone who is excited to know more about you and help you uncover your potential. Sometimes you may be unsure and need a second session for confirmation. It may take a few hits and misses, but you’ll eventually find that therapist you just “click” with.
This month marks a year that I have been with my therapist. I’d love to hear what made you chose your therapist and what your first session was like.