So here are some strategies to clarify the process and give you the best chance of finding an effective therapist...
What to Do Before You Make Contact with a New Therapist
Websites like Psychology Today and GoodTherapy can help you with this early research. They verify therapist's basic credentials for you, and narrow down your list of possible candidates. However, while it's useful to know about a counselor's specific training, specialties, and experience, for some, it can feel like a stress-inducing rabbit hole of mental health language and related acronyms (CBT, Psy D., EMDR, LMFT, etc.).
Focus on the Therapeutic Alliance
How? The answer lies in something called the Therapeutic Alliance.
Research tells us that the quality of the relationship you have with your psychotherapist is the most important factor affecting your outcome. It's not just that it's nice to feel connected and think highly of your therapist, it's literally the thing that most determines your success.
3 Questions to Ask Yourself about Your Therapeutic Alliance
1. Does my therapist really "get me?"
It's critical that a mental health practitioner demonstrate, in some way, they are attentive and attuned to you, your perspective, and your feelings. They may make use of reflective listening (repeating back to you what you are saying in their own words). Or, they may make empathic statements (demonstrating they understand the emotional experience underlying your words).
Additionally, a therapist's facial expressions and body language can let you know they are present and listening intently. All of this adds up to an experience of feeling heard and understood, and it's a key part of building the trust that makes therapy work.
2. Are we on the same page?
You may be seeking counseling to improve communication and build back trust with your partner, or you may want help changing your child's behaviors without having to get into endless arguments.
In any case, the goals you set are your own. If not already clear to you, your therapist can (and should) guide you to define what you want to get out of therapy. But keep in mind that they should not define your goals without your input and agreement.
So when you think about the time spent in session, you should have a sense, that, the topics discussed, in some way, related to your goals. Ultimately, if you are confident that your psychotherapist is highly focused on the outcomes that matter to you, your goals are much more likely to be achieved.
3. Do I like their approach?
Your thoughts and feelings about the way your therapist does their work matters. Some therapist's focus on past events, while others encourage you to stay in the here and now. Some suggest strategies that focus on modifying your behaviors, while others promote change through greater self-awareness and insight.
Most psychotherapists make use of several approaches, and many cater what they do, to address the specific needs of the particular patient(s) in front of them.
Studies show that these differences in therapeutic method are not nearly as important as the patient's confidence that the method is right for them. If the way your counselor approaches and organizes sessions makes sense and feels right to you, they are likely to help you succeed.
The Real Work Begins
Then, once sessions have begun, try to give your connection with your counselor a fair trial period. Do your best to be honest and provide them with feedback if you feel something is missing. Their reaction to this feedback can tell you a lot about them as well.
Often, the first session will let you know you have a good fit, but if you're on the fence, see them for another session or two before you decide to switch (sometimes you just have to get to know each other a bit).
Also, know that there will be ups and downs - this is normal. The therapeutic alliance will probably have it's rough spots and you may have sessions where you won't feel great about your psychotherapist - this is also normal.
But generally, you should feel understood. You should feel confident that your mental health provider is working on the things that matter to you. And you should feel that the way they do therapy is right for you.
If that's all happening, there's a great chance you've found an effective therapist who can help you get the most out of your investment.