Finding a therapist who works for you… even if you’ve had a bad experience in the past

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Why write this article?

Skip to “so you want a therapist” below if you want to get right to the search steps, or go directly to the free downloadable PDF version.

“I’ve had therapists who see my sexual orientation as something to treat,” sighed Anne, a lesbian in a long-term, committed relationship. “I’ve also got an old diagnosis and I feel like when therapists hear it, they stop listening to me and just see that.” The more we talked it through, the more it became clear that for her, therapy was not simply a tool she could use when she needed extra support — but an interaction that had taken her vulnerability and need and offered support that was at best, lacking, and at worst, harmful.

Over the last 2 years(during the pandemic) I’ve referred more clients to therapy than ever before. Many found wonderful, productive, supportive relationships — but Anne was not alone in having had a bad experience. I’ve had clients tell me about tragic cultural incompetence — a misunderstanding and judgment of their religion, background, or race. I’ve had clients tell me that therapists had dismissed their trauma telling them “not to think about it.” One client shared that his therapist seemed to just use their sessions to complain about her life.

There are amazing, thoughtful, intentional, lovely, smart therapists out there, but just like any field, there are good eggs and bad eggs.

Unfortunately, we often find ourselves seeking a therapist at a moment in our lives when we are struggling the most, and don’t have the bandwidth to discern good from bad. We’ll make a quick decision rather than a thoughtful one.

So you want a therapist:

Here’s a list of bite-sized steps to use to find a therapist who’s a good fit for you. Go through the steps as far as you need to until you have 3–5 practitioners to call and start exploring work with. If you live in a dense city, you might need to go through all these steps. If you live in a more rural area, your options may be more limited. The information here is not exhaustive, just enough to start breaking down the overwhelm.

  • National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network — a healing justice organization committed to transforming mental health for queer and trans people of color
  • Therapy for Black Girls — an online space dedicated to encouraging mental wellness for Black women and girls
  • Asian Mental Health Project — works to increase dialogue via storytelling and helping to spread support resources with mental health professionals
  • Decolonizing Therapy — a source for radical, affirming resources related to therapy and the growing awareness of work that sits at the intersection of psychology, somatics, spirit work, and activism through therapeutic containment
  • The Loveland Foundation — an effort to bring opportunity and healing to communities of color, especially Black women and girls
  • Do they specialize in the issues you feel you need support in?
  • Do they work with your age group?
  • Are they taking clients? (If it’s not listed, you can usually get this information through email or calling the office)
  • Do you have an educational preference? Do you want a psychiatrist? A PsyD? An LCSW? Obreak down what these terms mean a bit below. **
  • How long has the person been practicing? Do you have a preference?
  • Who do they work with? (What communities is this person comfortable and confident working with, and do they align with your needs and values?)
  • Do you like their style? What kind of person would be the best guide and partner for you? You can usually figure out some elements of a practitioner’s style by looking at the practice they work within, training or certificates they hold, and the way they write (blog) or speak about their work.
  • What treatment approaches attract you? There are MANY different kinds, I describe some below. ***
Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

What therapists have to say…

After speaking to so many clients who had had bad therapeutic experiences, I reached out and asked my friend, Liann Seiter, LCMFT (Licensed Clinical Marriage and Family Therapist) what she would say if she was a fly on the wall.

Final thoughts:

If you leave this article with anything, I hope it’s these two ideas:

  1. Just because you’ve had one (or two or three) bad experience doesn’t mean that there isn’t a practitioner out there who would be the perfect partner for your growth. Keep looking for your “good egg”.

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Michelle Krasny

Michelle Krasny

Career Coach and avid researcher, exploring what it means to have a kickass career without sacrificing your soul or sanity along the way: michellekrasny.com