How do you find a therapist that doesn't suck?

Dear Edahn,

You've posted before about not trusting most therapists. While I didn't start out that way, a couple of bad experiences with therapy have made me distrustful, even cynical, about trying again. I have some major life issues I haven't been able to get past on my own and I would love to find someone who can help me. Neither the counselor I saw in uni nor the one I saw shortly after seemed to know what to do with me (the first said this to me; the second just repeatedly pushed a label and treatment option I didn't think was right for me and acted like a condescending ass). I'm quite embarrassed and ashamed about the main reason I'm seeking "help" in the first place and hate the notion of having to explain it over and over to different people. Because of this, I dread the "shop around" advice I've heard so often about finding a therapist. It's hard enough to get myself to go through with this initial contact stuff even once. In the past, I've put too much hope in one person and continued with them longer than I should have, partly because I wanted so much not to have to seek out someone else.

It's now been over three years since I last tried. It was never an easy thing to do to begin with, and now with all the bad memories I have, I keep picturing similar things happening and don't want to bother. I'm wondering how you'd suggest I approach this if I decide to go through with it again. What should I look for in deciding whom to contact? What questions should I ask and what should I look for in the answers? I'm afraid I'm going to be too quiet and passive to be able to advocate for myself much. How can I stand up for myself in the face of someone who's supposed to be The Expert in the situation? I have a damn hard time doing that, even when I strongly believe the "expert" is full of it.

THINK ABOUT IT THIS way. You have a goal, and you were met with certain obstacles. So all you need to do is pinpoint what the obstacle was. Then you'll know how to overcome it.

Your goal is to explore and address something bad that has happened in your past that is creating difficulties in the present, and the means you selected is psychotherapy. You met with a few psychotherapists who failed you in two ways. The first, they told you they didn't know how to help you. While disappointing, that's understandable. Just like mechanics and doctors have varying skill sets, so do therapists. Second, you found them to be overbearing, not respecting your ability to determine the course of your own therapy, and seemingly, relied on their authority/power to persuade you, rather than reasoning and common sense. The last parameter is that you don't want to have to retell to some shmuck who isn't worth your time because it's personal and painful. 

Therapy is such a bizarre relationship because on the one hand, it's professional. On the other, you're preparing for a very intimate relationship. With that said, interviewing a therapist is like going on a date, so don't feel embarrassed being forward and asking whatever you want. Most therapists have email these days. I'd suggest what you is craft a form email that states:
  1. What you're seeking treatment for, generally.
  2. Your hesitations: you were in therapy before and your therapist pushed a certain treatment on you that you didn't want and didn't listen to you. I would state what you didn't like about it (the treatment, not the therapist ;) specifically. Was it too intellectual? Too abstract? Did it neglect your emotions? Not delve into your past enough? Delve into your past too much?
  3. A few questions for them to answer: (1) Would you feel comfortable treating me, or is this outside of your skill set? (2) How would you approach treatment? (3) Do you offer a free consultation?
Go online, find a website with a directory of therapists in your area, pare the list down to those therapists that fit your criteria in terms of fees and location and whatever (hair?) and email 20 of them with your form email. When the replies start coming in, look for the one that sounds warm and smart. See if they're able to capture how you must be feeling now or how you must have felt with your therapist. That's a good indicator of a good therapist. Bonus points if they mentions something about how a client should never feel bullied by an "Expert" therapist. See who speaks to you the most and who seems like they'd be trustworthy. Then go for a session. 

To some degree, you can't totally eliminate the pains of shopping for a therapist, just like you can't eliminate the pains of shopping for a partner...but you can make it more efficient by being strategic. 

Shares appreciated! Got a questions? Email Have a great weekend, nerds!