Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Questions for a potential therapist?

Fellow ACoNs who've been to therapy: how did you choose your therapist? How did you interview? What did you look for in a therapist? What did you see as red flags?

What was your explicit therapy goal? How did you phrase it to the therapist? If I had to phrase mine, it would be to truly emotionally go through the insights I've had  - facing negative feelings (grief, lack of parental love, fear) - and thus somehow unblock "normal" positive feelings (love).

One of the reasons I'm considering therapy is that I feel I've hit a wall - rationally, I've had some important insights, but emotionally, I just can't catch up with them and maybe I never will on my own. I know my parents never loved me and I don't remember ever loving them. I have no emotions related to them apart from a bit of anger. I have few emotions in everyday life apart from anxiety, some depression, some anger and drops of very simple love and joy.

What questions would you ask? What questions should I ask? Any advice at all?

I'm no longer scared of therapy - if I don't like this person I'm seeing tomorrow, I'll just pass. I won't let anyone manipulate me or abuse me - I don't have the time or the patience for that anymore. But, in order to avoid this waste of time and money, I need a plan.

Now I'm just rambling. I have an appointment in exactly 22 hours. Any advice is appreciated. Thank you!


  1. You might ask them what theoretical orientations they favor and then read up on those to see if you think they are compatible with your goals. For example, it doesn't sound like a therapist with a heavy focus on behavior theories is the best fit for your goal.

    You should definitely explain your desired goals and what you'd like to get out of therapy, like you have with this post. It will help the therapist determine if they can help you or if they should offer you a referral. Don't be afraid to tell them if you are uncomfortable with them, and don't be afraid to ask them for a referral to someone with experience in the issues you are facing.

    1. Thanks! What might be good theoretical orientations for what I seem to need? This particular therapist practices REBT, and while it seems a little too practically focused for me, the person who started it was, apparently, something quite like an ACoN.

  2. I agree with Adela. Treat this first session sort of like a job interview, because it is. If it doesn't seem like the right fit, don't settle.

  3. Hi PA!
    I chose my therapist based on my gut and got lucky, so not sure how much help I can be, but I do remember my first appointment. I felt exposed and broken and I said something to that effect after giving him the barest of details, and he said, "Folks who grow up in abusive circumstances usually do feel scared when they speak up about it. It's part of the process." His reaction to my discomfort was easy and comforting while being insightful and letting me know right off that he was actually listening to me. I knew right away that he got me and he understood where I was trying to go based on his reaction to me.

    I'd say that it's fine to be logical and reasonable and to treat it like a job interview and be well prepared. But also, make sure that you're paying attention to the clues that your body will give you. You'll likely be uncomfortable, sure. Pay attention to how the counselor affects that; does she make it worse, better?

    That's my two cents!

  4. I was lucky and found someone who was down to earth, logical and yet nurturing. He showed me I was Okay just as I was, that the problem wasn't me.

    Q's Si

  5. I was right upfront about having no contact with my parents, and then saw how she reacted to that. If she had somehow been disapproving or wanted to "work things out", I would never have seen her again.

    Instead, she calmly said "Sometimes that's the only way." I knew I had found the right person.


    FAQ: How to find the right therapist
    I know how difficult it is to find the right therapist but I still believe that it is possible if you know what you need. So I try to answer here some questions that may encourage you to check the attitude of the candidate for your therapist; but please take this text as a draft and don't hesitate to make comments or additions. (I decided to speak of the therapist as a "she," but of course both genders are meant.)
    1.What do I need to overcome my plight?
    You need an empathic, honest person who would help you to take seriously the knowledge of your body, a person who already succeeded to do the same for herself because she had the chance to have found this kind of help that you are looking for.
    1. How can I know if a therapist is this kind of person?
    By asking many questions.
    2. This idea scares me. Why don't I dare to ask questions?
    As a child you were probably punished for asking questions because they might have shaken your parents' position of power. Your questions were often ignored or you were given lies instead of true answers. This was very painful. Now, you are afraid that this might happen again. It CAN happen that you will not be understood or that your questions trigger the fears and defenses of a therapist but you are no longer the helpless child without any options. You can leave and look for another therapist. The child could not leave, so he tried to change his parents, some people do it (symbolically) their whole life. But as an adult you have options. You can, with the support of the forum, recognize the lies, the poisonous pedagogy and the defenses. You must only take seriously what you hear, not deny your uneasiness, and not hope that you will be able to change this person (the parent) later. You will not. She will need therapy herself, and this shouldn't be your job as long as YOU pay the honorary.
    3. I feel guilty because of my mistrust. If I can't trust I will never find what is good for me.
    Your mistrust has a history and your need for SPECIAL understanding too. Your caregiver didn't deserve your trust and the child felt this very strongly because his body knew the truth. It couldn't develop trust. Now, trust your body signals, it is the silenced child who is speaking, who starts to talk and needs your truthfulness. If you don't feel good with a person, take your feelings seriously, don't push them away, try to understand these feelings. Once you feel truly and deeply understood by someone, your body will let you know this immediately and very clearly, it will be relaxed without any special exercises.
    4. What do I risk by asking questions from the beginning?
    Nothing. You can only win. If the answer is hostile or very incomplete or defensive, you can gain much money and time by leaving. On the other hand, if the answer you got is satisfying, you will feel encouraged to ask more. And this is what you should do.
    5. Which kind of questions am I allowed to ask?
    Whatever you need to know. But above all don't forget to ask the candidate for your therapist about her childhood and her experiences during her training. Where did she get her training, what was helpful to her, what was not? How does she feel about the defeats, does she have the freedom to see what was wrong or does she protect people who damaged her? Does she minimize the damage? Was she beaten as a child? How does she value this experience? Is she really aware of its consequences for her later life, or is she denying its importance? Does she avoid the confrontation with her own pain? In the last case she will do everything to silence you, not always visibly. >>> ( continued on adjacent comment )

  7. ( continued from adjacent comment )
    6. Is it a good sign if she tells me that she has read Alice Miller's "Drama?"
    It doesn't say anything. Ask you how she FELT about "For Your Own Good" and the other books, also ask about her criticisms. What helped her personally, what didn't? What is in her opinion the main healing factor? Is she capable of deep feelings or does she prefer an intellectual analysis to keep distance? This you may even find with primal therapists who makes you feel the helpless child for years and years so that they can "help" you, but without being themselves able to feel on a deeper level. Then you may end up in a dependence on them and on your feelings of a helpless, unchangeable rage against your parents without being able to free yourself for what YOU really need. A good therapist must help you to find and fulfill YOUR OWN needs, neglected for such a long time, needs for free expression, for being understood, respected and taken seriously. When you begin to look for fulfillment and to protect the child, the rage and hatred will leave you, they will fade. They are alarm signals of your repetition of parental neglect and contempt; they do not have the therapeutic quality we are so often told they have.
    7. Am I not intrusive when I ask so many questions?
    Not at all. You have the right to be sufficiently informed and she must have the courage, the awareness and the honesty to answer you in a proper way. Otherwise she is not the right person for you.
    8. With this position, am I then looking for an ideal that doesn't exist?
    I don't think so. Awareness, compassion, courage, and openness DO EXIST. Why should these qualities not be expected from your therapist?


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