The Best Therapist is Rarely the First One

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Talk therapy is one of the best things you can do for your mental health. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the hardest things to do. As if the internal battle wasn’t hard enough, the true struggle comes in trying to find the right therapist for you.

Many people try therapy once, are unimpressed with the first visit and never go back. Usually, it’s the therapist that failed and not therapy.

Therefore, it’s important that you take the time to find the right therapist. Once you have, doing the work of talk therapy will be much easier.

What follows is my experience of the bad therapists I had to go through before I found a good one.


I can’t help you

One of the first talk therapists I saw was a man who practices out of a room on the back of his house. Now that might sound scary, but it’s an elaborate house in an affluent neighborhood.

I was a little intimidated when I pulled into the driveway, because I was of little means. In fact, my blue 1989 Toyota Corolla looked very out of place in that neighborhood.
Still, I fought my fear and went into that appointment.

It was obvious in the first 20 seconds that I was not the type of patient that this therapist was looking to help. After asking about 10 questions, the man looked at me and said, “I don’t think I’m the one who can help you.”

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Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

My brain processed that as, “You don’t have enough money for me to be interested in you.”

Truth be told, at the time I didn’t even know what I was dealing with. It was before I received my bipolar disorder diagnosis, and my GP was treating me for depression with a high dosage of Prozac that was only making things worse.

So for this Mr. Man to tell me he couldn’t help me was a major gut-punch. I went back to my friends who knew that I was trying to find a therapist and told them talk therapy wouldn’t work for me.


You must be an alcoholic

One couple I knew told me they were seeing a wonderful therapist that was helping them with their marriage. The vital piece of information that they left out was that the husband was an alcoholic. I only say that because it’s important to what happens next.

Pulling up to the office of the new therapist, I felt a bit better because it was a real office. There were several therapists who worked in the office, so when I walked in, I saw people like me sitting in the waiting room.

I thought, “Maybe this is the right one.”

Dr. Addiction, as I like to call him, was nice enough on my first visit.

If you’ve never been to talk therapy, the first session is a very much like a first date. It’s awkward, has some uncomfortable conversation, and makes you feel like you’re trying to sell the best version of yourself.

I didn’t feel entirely uncomfortable with Dr. Addiction, so I made an appointment to go back.

On the second visit, the subject of my near suicide attempt came up. That incident led to my receiving the correct diagnosis.

The therapist asked if alcohol was part of my end-of-life plan. I answered honestly as the night in question I had been drinking a lot.

Little did I know that answer would dictate the course of all future sessions.

But I’m not an addict

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Photo by Tembela Bohle on Pexels.com

Dr. Addiction, a recovering alcoholic himself, became fixated on the alcohol part of my story. What he never discerned was that alcohol was a tiny part of my story.

While I had entirely too much to drink on that dark night, alcohol was not part of my daily life. I was never one who longed for alcohol, drank in secret, or hid alcohol from others.

I drank both socially and at home alone, but only when I had a taste for alcohol. Drinking was a habit I could give or take. It was never about reaching a high or getting drunk.

Every appointment that followed was about how I needed to work through the 12 steps.

Don’t get me wrong, the 12 steps are crucial in addiction recovery; it’s just that I wasn’t an addict.

It took three months for me to realize Dr. Addiction was more concerned with talking about his battle with alcohol than in learning what my real problems were. Nothing in those sessions was helping me, and so I ended that relationship.


And the tears kept coming

A few months later, I was referred to another talk therapist. This woman was kind and easy to talk to, but also entirely forgettable. In fact, I have no idea what her name is.
On my second or third visit, we started to dive into my childhood.

I didn’t have the worst childhood. My parents are still together after almost 50 years. I was never physically abused. There was always a safe and clean house to live in. We never went without food.

Yes, there were some terrible events in my childhood but not all of them shaped me.

When I started to talk about some of the darker times I experienced while growing up, I noticed tears form in the therapist’s eyes. I thought it was a little odd but said nothing. After all, I thought, maybe she’s got some personal issue she’s thinking about.

And more tears

On my next visit, she again wanted to talk about my childhood. In just a few minutes there were tears streaming down her cheeks.

I stopped my monologue several times to ask her if she was okay. Each time she assured me she was, yet the more I talked, the more she cried.

The following week she was to be out of town, so I made my next appointment for a few weeks later. I hoped that by giving her some time, she could come to terms with whatever was making her cry during my sessions.

My next visit, it became painfully clear that I was what was making her cry. Even though my story isn’t entirely tragic, the things I experienced were devastating to her.

As we dove deeper into one of the darker periods of my life, the tears again began streaming down her face. She cried with such intensity that it became uncomfortable for me to be there. I never went back.

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Photo by Marina Shatskih on Pexels.com

The right one comes along

Clearly, therapy wasn’t for me. I was sure that all therapists were mentally ill themselves and trying to work out their problems through conversations with their clients. Disgusted and discouraged, I was unwilling to try again.

About this time, I started to see a new doctor for my medications. The new doctor was smart, empathetic, and listened to me without bringing her own baggage into the room. When she suggested that I see another counselor, I was more inclined to give talk therapy one more try.

I committed to three sessions, fully expecting another epic fail.

I felt like Goldilocks after my first visit with Suzanne. I clicked immediately with her and could sense that she cared about her patients. Her goal was to help people learn coping skills, and she wasn’t afraid to call you out along the way.

That began a six-year relationship that changed my life.


Take the time to get it right

I live in a small town in southeast Tennessee. There are no mental health options in my city. I have to get my medications from my GP or be willing to drive an hour to the closest mental health professional.

I say this so you know I understand that finding the right talk therapist is a difficult endeavor. I drove an hour for every appointment with Suzanne, but it was absolutely worth it.

It’s essential that you take the time to find the right therapist for you. It’s no different than interviewing someone for a job. Rarely is the first applicant the one you want to hire.

If you find during your first session that you don’t click with the person, feel unusually uncomfortable, or the chemistry is off, it’s okay not to go back. But please don’t give up. Keep going in your search to find the right therapist for you.

It might take several bowls of proverbial porridge, but there are good therapists out there. In time, you will find one with the right personality.

It’s not hyperbole for me to say that therapy changed my life. It’s been almost 20 years since the last time I saw Suzanne, but the coping skills I learned from those six years of therapy keep me going every day.

Talk therapy is incredibly valuable. If there are therapists available anywhere near you, I strongly recommend that you at least try it. You’ll be glad you did.

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Finding the right talk therapist can be an adventure. This post shares part of my journey as I searched for the best one for me.
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12 thoughts on “The Best Therapist is Rarely the First One

  1. Great post! I’ve had some bad therapists. (As I sat there talking and crying, he or she would nod, push a sympathetic box of tissues my way, then occasionally say “and how did that make you feel?” And that was pretty much it). I also had one who fixated on alcohol, convinced me I was an addict and told me I would surely die unless I quit drinking cold turkey. Then I finally found a good one. She was online! I loved that I could text her anytime and she’d text back within 12 hours or so. I highly recommend the online therapy services!

    1. Ugh, I hate that question. I don’t think Suzanne ever asked me that. It’s awesome you found a great therapist online. I’d love to hear more about it. Maybe that’s the answer for so many of us in rural areas.

      1. I always had a conflict with work and therapy hours. It’s hard to find someone after 6:00 or on Saturday. I saw an ad for betterhelp online one night and impulsively jumped right in. They try to match you to the right therapist. You can choose religious, the therapist’s credentials, and more. You can do couples or teens. They don’t take insurance (as of last summer) and I think it was $40 per week unlimited texting. You can schedule a phone call too but I think that’s extra $$. I only saw my therapist’s full name, credentials and face pic. She was so young! So I hesitated. But she was wonderful. I had to quit due to my losing my job but I plan to renew.

  2. The process of finding the right therapist, meds, and all that sucks but I hear it’s worth it. I’m still in the process myself. Haven’t got it right just yet but still trying

    1. It is worth it, but it sometimes takes a while to get there. Having bipolar can also mean that the end goal is a moving target as some meds will stop working for apparently no reason. The better days are worth the struggle. Keep fighting.

      1. I’m at the point where my meds are making me more depressed and can’t get in with the psychiatrist to straighten it out. So frustrating but understand it’s part of the journey.

        1. I’m so sorry things are going slowly with your recovery. It often takes weeks to a few months to see if a medication will work or not. I went through 30 meds before finding the right combination that allows me to live a semi-full and productive life. If there’s anything I can do, please let me know.

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