It's normal to feel nervous or anxious attending therapy for the first few times — but if those uncomfortable feelings don't go away or worsen over time, it could be a sign that you haven't found the right therapist.
"If, after the third session, you continue to experience discomfort with the therapist, that's a good indication that you need to explore other therapist options," Rachel McCrickard, a licensed marriage and family therapist and the CEO of Motivo, says.
While this may be discouraging, McCrickard shares that exploring multiple therapists before finding the right one should be more common than it is: "Many people don't realize they can 'interview' several therapists before deciding who is the best fit."
Know that many therapists welcome a vetting process because they want to help potential clients find the best fit for therapy — even if that's not them, she adds.
Despite how it sounds, vetting multiple professionals doesn't require a ton of effort. McCrickard suggests setting up three free consultation calls with different therapists and asking the following questions:
- I'm dealing with (share personal conflict, if comfortable). Is this something that is in your area of specialty? If not, can you refer me to someone you know who specializes in this?
- How would clients you have seen in the past describe you as a therapist?
- How do you structure therapy sessions? What should I expect in my first few appointments?
- What's your cancellation policy?
- Do you offer teletherapy appointments?
- What is your rate? Do you accept insurance? Do you work on a sliding scale (the price is based on the client's income)?
- What is your style or modality of therapy?
After the interview, it doesn't hurt to Google the responses — for example, researching the modality of therapy can help you learn more about that professional's particular approach.
If you've already attended more than three sessions with a therapist and are skeptical of whether or not they are the right fit for you, McCrickard says to look for evidence of improvement throughout your everyday life.
Has your sleep, appetite, general mood, somatic symptoms (fewer body aches and pains, digestive trouble, headaches, etc.), improved? Are you enjoying more activities? If the answers are no, McCrickard notes it could be time to look for a new therapist.
While everyone's situation is different, feeling unheard, unseen, not liked, or not valued by your therapist — or if the professional's personality mirrors someone you've been hurt by in the past — during sessions could also mean it's time to move on, too.
You can always refer to the American Psychological Association Code of Ethics as a reference if you're unsure your therapist is exhibiting unprofessional or unethical conduct, McCrickard says.
Maybe none of these scenarios apply to you, but you still feel uncomfortable around a therapist — or all therapists. According to McCrickard, this is something you can address in therapy, as it could be an indication of a deeper issue or projected feelings and emotions you might want to explore.
With all that said, don't feel nervous or intimidated about finding a therapist or attending therapy — you're only benefiting yourself by doing research. Even if it takes some trial and error to find the right connection, seeing a therapist is an impactful way to prioritize your mental health.