My therapist wasn’t right for me, but it took me a long time to admit it.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
I thought my second time going to therapy would be much smoother than the first. I mean, I already knew what the process entailed–everything from contacting my HMO for a list of local approved providers, to looking up reviews and researching people that utilized frameworks and therapeutic approaches that felt aligned with me. I thought choosing a therapist would be easier because I had a lot less anxiety towards going to therapy again. But I ended up with a therapist that wasn’t right for me, and it took me a long time to admit it.
When I was in my sophomore year of college, I went through, what I now jokingly call, my “early life crisis”. I can make light of that period of time now, but what I went through that year was a life-changing experience that was triggered by burnout, stress, and a perpetual feeling of being lost.
I started my undergraduate career as a Business Major (mostly due to familial expectations) and struggled with the coursework. Amongst the long list of things I didn’t like about it, the hardest thing for me was knowing this course of study was not aligned with my passion and interests. I tried my best to make it work, but by the spring semester of that year, I was done. To make a long story short, I decided to go to therapy for some much-needed guidance and support for what turned out to be anxiety.
My therapist was an Asian male somewhere in his mid 30’s. He had recently started his practice as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Our sessions were thought-provoking, healing, and helped me to really tune into my inner voice, which helped me realize that my mission in life was to help others. I admired the work he did and essentially became inspired to change my major from Business to Social Work in the hopes of one day being able to do what my therapist was doing – guiding others to living their most fulfilling lives.
Sadly, due to certain changes with my student health insurance plan, I was unable to continue my sessions with him as he was dropped from the network. Being a college student, it was definitely nowhere in my budget to be able to afford his out-of-pocket rate of $120 per week to continue my sessions with him.
Several years later, I found myself once again going through a transitional period in my life. Though this time I was in a much more secure place, I felt it would be helpful to return to therapy. I had a great experience prior and I figured since I myself had just graduated with a Master’s in Social Work, it would be a fairly seamless process. After all, I knew a lot more about the field through my studies and work experience. Logically speaking, the pieces fall into place right?
After doing a quick Google search for a therapist and choosing to bypass the optional 15-minute consultation calls that many providers offer, I settled for someone who was as close to my house as possible, who accepted my insurance, and who claimed to use frameworks and methods that I liked. What I failed to do, however, was to dig a little deeper and do my research. I failed to read reviews and I also neglected to really consider the importance of cultural competence as a person of color. While this therapist looked great on his online profile and is no doubt well-versed in the profession, he was not the right fit for me.
Our sessions started off fairly well and we spent the first few weeks building rapport and exploring what I was looking to gain out of our work together. However, as time went on, I started to notice that he was very fixed in the approach and techniques he wanted to utilize in during our sessions and what he wanted me to utilize in my daily life. I found that he was not very receptive to understanding my religion, my spirituality, and the prominent role it played in my life. In fact, he once said to me during a session that it wasn’t beneficial to my therapeutic process for me to “fixate” so much on spirituality. The irony was that my spirituality was (and still is) my greatest source of healing, inspiration, and self-realization.
I also noticed that he had a tendency to hold very strongly to certain opinions or perspectives regarding the things I was experiencing and processing. For example, he consistently insisted on focusing sessions on my past to the point that he often dismissed present-day issues I was facing from our discussions.
Despite being aware that I was growing increasingly frustrated by the way these sessions were going, I really tried to give him the benefit of the doubt. I overlooked judgmental comments he made towards my perspective. I forced myself to focus on the topics he pushed to explore, deferring to his expertise. I even told myself I needed to be more humble and that I should really consider all of his advice, despite knowing as a mental health professional myself, that it is natural and healthy to process both the past and present. Furthermore, it is of paramount importance (and unethical not to do so) to validate the client’s perspective and honor the needs they express to you.
I stuck with it for six months before I finally realized it was time to terminate the relationship. I stayed because the thought of trying to find someone else felt inconvenient. I stayed because I told myself I was being too critical. I stayed because the thought of having to start over again just felt like a waste of time. By feeding into this way of thinking, I ended up keeping myself trapped in an interaction that brought little value to my mental and emotional health.
Photo by Cytonn Photography on Pexels.com
Nevertheless, those six months did teach me some valuable lessons when it comes to seeking therapy:
- Always check reviews (I finally did check and found several people had similar experiences to mine).
- Be aware of how cultural differences can impact the therapeutic relationship.
- Do not silence your inner voice when it is clearly telling you things aren’t working.
- Use free consultations when offered to get a better sense of the provider.
- Do not be afraid to start over. You need to feel comfortable with your therapist.
I have not returned to therapy since this last experience. After I terminated sessions with that provider, I dedicated my time and energy to growing spiritually and finding alternative sources of support. During this time of exploration, I eventually connected with a Life Coach. Working with a Life Coach has been life-changing and has given me support that was aligned with my needs and my identity. My Life Coach’s practice is largely focused on spirituality as well as mindset growth and development. We come from the same cultural background and share many common philosophical perspectives on life. What I also love about receiving coaching is how goal-oriented it is and the feeling of empowerment I gain from each session. A Life Coach has been the perfect fit for me and if I had tried to stick it out with therapy, especially with a therapist I didn’t feel comfortable with, I would have been unhappy.
There is no doubt in my mind that receiving support for one’s mental and emotional health is beneficial to all. I still very much believe in the value of therapy and the long-term benefits it can provide, when one is connected with the right provider. On the other hand, I have also learned that there are alternative ways to receive support for mental and emotional wellness. All it takes is being honest with yourself when it comes to your needs. Not every therapist is for everyone. And therapy isn’t one-size-fit-all.
Having trouble finding the right therapist for you? Click here for further information.