We’ve been talking for thirty minutes, and it’s going fine for a first session, but I can tell something’s bothering him. So I ask what it is.
“How do I know if you’re the right therapist?” he asks.
“Good question,” I say. “Why do you ask?”
“Because you’re the third one I’ve talked to this year,” he says.
“And the others weren’t right?”
“Nope,” he says. “But it took me months to realize it, and I don’t want to go through that again.”
“I don’t blame you,” I say.
“To answer your question, you can’t really know ahead of time if a therapist is right for you. But you can get to where you trust that they are. And there are tests to help you get there.”
“Yes. You’re probably performing them already, but it can help to put a label on what you’re doing unconsciously.”
“There are three. The first is for safety.
“Drop down out of your head and ask your stomach: How does it feel to be talking to this guy? Does it feel like I’m being judged? Can I imagine telling him the truth about stuff I usually keep to myself? Do I feel safe disagreeing with him? Questions like that. Trust your stomach’s answers. If it tightens up, that might be a red flag.”
“The second test is for relief. When therapy works, you should feel better at the end of the session than at the start — calmer, or clearer, or more hopeful, or at least less alone. Not all sessions end this way, but most of them should.”
“That didn’t happen with the other two therapists,” he muses. “But I thought it was my fault.”
“Like I said, trust your stomach. It’s often smarter than your head.”
He nods. “That’s what I finally did when I fired them. Okay, what’s the third test?”
“It’s for what I call resonance.
“The right therapy teaches us things that on some level we already know, even if we can’t articulate them. So the right therapist will say things that resonate — echo inside you, like a shared truth.
“It’s what helps you feel the therapist gets you. It’s also what makes it possible to trust them. Essential, I think, to getting any real work done.”
“Did you have that experience with either of the other two therapists you tried?”
“No,” he says. “But I may have just now.”