Champaign-Urbana therapist Tim Cronin recently had a session with a college student that exemplified a crucial part of good therapy.
“They were telling me a story and becoming very animated,” said Cronin, LCPC, CRC. “And I interrupted and said, ‘What are you feeling right now? And (the client) was very much taken aback. I said, ‘You seem angry.’”
The client replied that this was an anger-provoking thing. Cronin said, ‘Is that person here with us in the room right now?’ No. ‘Why are you angry? Where do you feel tension in your body right now?’
“Nobody’s ever stopped me like that,” his client said. “I’ve been with lots of therapists. No one has ever stopped me.”
Cronin used the example to set the landscape for what people should look for when seeking a therapist: “Your therapist’s job is not to confirm what you already think. Your therapist’s job is to help you make sense of where you’ve been so that you can choose better where you’re going. And that’s not about being an echo chamber.”
Many people who never seek help simply don’t know where to turn. So how do you find a therapist who is right for you?
–Get the provider list from your insurance company to obtain which therapists are covered under your plan. “That’s your first phone call,” Cronin said.
–Get personal recommendations from people you trust. “They’re the best reference,” Cronin said. “I get the majority of my referrals from people that I’ve already helped. They refer other people. The second most referrals I get are from people who go online and find my profile in Psychology Today.”
–That’s the next step: Do homework to discover your potential therapist’s areas of specialty. “Know what you need,” Cronin said. “If you need testing, that’s a series of tests and those are going to have to be done by a school psychologist or a clinical psychologist.” If not, you might fit with a therapist who specializes in trauma or depression or addiction. Cronin recommends researching a therapist at Psychology Today. “They have a find-a-therapist function, and they have pretty extensive biographies. They check to make sure the people really exist, that they’re legitimate. You don’t want to rely on what kind of diploma they have. That’s kind of worthless. If you want to work on childhood trauma, then you want to look for people who specialize in trauma. If you need a life coach, if you need to get your life in order, then look for somebody who specializes in executive functioning.”
–And then? “Just go,” Cronin said.
“If there’s a single thing that this all boils down to, it’s ‘Just go.’ Pick somebody. You’re never going to know for sure until you go. If you think you need a therapist, then you should go. You’ll never find a perfect fit by looking at a website. You have to meet them and talk to them and see how it goes.”
Determining whether to change therapists can present a quandary from some patients. But it needn’t be problematic.
“No matter what the recommendation you’ve received, if you’re not comfortable then you should talk to your therapist about that,” Cronin said. “Usually people don’t change therapists, they just (don’t show up). ‘Therapy doesn’t work for me.’ And they abandon it. The thing to recognize is therapists are generally fine with you changing therapists because we all know there are personality issues, stylistic issues, issues of modality, that aren’t going to be right for every person. If you say to a therapist, ‘I’m not sure this is a good fit’ or ‘I’m concerned,’ a lot of times they’ll work with you on it. But they’re going to be fine with you changing therapists. If you don’t feel comfortable, it’s probably not that anybody is doing anything wrong. It’s just not a good fit. And it’s OK to change. It’s even OK to ask that therapist for a referral. There might be somebody in that same practice, there might be somebody who specializes in a certain area that they can recommend. It’s not unusual for people to change therapists.”
One thing to keep in mind: Therapy – session to session – is not necessarily about leaving that session feeling good.
“The overall goal is to feel better but you’re not always going to leave feeling happy – and that shouldn’t be the criteria. Sometimes therapy is hard; sometimes therapy is challenging. Know what you want, what your goals are, and (understand) that change is the most difficult thing that human beings do. Growth comes from discomfort. A good therapist will help you feel safe in your discomfort.”