7 Pitfalls to Avoid When Seeking the Right Therapist

7 Pitfalls to Avoid When Seeking the Right Therapist
Photo by Sarah Kilian / Unsplash

As a psychotherapist, I encounter the dilemma people confront when seeking effective therapeutic support: the vast, often overwhelming choice of specialists in counselling directories.

These directories, while useful, present a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you have a comprehensive list of available support; on the other, how do you decipher the suitable one amongst so many?

It's a conundrum akin to entrusting a precious item to a stranger for repair. Without expert knowledge, your decision is based mainly on trust.

This process can be particularly daunting when you're already navigating emotionally challenging times. The key is not to leave it to chance. Professional, reassuring, and practical help is critical, so knowing what to look for and avoid is a must.

This article shares practical tips so you avoid common pitfalls in your search for the right coach or therapist. It will help you make a well-informed decision for a meaningful therapeutic relationship.

Pitfall 1: Ignoring your personal preferences and needs

Why it's a common mistake Many individuals, especially those new to therapy, may overlook their personal preferences and needs, assuming all therapists can provide the same level of support regardless of their background or approach.

This misconception leads to a less satisfying therapeutic relationship when the nuances of personal compatibility are not considered.

When selecting a coach or therapist, consider your personal preferences and needs.

Gender, age, cultural background, and the therapist's training and orientation often impact the therapeutic relationship. Ignoring these aspects may result in hindered progress and less-than-ideal experience.

Tip: Before starting your search, list your preferences and specific needs.

In an initial meeting, the therapist should help you feel comfortable, heard and understood. Building a strong rapport will be vital for your progress.

This means you can confide and explore your thinking with someone who seeks to understand your thoughts and ideas in a helpful and constructive manner.

Generally, we‘re receptive to guidance and support from people we like and trust, so a positive alliance with your coach or therapist is a crucial first step.

Remember, trust your intuition and let this guide what feels right.   

Pitfall 2: Not verifying credentials and experience

Why It's a Common Mistake:
Often, individuals in search of therapy may feel overwhelmed or desperate for help, leading them to overlook the importance of a therapist's credentials and experience. This oversight can be due to a lack of awareness about how crucial these factors are in determining the quality and effectiveness of the therapy they will receive.

It's important to verify a therapist's credentials and experience to avoid receiving inadequate treatment, which can result in wasted time, money, and emotional energy.

To ensure the best possible care, confirm your therapist is licensed and registered with an accredited organisation, has relevant experience, and is trained to deal with the issues you face.

Tip: Don’t hesitate to ask about your coach or therapist’s credentials and experience to help. In the main, a professional will have worked hard to obtain their credentials and happily share them with you. Consider this a standard piece of due diligence to ensure a successful partnership between you both.

Pitfall 3: Overlooking communication style and personality fit

Why It's a Common Mistake:
In the search for a therapist or coach, people often focus more on credentials or therapeutic approaches and underestimate the importance of communication style and personality compatibility. This oversight can lead to a mismatch in the therapeutic relationship, as the nuances of interpersonal dynamics are critical for establishing trust and openness.

Similar to any relationship, communication style and personality fit are crucial factors in a supportive alliance. As humans, coaches and therapists will each have their own ways of doing things.

Sometimes it will just work straight away between you. Other times their personality may differ slightly from what you expect, yet you still feel comfortable. One thing you don’t want is to find yourself making excuses for a coach or therapist’s behaviour.

It may sound obvious, yet you’d be surprised at how often a caring and compassionate client can assume a role within a therapeutic relationship that fails to offer them optimal support.

Tip: Schedule an initial consultation to assess a fit between your communication style and personality. An initial meeting can often help you decide if a longer-term arrangement would suit you.

Pitfall 4: Not asking about fees and insurance coverage

Why It's a Common Mistake:
Often, in the eagerness to begin therapy, or due to discomfort discussing financial matters, individuals may neglect to inquire about the cost.

This oversight can result in financial strain and surprise, which can add additional stress to the therapeutic process. Understanding and planning for the financial commitment of therapy is as crucial as any other aspect of the therapeutic relationship.

person unlocking smartphone
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez 🇨🇦 / Unsplash

Tip: Before committing to a therapist, ask about their fees, accepted insurance plans, and payment options. Make sure you fully understand the costs and can comfortably afford the services.

Pitfall 5: Neglecting to research the therapist's approach

Why It's a Common Mistake:
The variety of therapeutic approaches can be overwhelming, and many people may not realize the significance of aligning a therapist's approach with their personal needs and goals.

Without this alignment, therapy may not be as effective as it could be, potentially leading to frustration and a lack of progress.

If we include all the esoteric modes of therapy, they amount to several hundred types. That’s a lot of options - and potential pitfalls

Different therapists use various approaches, and not all of them may be suitable for your needs. For instance, are you looking for short-term solution-focused approaches or longer-term emotional support? Are you seeking coaching, counselling, or a therapeutic combination of both?

Tip: Be mindful of a therapist who says your work with them will last a specific length of time - for instance, one year or longer.

While it’s reasonable (and even reassuring) for a therapist to offer a roadmap, any pre-suppositions that your emotional support must necessarily last an extended period of time should raise an eyebrow. 

Note: Here, coaching can be different. Coaches often develop programs that support clients through specific skills and competencies. In this instance, a coach will have developed an experience that includes working through practical skills and tasks.

Ultimately, a coach or therapist should be open and transparent with you about any length of commitment you may consider undertaking.

Pitfall 6: Relying solely on online reviews and recommendations

Why It's a Common Mistake:
In the digital age, it's natural to turn to online reviews for guidance. However, relying solely on these reviews for choosing a therapist or coach can be misleading.

Online reviews are subjective and can vary widely based on individual experiences and perspectives. Moreover, online reviews are typically unverified i.e. anyone can post them, from disgruntled ex-clients to adoring friends and family.

This isn’t to say we can’t rely upon reviews (most of us race to read them before any significant purchase), yet they shouldn't be the only factor when choosing support. Rather, aim to maintain a steady and objective attitude when referring to reviews in your decision-making progress.

Pitfall 7: Giving up after one session or not giving therapy enough time

Dominic Decker - U.K. Registered Psychotherapist

One common mistake is giving up on receiving help after just one session or not giving it enough time. There may be various reasons for this.

Sometimes, following a helpful insight and some inspiration to action, you might assume that, actually, you didn't need extended chelp, just a spring clean to dust off the cobwebs and get some clear thinking in the mix.

Don't get me wrong - that can be the case sometimes. Occasionally, you need to have an event witnessed or an experience shared.

Equally, you may have needed to hear something - expressed in a certain way - to provide some perspective and impetus to move things forward alone.

However, humans are fickle. We can quickly forget what we've heard and understood. For this reason, committing to a degree of accountability can help to ensure developments become breakthroughs. 

Similarly, you might have hoped for a specific outcome from your initial meeting, which didn't materialise. This is why it helps to clarify the expectations for a successful meeting at the start.

Setting expectations to ensure the client and coach/ therapist are moving towards a shared outcome will help to avoid unfocussed time and disappointment. 

Finding a compatible therapist is crucial for a successful therapeutic alliance. By avoiding these common pitfalls and following the tips provided, you can conduct a safe and assured search for a coach and therapist who can help you progress. 

Finally, here is a checklist you can use to protect yourself or someone you know from ineffective or even harmful types of counselling and therapy. 

An effective therapist or counsellor:

  •  knows how to build rapport quickly with distressed people
  •  understands depression and how to lift it
  •  helps immediately with anxiety problems, including trauma or fear-related symptoms
  •  is prepared to offer advice if needed or asked for
  •  will not use jargon or 'psychobabble' or tell you counselling or psychotherapy has to be 'painful'
  •  will not dwell unduly on the past
  •  will be supportive when complex feelings emerge but will not encourage people to get emotional beyond the normal need to 'let go’ of any bottled-up feelings
  •  may assist you in developing your social skills so your needs for affection, friendship, pleasure, intimacy, connection to the broader community etc., can be better fulfilled
  •  will help you to draw and build on your resources (which may prove greater than you thought)
  •  will be considerate of the effects of counselling on the people close to you
  •  may teach you to relax deeply
  •  may help you think about your problems in new and more empowering ways
  •  uses a wide range of evidence-based techniques as appropriate
  •  may ask you to do things between sessions to consolidate progress
  •  will take as few sessions as necessary
  •  will increase your self-confidence and independence and ensure you feel better after every consultation.

That's it! Now you have a trustworthy roadmap to help you find the right person to support you. 

Avoid these mistakes and save yourself time, money, confusion and frustration.  

Are you seeking effective therapy or counselling support?

I'm Dominic Decker, a British-registered psychotherapist and the creator of Anxiety Master.

I've helped hundreds of people navigate and overcome challenges marked by anxiety and stress.

Perhaps I can help if you're seeking a guiding hand.

You can learn more about my approach and how I tailor my support to each person by visiting my personal website.

I regularly support clients worldwide via a secure, online platform.

Simply message me through the contact form, and I'll respond promptly.

Together, we'll craft your path towards a more stable and confident life, no matter where things are for you.