What to look for in a therapist?

“Hey, look me over. Tell me do you like what you see.” ~ Prince

What do you
look for in
a therapist?

Sure, you look for someone with the proper education, degree, and license. Maybe you consider gender, age, or if they share your culture or background. The online lists of credentials and clinical jargon are overwhelming when you need help. So, let me guide you from the heart.

What you really want to look for – what is most important above all else – is finding someone who gets you. The term ‘gets you’ is hard to explain with mere language. But, you all know what I mean and you certainly know when it happens. You want someone who is able to see through the surface and past the narrative to get who you really are inside. There’s little value in partnering with someone from the right university, with the right degree or title, if they don’t get you.

Up in a

Once upon a time, I saw a therapist who came highly recommended. Her walls were lined with Ivy degrees and impressive credentials. But, somewhere during our session, it became clear that Ice Princess didn’t get me. Ice Princess was alone up in a tower of silence and unaware of my presence. And, she wasn’t letting her hair down so I could climb up. At the end of our session, she finally spoke. “Same time next week?” And, I managed to speak the uncomfortable truth. I would not be returning because I couldn’t pour my heart out to a blank screen. Credentialed walls weren’t the only walls between us. She was physically present, but not present with me in life’s arena.

“Hope will never be silent.” ~ Harvey Milk

“No guts. No glory.” ~ Major General Frederick C. Blesse

Man in
the Arena

Teddy Roosevelt paid tribute to “The Man in the Arena” with a quote so powerful that LeBron James writes, Man in the Arena, on his shoes before every game. “It’s not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly, who errs, who comes up short again and again. Because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who does actually strive to do the deeds, who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows in the end, the triumph of high achievement. And, who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
~ Theodore Roosevelt, 1910

A Great Therapist
is not a Spectator.

A great therapist is not a spectator sitting in the audience from a distance. They’re not a silent observer hiding behind a professional persona, degree, or clinical terms. A great therapist is in the arena with you and they aren’t afraid to get dirty.

The right therapist uses training as preparation, not as a shield. Then, they enter the arena to experience you as a unique human being. Top athletes and musicians live training as preparation. In life’s key moment, after years of free throws and playing scales, they just play. Everything they need is within them and they’re completely present. Great therapists trust that their training, life experience, and humanity are with them. And, they just play.

“Life is not a spectator sport. If you’re going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, you’re wasting your life.” ~ Jackie Robinson

“I don’t mind having uncomfortable conversations, if those uncomfortable conversations can lead to a bigger dialogue.”
~ Charlamagne tha God

You will know
when you’re with
the right therapist.

Admittedly, it’s more art than science. It takes a few sessions to unfold. My advice is give it 2 to 3 sessions and go by your gut. Your time together should feel authentic. It may not always feel comfortable because growth is impossible without pushing through discomfort. So, don’t confuse the two. It’s your therapist’s job to challenge you and be your biggest cheerleader while calling you on your bullshit. Be active in your experience and brave enough to openly discuss any concerns or doubts. Their response should tell you all you need to know.

The right therapist can be one of the most meaningful relationships that you will ever experience. For some, it has been life changing. And, for others it has been life saving. Choose from your heart. Choose from your gut. Dare greatly and enter the arena with someone who gets you.