08/08/2012 08:48 am ET Updated Oct 08, 2012

How To Find A Good Therapist

Rachel had been seeing her therapist for years, but she wasn't getting better. She was still just as fearful and anxious as she'd been before her first appointment.

Her friend Linda, however, also had fear and anxiety issues, and she had gotten better after just a few months of seeing me. Rachel wondered how Linda had overcome her issues so quickly.

"Are my issues more extreme? Maybe I'm more screwed up than Linda is?" she wondered.

She suspected, however, that a different reason was to blame. Could it be that her therapy was ineffective?

Rachel decided to find out. She called to ask me a few questions. She told me that she'd been seeing her current therapist for six years.

"How's that going?" I asked.

"Well, it's good to vent," she replied.

"What have you gained by venting for six years?" I asked.

"Well I haven't gotten worse," she said. "It feels good to vent."

Oh, the "it's good to vent" line. I can't tell you how many times I've heard that line, especially from countless patients, like Rachel, as they describe their old therapy. The problem is that venting is merely a way to get temporary relief. It doesn't teach patients how to get better. Case in point: before seeing me, these patients had been mired in therapy for years. For them, the patient-therapist relationship was one of codependence: The patient depended on the therapist for emotional support, and the therapist depended on the patient for money. The patients had a need to feel listened to and heard. The therapists had a need to pay their overhead and even cover their summer vacations. To keep the patients coming back, the therapists would warn them of all of the horrific emotional consequences that might befall them if they stopped the therapy. End result: The patients never got better. Matter of fact, the patients' issues grew and felt more out of their control, thanks to the therapist instilling fear in them.

I've heard stories like Rachel's way too many times from patients who talk about their former therapists. It's frustrating. Aren't therapists supposed to help people? Why instill fear by telling a patient that she can't stop the therapy?

Say goodbye to the fear-mongering therapists who keep you stuck forever. Take control and an active role in finding a therapist who will help you get better, once and for all, and not just provide you with a venue to vent.

Here's how to find a good therapist:

  • Ask friends if they have a therapist they find helpful. If so and if they're comfortable sharing, then that is a good place to start. If you're not comfortable asking friends then ask your doctor if he or she knows anyone who is good.
  • Meet many, interview them about their styles and beliefs, and settle on one that seems like a good fit for you.
  • Look for someone who is results-oriented. Ask, "How do you plan to help me?" You might also ask, "How long does your average patient stay in therapy?" and "What tools do you plan to teach me to help me cope?"
  • Once in therapy, identify your goals. Tell the therapist what you expect to get out of therapy. Be specific, suggest that the therapist find a way to monitor your progress, and set a date when you both can expect for you to see results.

For more by Jonathan Alpert, click here.

For more on becoming fearless, click here.