10/08/2010 11:53 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

3 Tips for Finding a Great Therapist

There comes a time when finding a great therapist is the perfect thing to do.

Sometimes in life, what you need is another human being with the warmth and ability to simply be there with you emotionally, to deeply listen.

Sometimes the lights in your own mind are dim and what you seek is a professional who offers light and brilliance.

When we are feeling vulnerable and seek a therapist, we are not often thinking clearly. Generally, our self-esteem is pretty low, which is part of the reason we find ourselves in a strange room, spilling intimate details of our lives to a stranger who is a therapist.

It helps if someone you really trust who knows you very well recommends the therapist you are meeting. This is rarely the case, for many good reasons.

In my 20+ years as a therapist, my referral sources have almost always been psychiatrists, acting teachers or friends of friends, sometimes two generations from people who have seen me.

Each client deserves to feel the comfort and confidentiality of having an exclusive relationship with their therapist, uncontaminated by anything or anyone on the outside.

Also, no matter how terrific someone else says a therapist is, there is no guarantee that you will feel that same way. We each have unique chemistry with other people. That's what makes things so interesting between people, and why it is so important for you to figure out how you personally feel about the person you are speaking to for the first time, your potential new therapist.

The truth is, although we feel assured by external information ideas, and standards, quality is present only when it is, and not because it should be. Someone recently told me about a therapist who graduated from Harvard and has been very damaging to people. The point of the story was that there is no guarantee, on paper, of good will or good work.

Surely, knowledge is an important bedrock foundation, but the most important skills and qualities that make the therapist an able and talented advocate--like wisdom, communication, and caring--are not learned in school or found in a book.

So, no matter where or what the therapist studied, or where he/she was referred to you from, you are sitting opposite a stranger. This makes you both very brave, and alone, with the important job of figuring out how you feel as you speak about your intimate life with this person.

Tip #1
How do you feel about the voice of the therapist?
How would you describe it?
Does his/her voice invite you to say more and reveal deeper things about yourself?
You have a right to hear and receive a voice that sounds to you encouraging, positive, and hopeful.

Tip #2
Do you like the therapist's manner and way of receiving you?
Do you feel his/her sincerity and authentic interest in what you are saying?
Do you feel that there is a flow of connection between you and that the therapist reflects a true understanding of what you mean to say?
You have a right to be heard and to have the therapist truly listen to you.

Tip #3
How do you feel about the therapist's office?
Are you comfortable with what the design signals to you?
How do you feel when you sit in the client chair?
Does it support you or does it sink you?
You have a right to feel in sync with the design in the office and the design statement your therapist makes in the office.

This is your first impression of someone you will want to deeply trust in order to accomplish your emotional work. This is a person who may become important in your life, someone you will want to emotionally rely on.

While it is normal to be uncomfortable the first time you meet with a therapist, pay attention to the responses you get.

Pay attention also to how you respond to the personality and general vibe of the therapist. If what you hear makes you uneasy, listen carefully.

Ask questions.

Remember that you are choosing to give someone the privilege of knowing you deeply. A good therapist will help you to face your fears and heal the hurts that stand in your way.

You deserve a great life.
You deserve a great therapist to help you get there.
You deserve the very best!