Seeing a shrink really shouldn't be your life's work. And yet, far too many people spend years of their life and thousands of dollars in therapy. Part of the problem, says Amy Hawthorne, a life management therapist, is that many people don't know how to determine if they've found the right person to work with.
As the director of Life Management at Canyon Ranch — a wellness resort in Tucson, AZ — it's Hawthorne's job to hone in on the underlying emotional challenges her clients face. (And all under an hour!) That often leads to some insights about who to work with in the longer term.
To start, anyone who plans to spend money and time on therapy needs to make sure the therapist is competent. That may seem like a no-brainer, but in every profession, there are people who aren't so great at their job.
"The fact of the matter is that there are not a lot of phenomenal therapists out there. It can be a process to find somebody," Hawthorne said.
A side note: it goes without saying that like any relationship, you'll have to meet your therapist halfway. "A therapist is only going to give you as much as you're willing to give them," Hawthorne said. "If you've been hiding something from your therapist for years, that's not going to help you." Really, that's one of the surefire ways to end up in therapy for your entire life. You have better things to do.
It shouldn't take forever to ascertain if you've found the right fit, someone who will help you grow as a person, Hawthorne said. Here are some things to look out for that can help you determine if you've found your person.
Red Flag: Oversharing
While a therapist should volunteer information about themselves to new clients (especially involving their work history and professional credentials), Hawthorne says to be wary of a therapist who talks incessantly about their own life without being prompted.
Red Flag: Pushes you to rehash trauma
There's evidence that suggests moving past trauma need not require extensive rehashing of the event with minute detail — unless you want to. "In fact, that is not even what is most appropriate for people," she said.
If you're in therapy to process trauma — and most people are to some level — your therapist should be focusing much more on "how you show up for yourself with compassion and begin to renarrate your story," Hawthorne said.
Red flag: Doesn't inquire about your early childhood
"We are who we are today because of our early childhood experiences and our experiences with our primary caregivers," Hawthorne said. That's not to say the therapist should spend each and every session discussing your experiences in elementary school, but he or she should make some effort to collect enough information about the early years of your life that have shaped who you've become as an adult.
Red flag: No feedback
You're in therapy to talk it out, but you're also there for some well-informed opinions and advice. Hawthorne said it's best to reconsider your choice if the therapist never gives you their opinion. "That's one of the things I run into with people; they haven't had many dynamic interactions with therapists," she said. "Be wary of a therapist who only says things like 'How does that make you feel?' 'What do you think?'"
Red flag: You walk out feeling just fine
It may sound counterintuitive or frightening, but therapy should make you feel a little uncomfortable. Not devastated, but you should be leaving your therapist's office with a slightly uneasy feeling. That's the kind of state that gets one on the path to becoming a little more enlightened about their life. The internal monologue should be something along the lines of "Wow, I don't like how she pointed that out, but it's kind of true," Hawthorne said. "A really good therapist is someone who is going to know how and when to push a little bit."