So you’ve decided, or maybe you’re thinking, that it’s time to conquer compassion fatigue once and for all and you want to invest in personal counseling. That’s great! But how do you go about finding a mental-health professional who can understand the unique challenges that those of you in the animal-welfare community face? In addition to seeking out someone who specializes in compassion fatigue, trauma, or grief and loss, check out these tips to help you choose a great therapist.
Top Ten Tips for Choosing a Great Therapist
- Your therapist should be warm, empathic, and nonjudgmental. If you feel that your therapist judges you or your lifestyle, then this is a huge red flag. Your therapist doesn’t necessarily have to share your beliefs or values, but she should accept and respect them. If you’re a vegetarian and your therapist tries to convince you to eat meat, or if you’re struggling with pet loss and your therapist dismisses your grief, then find another therapist!
- Your therapist should not dispense unsolicited advice or make decisions for you; rather, he should act as a collaborator to help you gain your own insights and come to your own conclusions. While making suggestions such as, “You many want to consider taking long walks to help lift your mood, because research has shown…” are appropriate, your therapist should never tell you what to do based solely on his own opinion—for example, “I think you should leave your husband. I would never put up with a cheater.”
- Your therapist should be nice. This should be a given, but would you believe that I’ve had several clients thank me for not yelling at them? Your therapist should always treat you with a warm, positive regard. If instead he gets frustrated or angry with you, disrespects you, blames you, or talks down to you, then this is a clear sign that the therapist has his own unresolved issues and is taking them out on you.
- Your therapist should be able to handle whatever you throw at her. One of the most valuable things I learned in grad school is that you can only take your clients as far as you’ve gone yourself. Your therapist should know what it feels like to be the client and should have worked through her own issues. If you find that your therapist gets squeamish or changes the subject when you bring up certain topics, then these could be signs that she’s uncomfortable—and, ethically, she has a responsibility to refer you to someone else.
- Your therapist is not your friend. While you should feel comfortable and safe with your therapist, it is his responsibility to uphold certain professional boundaries. Your therapist should not meet with you casually outside of sessions, engage in an intimate relationship with you, or force upon you unwanted attention, such as hugging you, touching you, or otherwise invading your personal space.
- Your therapist should be more interested in your problems than her own. While some self-disclosure on your therapist’s part is OK if it enhances the therapeutic relationship or process, your therapist should never talk incessantly about herself, rely on you to console her, or try to force you to follow her agenda.
- Your therapist should be professional. He works for you. This means that he should show up on time and be fully present during your appointment. He should not eat in front of you, nod off when you’re talking, or answer the phone during sessions.
- Your therapist’s job is to eventually work herself out of a job. While some people require or even enjoy long-term therapy, others benefit from short-term support. Some of the goals of therapy are to help you develop new coping skills and a healthy support system outside of therapy. Your therapist’s focus needs to be on helping you get better, not keeping you indefinitely to fulfill her own financial needs.
- Your therapist must be sensitive to your race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and so on. We live in a very diverse, multicultural society, and while therapists can’t be expected to be experts on every single culture, they should be respectful to and comfortable with people from all walks of life.
- Your therapist should not only be a good listener, but he should also be able to help you gain personal insight, develop healthy coping skills, change unhelpful thinking styles and behaviors, establish healthy boundaries, strengthen relationships, and attain overall personal growth and happiness with your life.
Where Can I Find a Therapist?
- Ask trusted friends, family members, or colleagues if they know a therapist they would recommend.
- Get a referral from your doctor or insurance company. Be advised that not all insurance companies will cover therapy without a mental-illness diagnosis, and if there is a diagnosis, keep in mind that this can stay on your permanent record! For these reasons, plus the ability to ensure confidentiality, some therapists are private pay only.
- Check out the following online directories: