As Astha stepped into the therapist’s office for the first time in her life, she was nervous and jittery. After a string of abusive relationships, she had finally gathered the courage to seek help. With hopes of feeling better and finding a solution to her many problems, Astha read some online reviews and zeroed in on a professional who met her criteria and budget. The one-hour session turned out to be an absolute disaster as Astha felt judged and not heard. Not only she didn’t feel better after the session, but she also experienced increased anxiety and despair. For the next couple of years, Astha would flinch even at the mention of getting any kind of psychological help.
This is how impactful a single therapy session can be in someone’s life- for better, or for worse.
The term ‘therapy’ has various interpretations in every individual’s mind. Some might think that therapy is only medical therapy (physiotherapy, exercise therapy, antibody therapy, etc.). While for some, therapy refers to physiological therapy which involves an expert who listens, talks, gives advice, and helps the individual with their mental health.
While the first kind of therapy is considered normal in society, the second one has a lot of stigma around it. In a country where the conversations about mental health have still not come to the forefront, unsurprisingly, many people hesitate to consult a professional therapist. Moving on from hesitation & apprehensions, another problem that people face is to find their perfect therapist. Someone who is not only an expert at what they offer but also a non-judgemental, compassionate, and kind human being. While someone may think that isn’t that what all therapists are supposed to be anyway, the truth is harsh. Therapists are also human beings & it’s imperative to realize that their treatment/methodology might not suit you.
The struggle of finding that one therapist has often been overlooked. For the uninitiated, it’s important to understand that consulting a professional for therapy in itself is a privilege. Professionals with years of experience charge nothing less than 500 to 2000 bucks per session. So even after acknowledging the need of a therapist, people spend a lot of time hunting for affordable therapists with good qualifications and experience. The first filter for a perfect therapist often starts with keeping one’s budget in mind. Someone who has a good experience and doesn’t cost a bomb. This is followed by the preference of gender. Women and girls would prefer to speak to female therapists as they might understand them better. The second filter may vary from person to person. A homosexual may feel that a female therapist or a queer-friendly practitioner will understand their feelings better.
You have checked their qualification, charges, gender, reviews everything. You walk into the clinic, start talking and after a few sessions, you realize that it is not working. You and your therapist don’t share that bond of understanding or you feel your therapist judges you for your life choices. They talk back, give you unrealistic advice, and blame you for everything that has happened to you. What next?
Shakshi, 19, is currently a literature student at Delhi University. She has been a victim of abuse in her past and does not share a healthy relationship with her mother. Despite her severe anxiety issues, Shakshi has always been a bright student. She secured good marks in her board exam but was unable to get into the best college. She went to one of the most renowned therapists in the town and recalls-
“When I talked about my abusive past, she was supportive but when I said I had this feeling of never being good enough because I did not get my dream college and this had a long term effect on me, she took it as a joke and told me not to think about it. Furthermore, she went on with a judgemental rant about young culture (smoking, alcohol, and procrastination)”. She adds,
“I know smoking isn’t good but how am I supposed to talk to her if she’s already judging people like me. She belittled my problems. She said you’ll be okay by 2-3 sessions but you shouldn’t come for therapy for ‘small issues’. She also had a session with my mother and after that, she gave me ‘don’t use too much phone’ advice.”
Shakshi is not the only one who had such an experience. Damini, 23 says, “I once contacted this therapist who had a degree from Sweden. He was relatively new but seemed promising. I made a mistake by not doing my due research about his area of work. The first few sessions went well but after some time, I felt him getting closer to me and trying to hold my hands or hug me. I initially ignored thinking that this might be the way he comforts his patients. A few days later, he tried kissing me. I got scared and walked back home and after that incident, I didn’t go to him again. The incident made my trauma of being sexually harassed when I was a kid, worse. After a few years, I reached out to another therapist. My best friend took me to her every session. My therapist understood me and she made sure my past trauma did not affect my present.’
These incidents make us question therapists. They are the ones who we open ourselves to and be vulnerable. The clinic is supposed to be a safe space but in some situations like the ones mentioned above, things can go south, leaving a long-lasting impact on a person’s mental health.
So how do we know who will be a suitable therapist for an individual? Generally, the method which works the best is the hit and trial method – you go to various people and after a few sessions, choose which one suits you the best but if not, the following points may help you out. It’s not ideal and someone who is already suffering shouldn’t have to go through multiple bad experiences, before finding the one but this sadly happens to be the case.
It helps to do a little homework first. Jot down your feelings and then decide what kind of therapist you would like to talk to. There are therapists for psychoanalysis, marriage, and family, life coaches, etc. Look for what kind of specialist you want to connect with. Now, the therapist your friend visits and loves, won’t necessarily share a similar bond with you.
Amy Morin writes, while the therapist may have great skills, their work with you will only be effective if you feel connected to them. So the same therapist that made a great impact on your friend may not work out well for you if you don’t feel that personal connection. The therapeutic alliance is what matters here. There should be communication and willingness to work together.
Look for their qualifications and experience, read reviews if possible, and then consult that professional. It is important to know the person who you are going to open yourself to beforehand. Do extensive research about their career and if patients are happy with their service. Things might get difficult to find queer-friendly therapists. Generally, many therapists might get uncomfortable due to a lot of reasons. Therefore, try to talk to queer friends or contact queer organizations to get to know about queer-friendly therapists. Pinklist India made a list of such therapists with adequate experience with the LGBTQ people.
Finding ‘the one’ therapist is time-consuming but I promise you it will be worth it. Nobody gets their perfect one just in one go (well, luck too plays a role!). You acknowledging your mental health and willing to work on it, in itself is brave. Your mental health deserves a professional and for that, the above cycle is what will lead you to the one who is non-judgemental, trustworthy, and everything else you need. Hang in there!
The illustration is by https://ilariaurbinati.com/
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