Sadly, I have a limited database of like-minded therapists (most of whom are full), and, even more sadly, there are many therapists who can unwittingly make things worse – therapists who, because they haven’t don’t enough of their inner work and/or aren’t well-versed in the language of the unconscious and the myriad ways that anxiety can manifest, can say things that inflame your already massive anxiety.
If you’re struggling with relationship anxiety, it can be particularly difficult to find a loving and skilled therapist, for I know that many therapists fall into the “doubt means don’t” mindset and end up creating more anxiety for their already anxious clients. As such, I can understand the reluctance to start therapy with someone who could very well tell you to walk away from your loving, honest, trustworthy, like-minded partner as soon as you hint at doubt.
However, I do have some concrete suggestions for how you can avoid falling onto the couch of an uninformed therapist and hopefully find someone who can help walk you through your anxiety and your pain. For there can be no doubt that we’re not meant to do this work alone, and if you have the resources and impulse to seek help, I encourage you to search until you find a skilled and compassionate therapist who can guide you through your dark night.
While there is no formula for finding a great therapist, here are some general guidelines that might help you in your search:
- Ask about Doubt: If you’re struggling with relationship anxiety, ask the diagnostic question, “What is your opinion about the part that doubt plays in a relationship?” If they respond that “doubt means don’t”, you know they’re not the therapist for you. Keep in mind that even if a therapist hasn’t been specifically trained in relationship anxiety (as most therapist haven’t), that doesn’t mean they can’t guide you toward moving through your doubt and arriving at more clarity.
- Shop Around: It’s unrealistic to expect that the first therapist you call will be a match. Don’t hesitate to speak with three or four therapists by phone (if they’re willing) to determine which one might be able to create a safe place for you. Many therapists offer a 10-minute free phone consultation to help both of you determine if you could be a good fit.
- Trust Yourself: As you sit with different therapists, listen for the quiet voice of intuition that lives inside of you. When you can access your place of wisdom, searching for a therapist can be a great exercise in self-trust! I know “intuition” is a charged word when you’re struggling with anxiety. Please read this post for more clarity on the difference between intuition and anxiety.
- Look for an Open Mind: As the concepts that I teach aren’t generally taught in graduate school, it can be helpful to find a therapist who is open to reading about my work. Many of my blog readers have brought my articles, books, and e-course ideas to their therapist, and, if the therapist is open, they can incorporate these concepts into their work together. In general, you will want a therapist who is open to new ideas (whether mine or someone else’s), as a therapist with a closed mind doesn’t bode well for the healing process.
You should also have a sense that the therapist has done and/or is currently engaged with their own inner work, as evidenced by a sense of humility and a willingness to be vulnerable. A therapist who acts like they have it all figured out is unlikely going to be able to guide you effectively. I’m always amazed by how many therapists have never been to therapy themselves, and how many graduate program for counseling psychology don’t require that their students obtain a certain number of hours of personal therapy. How can you guide others through their dark tunnels and labyrinths if you’ve been too scared or unwilling to walk the inner pathways of your own psyche?
Above all, keep in mind that a good therapist-client relationship grows over time (like all relationships). Yes, they need to understand that doubt does not always mean doubt and they need to be skilled at their practice. But the most essential qualities are the ones that must exist in all healthy relationships: presence of heart, the ability to listen closely, and the willingness to learn.
Charlie Bloom, in 101 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Got Married, describes it beautifully:
At its best, psychotherapy creates a warm and understanding relationship through which we face ourselves and our feelings honestly in a way that allows us to heal from past wounds and accept ourselves as we are. It is the therapist’s very being, rather than their philosophy or orientation, that promotes this process. The best therapists are not distinguished by their degrees or credentials, but by their ability to extend themselves nonjudgmentally with openness, authenticity, and compassion. One doesn’t lean these qualities in graduate school but instead cultivates them through deliberate choice and life experience.