"How do I know if I'll like you and want to work with you?"

This concern is really, really common. You're not alone in wondering this. Although I rarely get asked this question directly, occasionally a courageous client will step up and ask. I know it's what I've wondered when I've been a client in the past.

Unfortunately  -- and you may not like to hear this -- the most honest answer I can give you here is
"I don't know".

The truth is that we therapists don't know just from your inquiry or your email whether we'll be able to work with you and help you.

This may seem strange to you, but consider this -- although therapists may list a variety of problems, issues, symptoms and disorders that they work with, you are not merely a list of symptoms. You are much more than that. Much more complex. You have ways of thinking about the world and engaging with it and people and this will show up in your work with your therapist.

We wouldn't dream of thinking about ourselves as the same as a car, but unfortunately that's what happens for many when they step into a therapists office. Clients want relief, and fast, and this is of course understandable. But you are not a car. And the process of getting to the situation you're in now took time. It is unreasonable to expect that a therapist would metaphorically "look under your hood" and pronounce the cause of the problem, tinker around for a bit, and then declare it fixed.

The reality is that therapy is work and it is an investment. Lets tackle each of these statements individually.

Therapy is Work

I'm going to step up and say the unpopular but true statement that all therapists believe but client's don't seem to want to hear. Your therapy is a space for you to do your work. Your work to explore what's been going on for you, to process your emotions, to unpack your relationships, to examine your patterns and your goals, and to discuss (and, yes, in some cases learn) strategies to deal with life's challenges better. Therapy is not a place where you go for 1 hour out of 168 hours a week (or 336 biweekly) for your therapist to fix you or figure things out for you. If you want lasting change, a life that is different from the life you have now, you have to do the work. There is no way around this mountain. But you don't have to do it alone. Your therapist is your compassionate witness, caring companion, and learned guide on this journey. They will walk along side you.

Therapy is an Investment

In this decade where technology teaches us that we can have what we want right now and for a bargain, therapy seems out of place. I mean here you show up weekly (or biweekly) for a meeting at which you do the work and where you pay a lot of money. I've been there! And when we have insurance companies offering to compensate for tiny fractions of the cost and for a limited number of sessions it can create the impression that therapy too should be fast and cheap. And if not cheap, then at least fast! Patch me up and get me outta here!

Well, again, I risk being unpopular by saying that this belief is a disservice to you, the client. Many clients come in with the belief that they should feel better after 3 or 4 sessions, no matter what their problems are - a belief that is fostered by some EAPs and benefits providers that imply that this is a reasonable expectation. This belief of clients then often leaves them feeling ashamed, disappointed, and dissatisfied when this does not transpire. For some clients it reinforces a pre-existing belief that they are broken or beyond help when this is simply not the case. This doesn't have to mean that therapy is beyond reach, it just means that some reasonable expectations about how long it can take to change one's life may help you persevere when the going seems tough and the journey long.

So, are you a fit for me?

From my perspective I work better with clients that come in prepared to do the work themselves and understand that therapy is an investment of their time and money. It took you a while to get to this place in your life and it takes a while to change for good what brought you to this point, so you don't return. So ask yourself this question - am I prepared to work and am I prepared to invest in myself? If your answers are yes (ideally to both, but at the very least to the first part) then you may be a fit for me and the way I work. You may also want to read a bit about my approach in working with clients.

Does that mean that symptom relief is off the table - of course not! But I see symptom relief as ideally a result of deeper work to change the underlying processes keeping them in place -- a holistic view if you will. At worst, I see symptom relief as something that can be achieved on the way to deeper change but as not to replace meaningful change.

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