How do you recognize a good therapist?

I’m starting to wonder if my therapist is right for me or if I am just getting my tendency to bounce on therapists again. I’ve never had a therapist I felt was really helpful to me but I also have never stuck with one for more than six months.

My therapist is a self-described extrovert and a lot of her suggestions are beyond my comfort zone. She wants me to find a group of friends who will be my support network whenever my husband dies.

While it’s true that I need more of a real-life support network, I’m not the kind of person who prefers to hang out in large groups. I don’t even know if that’s realistic for me. But I don’t know if her advice is good, even though I’ve never had a large group of friends.

I mentioned that I’ve never had a large group of friends and that I’m an introvert. She just wants me to find something (even a book club) that’s a group activity. I’m not sure I’m comfortable with or interested in that but I don’t know if she’s right.

I told her that I want to get a part-time job to get out of the house once my youngest is driving and I thought that would be really good for me for several reasons (seeing people, having regular places to be, earning more reliable money) but she didn’t say much about that, other than to have my kid ride the school bus and there is no such option in our school district.

I told her I wanted to break out of freelancing and she suggested I try to freelance for local magazines that might assign me to go to events and activities. How is that breaking out of freelancing? I want more stability and a job that lets me see the same coworkers every day.

The other thing is that I mentioned being worried about how I’ll take care of myself when my husband dies. Her suggestion was to meet with a certified financial planner now and try to strip back our living to a more austere level to maximize the amount we can save.

I’ve told her that I’m on disability and about what my husband earns, and I’ve told her that we were really broke in Michigan and are just starting to recover. We’re still not making anywhere near six figures and a lot of her suggestions seemed more aimed at someone who is.

This brought up a lot of old feelings of shame. We weren’t able to save money until now (which we are doing; we have almost two months of our rent in savings and paid off my car 2.5 years early.) I feel ashamed that we’re starting so late in life with saving. But our income is only slightly above the median for our area and we’re still paying on student loans. Most people in their 40s (at least around here) have much more income and have their student loans already paid off. And of course I’ve read many things about how people with much more income than us are still living paycheck to paycheck.

We’re doing well at keeping our new debt relatively low and trying to pay stuff off quickly. I feel like we’re doing the best we can, given the circumstances. But when she talks to me about things we really can’t afford, it makes me feel more ashamed of our failures during our years in Michigan. It brings up those old Michigan feelings about not doing well enough and not being able to get ahead.

She asked how much my husband had in life insurance and she said it wasn’t nearly enough to last me through my whole life. Well, no shit. That’s why I’m worried. She suggested that I try to get life insurance through a credit union and try to double the amount that we have. I checked into it and it turns out that even the “guaranteed life insurance” through a credit union still has provisions that prevent you from getting it if you have cancer.

I wanted her to remind me that I’m resilient and I’ll still survive, even if poor, on disability and my allowable earnings. I know a lot of people living on much less than we have. She suggested I look at mortgage insurance death benefits and I told her we were renting. I just felt ashamed of not doing better.

I wanted her to help me build up my confidence. She said that we can work on my confidence later because I have bigger, more immediate issues at hand that I’m facing.

But I really want to work at building up my confidence. And I want to get the most out of therapy that I can while I still have access to it. I don’t come away from it feeling reassured or better about myself–I come away from it feeling like I’m wrong for being an introvert and wrong for not having been able to save more money by now.

It’s not that I want a therapist to tell me everything I want to hear. I expect it to be challenging and even painful at some points. But I can’t tell if I’m just not in the income class she’s used to treating (she’s a licensed psychologist and says her husband is the primary breadwinner, so I’m sure her husband makes a lot more than mine does.) I don’t know if the stuff she’s telling me is useful or if her suggestions don’t apply to me because I’m an introvert.

I do have enough self-confidence now that I can advocate for myself. That wasn’t always the case. I intend to tell her some of these concerns. I just can’t tell if this is a therapist mismatch or if her suggestions are right on and I’m just being resistant.


  1. Dawn Friedman says:

    I kinda give side eye when I hear about therapists giving super direct advice especially new in the relationship because giving advice gets in the way of learning more about the person to figure out how I can really be of help. If I spend all of my time trying to tell someone how to sell their house (for example) I might never find out that the reason they want to sell their house is that they’re afraid their marriage is falling apart, you know? So that’s my take. Also that sounds like a lot of self disclosure right off the bat. I’m a pretty casual therapist but I can’t think of any reason I’d need to let a client know my financial set up for any reason. That’s not like saying, Oh I have a dog, too.

    Mostly though, trust your gut. I saw three therapists before I found MY therapist (who is now retired and I’m super reluctant to replace her because every therapist I’d WANT To see is someone I know so that’s not do-able). There was nothing super wrong about any of the others, they were just a poor fit. One was too chatty, one was too touchie-feelie and one was too know it all. Barbara was just right. I’m sure those others were just right for someone else but not for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Holly says:

      I was actually hoping you in particular would weigh in as I know you have more experience with this. And your answer helped me clarify what I expect from a therapist. I don’t necessarily want a lot of advice. Instead, I want more probing questions to help me understand myself better. I always thought that good therapy was largely supposed to guide you to find your own answers, rather than have them prescribed for you. And I agree that it felt like more self-disclosure than necessary on the therapist’s part.

      The issue is that my insurance only covers licensed PsyD and BCBA (the latter of which I thought was for treating autism, though I’m not sure.) My gut is telling me this therapist isn’t a good fit and I called a number of other insurance-approved PsyDs who weren’t accepting new patients. I don’t know if my money would be better spent seeing an LPC out of pocket or putting that money in my savings account instead. I know good therapists are out there but I’m losing hope in finding one of them!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Dawn Friedman says:

    That’s tricky with your insurance restrictions. Around here there’s way more of us with masters level training than with PsyDs so it’d be much harder to find someone but if you have good mental health insurance it’d be a shame not to use it.

    I hope you keep trying to find the right person; I know that there’s a therapist out there that would love to work with someone who is already doing so much on their own and just needs a sounding board to help them make connections they might be too close to see. I’ll add that I didn’t find my right fit therapist ’til I bombed out with three others. One was too wishy-washy, one was too shut down and one was too know it all. I’m sure they’d be great with other people but there weren’t right for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Holly says:

      There are way more masters level trained therapists here than PsyDs as well, which has made it challenging to find someone. But I’m going to keep trying.

      I really appreciate that you acknowledged the work I’ve been doing on my own. My current therapist was very surprised when I said I recognized my previous tendencies to catastrophize and have worked on it; she said she’s never had a client who knew that term. As I mentioned, I’m going to keep trying. I’ll revisit the issue of paying out of pocket for an LPC at year end if I haven’t found the right fit with a PsyD by then, especially because by then it will be clearer how J’s doing with the chemo. Until then, if you have any good books to recommend, I’d be all ears.

      Liked by 1 person

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