As I was talking to a friend today about my experiences in therapy, I realized that over the past thirty years, I have seen no fewer than sixteen therapists.  Sixteen therapists!  Of those therapists, the most effective and helpful have been my first therapist (1980-1984) and my present therapist (2010-present).  Some of the therapists in between were very helpful, although not as helpful as my first and present therapists; some of the others were not especially helpful but were well-intended and supportive, and some were downright damaging.  When I say “damaging,” I’m thinking of the therapist who slapped me when I didn’t stop crying and the therapist who let counter transference get in the way of helping me.

Why has my experience with therapists been so chequered?  One reason for this is that it’s been relatively recently that therapists have become aware of the effects of trauma on the brain and psyche and have become versed in methods for identifying trauma damage in their clients and helping them heal. Helping a person recover from PTSD and trauma requires different skills and approaches than helping people with some other sorts of problems, and if the therapist’s training does not match the client’s needs, then healing trauma damage might not take place. Thus, if the client’s needs are not identified and a determination made in a timely manner as to whether the therapist has the skills for meeting those needs, then a client can spend a lot of time and money on therapy before realizing that her therapist is not going to be able to help her effectively.

One factor that often complicates the matter of finding the right therapist is the relationship between therapist and client.  Finding the right therapist is not like finding the right plumber, for instance.  If I have stayed with a therapist for several sessions, it’s usually because I have some regard for that person and some hope that he or she will be able to help me.  I may like that person, and that person may like me.  If I hire a plumber to fix my toilet and he doesn’t do the job, then I don’t hire him the next time.  That’s easy.  But it’s not the same dynamic with a therapist.  Admitting that a therapist is not helpful may be difficult for a client, especially if the two human beings involved have positive regard for one another.  By the time the client realizes the necessity for finding somebody else, she may have been seeing the therapist for a few months or even a year.  By then, ending the relationship can be painful—another painful experience for the client and one that she or he probably does not need.

So to answer my own question as to why I have had so many therapists in the past thirty years—I have relocated many times since my divorce in 1983, and because I did not know until relatively recently that I suffer from trauma damage, I have had no idea as to the skills and qualifications I have needed in a therapist.  So when my PTSD symptoms have driven me to find a therapist, I have been handicapped by my own ignorance when choosing somebody.  Here are my suggestions to you if you are considering therapy but are not sure how to find an effective therapist:

• Try to set up a screening interview at a reputable clinic so you will have some idea as to the skills you need in a therapist in order to get the help you need;

• Once you have some idea as to what your problem might be, do some research on your own to learn more about your therapy needs.  Look at reputable Internet sites such as the Mayo Clinic site and the NIMH site and try to learn more about the sort of help you need;

• Get referrals to therapists who have the appropriate skills, and interview a few of these people; 

• If they have the skills needed to work with you effectively, then choose the therapist who seems right; 

• After a few months of therapy, have a frank talk with your therapist and discuss your progress and any other aspect of your therapy to determine whether you still feel good about the fit with this therapist; 

• If you do not feel deep down that you are benefiting from therapy, discuss this with your therapist.  Sooner is a much better time to change therapists than later!

My sincere wish is that you are able to find a good match and get the effective help you need and deserve without spending the time and money that I have spent in the past on ineffective therapy.  Life is too short for that! 

Peace and a long life free from PTSD!