How to Pick a Therapist, Part One

This week on the Allender Center Podcast, Dr. Dan Allender wrestles with one of the most common questions we receive at The Allender Center: What should I look for when I am picking a therapist? Dan offers several categories for us to consider as we seek someone to join us in the deep places of heartache and hope in our stories.

No therapist, like no human being, is perfect. No one’s going to be perfect for everyone.

First, Dan talks about the need for a competence that goes far beyond having the right license or degree hanging on the wall, and is more about an emotional competence and a resonance between you and the potential therapist. This is something that develops over time, but Dan says there should be some sense within even the first few minutes that the therapist resonates with you, is willing to engage your unique complexities, and is humble enough to be intrigued by each new client, rather than trying to fit every client into a rigid methodology or pre-packaged framework.

When I feel like I’m but a cog that’s fitting into the larger system that they operate by, I don’t call that competence—I call that control.

In addition to emotional resonance and humble adaptability, Dan describes the need for therapists who are bright and thoughtful—beyond book smarts or being up on the latest research, though that is important. “I need to know, in the experience of working with them, that they’re capable of thinking richly and deeply, with the complexity and intrigue that will allow them to enter into the labyrinth-like dimensions of my own heart and soul.”

Dan also discusses the need for therapists who have done (and continue to do) meaningful work in their own lives, who don’t rush their work with clients but also don’t drag it out unnecessarily, and who are capable of engaging trauma and the realm of the unseen. “I need somebody who knows how to bear my cynicism and despair without either joining it or being surprised by it. […] And I need for them to be able to live in the tension, the ambivalence, the complexity between my dependence and my detachment.”

Finally, Dan admits that finding someone who meets all of these categories is like searching for a needle in a haystack. So don’t wait, says Dan. Don’t wait for the perfect therapist who has everything; find somebody with whom you can begin to work, and take it from there—which is what we plan to address in next week’s episode.