How to Find The Right Healer or Therapist for you
It’s hard to find a good healer, therapist, or practitioner that really fits your needs. There are infinite modalities with mind-numbing acronyms (CBT, DBT, EFT, EMDR….). You often have to sort through long credentials and bios, and never truly know what you’re getting until you meet someone.
Taking a chance on someone with your emotional health on the line is scary and vulnerable. You’re putting all your pain, hopes, and dreams on the table with a complete stranger, often in your most sensitive moments. On top of that, all practitioners and healers are…human. We all have our own judgements, perceptions, and personalities that sometimes don’t align with our clients. I’ve had some pretty mediocre and pretty godawful experiences with therapists over the years. While I wish I could prevent all of the frustration and anguish that often accompanies the search so you can skip to the part where you really truly vibe with someone, I know that’s virtually impossible. What I can do is:
help you get better prepared so you search smarter not harder
get clear on exactly what you want and need in a healer, and
spend less time and energy on people who are not the right fit
Finding a good healer is possible. Here’s how:
1) Know yourself
Before you go on the hunt, take stock of what exactly you want and need. Write it down. You may not have a dating-profile type list of what you’re into (age 32, female, brown hair, likes puppies) but you may know what your current struggles are, what aspects of your identity a healer has to be attuned to, and what kinds of support you need.
Here are some questions to get you attuned to what you need. Ask yourself:
Do they need to be trauma-trained?
If yes, do they need to be trained in your specific trauma? (i.e. sexual violence, childhood abuse, family loss, etc.)
What aspects of you/your life do they need to be aligned with?
Do they need to be LGBTQ+? Poly aware? Sex positive? Do they need to be part of your religion, just spiritual in general, or not at all? Liberal? Have an anti-oppressive practice? What qualities do they need to have for you to feel safe and supported with them? It’s important for you to feel you can be open, honest, and authentic, exactly who you are, with your practitioner. If they are either unfamiliar or biased (at worst - discriminatory) against as aspect of you/your life that is most valuable to you - this is a big indicator of who not to work with.
Do they need to specialize in your specific need?
(e.g. autism spectrum, motor vehicle accidents, autoimmune disease, chronic pain?)
What core values/beliefs do you have that are related to your needs?
I told you the story of how one therapist I saw stated he’d only work with me if I decided to forgive my father for the abuse. This went against a core value I have around my healing which is - healing happens in your own time. You cannot force, rush, or push your healing AND forgiveness is not a requirement for healing. We couldn’t agree there, so he was a no-go for me.
Another therapist I had couldn’t get down with my intuition. When I told her I felt intuitively I should to talk to and help support a young friend going through a similar issue she balked “Oh yeah, WHO told you you have to do that? GOD??” While I probably could’ve used a quick check in about whether I felt ready to talk to someone else about the trauma, assumptions and judgements about my spirituality (which for that matter where entirely unrelated to a religion) had no place in therapy for me.
Other values and desires you may have for healing:
to be self-directed in your healing // to find someone more directive
to not be labeled, assessed or diagnosed // to use a specific label you agree and feel comfortable with
to be able to dive into mysticism, spirituality, or existential concepts // to be rooted in the material world, neuroscience, etc.
to explore multiple factors that could contribute to your concern // to find the root cause
to be structured, consistent, start and end on time // to be fluid and changing as things go along
It’s important to come into the relationship knowing what’s really important to you so you can identify early on when a healing relationship may not work due to a values mismatch.
What boundaries do you have that you’re not willing to budge on?
Do you need to see someone consistently for 1 hour a week? Do you need someone who is ok with you deciding to have a session week-by-week? Are there certain topics you know you won’t discuss? Certain details about your life you don’t want to be part of the conversation? (Yes, you’re allowed to have secrets from your therapist - what maters is whether or not those boundaries are serving you). Do you need to have video chat only sessions? Does their office need to be no more than 30 minutes away?
What do you want most out of your time with them?
What kind of support are you truly looking for? Do you want more advice and instrumental support in figuring our your dreams, goals, priorities? You probably want to look mostly at life coaches. Do you want to do more emotional processing and healing old wounds? You probably want to see a counselor or healer who helps people deal with tough emotions. Do you want more of a friend to talk to or people who are going through the same thing? A support group or peer specialist may be best for that. Do you want a specific protocol or plan to heal a certain part of the body or holistically? An integrative practitioner, nutritionist, or herbalist, may be a good choice. Know not only what you’re struggling with, but perhaps more importantly, the kind of support you really crave.
2) Decide to try a modality
When you get honest with yourself about the important questions, you may already have narrowed down the search immensely. Now it’s time to consider modality. While I do believe that the person is more important than the modality, choosing a practice that seems like a good fit can be a great way to narrow down what may align with your values and needs. Plus, you can find a great healer you resonate with, but the practices they use also have to fit your needs (e.g. your talk therapist may be a fantastic human, but if she’s not addressing your main concern, say - physical pain that’s resulted from trauma - that’s a big barrier to your healing). Clarity comes through action. Sometimes you won’t know what’s best for you until you try it.
Do a quick google search on healing modalities if you don’t know where to start. Make a list of modalities that seem interesting to you.
See if there are opportunities to try the modality for free or at low cost. (Up here in the Hudson Valley, we have our Holistic Health Community Day where people get to try out modalities for free)
When you do get to try it out, ask: Did I like/dislike this because of what was happening in the session or because of the energy/personality/actions of the individual?
3) Specialized or integrative?
Should you see a specialist or an integrative healer? Alright, I admit I’m a bit biased on this one. We live in an age of specialization. You see one doctor for your broken toe and another for your head cold and yet another for your chronic pain and another for your low mood. There is certainly a rhyme and reason to this - the human body (not to mention mind and soul) is complicated. You may have a condition or concern where it truly is best to find the person who specializes in that one thing. However, most of us have interlocking concerns that impact or are impacted by multiple factors.
You may be feeling anxious, sad or having trauma flashbacks and also stomach issues, chronic pain, and dealing with work stress. Or you may have an autoimmune disease, yet the specialists haven’t been able to “fix” all of the interconnected challenges like low energy, dissociation, and emotional pain associated with it.
Integrative and holistic healers and practitioners are badass because they recognize that in order to heal you can’t be compartmentalized. You are a whole person and transformation doesn’t happen just be fixing or mitigating symptoms. So my recommendation: find someone who has many tools in their back pocket, practices to address all of the signals your mind, body, and soul are communicating as interrelated, strategies that approach your whole self.
4) Don’t doubt yourself - How to know if it’s right after 3 sessions
Perhaps the most important point here is once you try something out - listen to your gut! Most people spend way more time with a practitioner they don’t vibe with and waste their precious time and energy. Part of this is centered around confusion as to what you “should” feel after a session or two.
One, two or even three sessions will likely not resolve your concern or problem entirely, especially if it’s something you’ve been living with for years, decades, your whole life. Healing is a long-term activity. You shouldn’t expect to feel “fixed”, transformed, resolved, total clarity, or 100% pain free after a session or two. Often doing healing work is non-linear and will bring up more emotions or pain, and this can be good and mean growth is happening. It’s also a warning sign to get more reflective on what you need if you go into a session expecting or hoping another person to heal you. Healing work is always our own responsibility, and the advice and support we receive should always go through our own internal gauge of what we feel is best.
So what can you expect if this modality or healer is working for you? Of course, it depends on the practice and the practitioner, but here are a few signs that you’ll want to stick with a practice/practitioner after 3 sessions:
You feel a greater sense of clarity on your concern or problem
You feel held, seen, and supported in a non-judgemental space
You’ve had a good release or cathartic experience in a session
You were able to relate to your concern in a new way, or had some shift in perspective
You have new tools or strategies to apply, some action step to take
You are building your tolerance to feel pain or discomfort
You feel you are growing or learning in positive ways
You are energized to approach this problem in a new way
Remember that all healers, practitioners, and therapists are all human. We are all flawed and have our strengths and our weaknesses. We don’t always say or do the “right” thing. If you have found a solid connection with someone, don’t be afraid to give them feedback so you can have even better sessions with them. If they are the right person for you, they will gladly accept compassionate feedback.
You deserve support from someone who really truly gets you. Do not give up, or settle for less, the right person and community is out there waiting for you.