It is becoming more and more common for Black people to openly share the benefits of being mentally sound. The best way to do that is to seek help through a counselor, therapist, psychiatrist or other mental health professionals. But recognizing that you could use the help is only half the battle. The bigger challenge is finding the right person to help you along your journey. If you don’t get a good match the first time around, it can be difficult to leave that person in search of another. When you’re serious about being well, however, sometimes difficult decisions have to be made. If you’ve been on the fence about changing mental health professionals, here are some signs you need a new therapist.
21 Ninety spoke to licensed professional counselor Theresa Rose to identify the signs and how to move forward in your journey toward sound mental health.
Rose says that a successful therapist/client relationship begins with the establishing a good rapport between both parties, called a therapeutic alliance. Additionally for people of color, cultural competency is vitally important.
And then there’s general competency.
“Not everyone is a trauma-informed therapist,” Rose says. “Not everyone knows what modality to use and won’t implement the right treatment modality, like CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) which is a very standard, person-centered therapy, narrative or psycho-analytical approach. It stems from not having experience or the passion.”
If there is a significant age gap between you and your therapist, that can present a problem. But Rose says it’s less about the age itself and more about an inability to stay current.
“That comes with not keeping up with the research,” Rose explains. “When you do take the exam to be licensed, you’re not going to be tested on what happened 50 years ago. It’s always what’s current and what’s trending. You have to keep up with what’s going on in mental health. And part of your licensure is to make sure that you continue education and research, so you can actually implement what’s going on.”
Lack of boundaries
Every relationship needs boundaries. That is true of the ones that exist between clients and therapists. Sometimes therapists can share too much.
“If it feels like the therapist is being the client, it’s time to go,” Rose said.
While it may seem like this goes without saying, flirting and any sexual advances are a no go according to Rose.
Therapists operate on different levels of objectivity. But if a therapist’s bias is too apparent, the relationship likely won’t work. It can prevent the client from opening up as they should and, Rose says, it becomes a barrier for them to continue.
Signs in the client
The warning signs are not only evident in the mental health professional, as the client you will also notice patterns in yourself that point to a stagnation.
“There aren’t any signs of improvement,” Rose said. “Therapy begins to feel like a routine. You’re talking about the same thing over and over. You’re not being challenged. Sometimes you’re not even getting homework assignments. Providing assignments really challenges what they’ve learned during the session.”
Additionally, if you find you have a hard time being honest with your therapist, that’s something you need to discuss.
“If you’re uncomfortable being honest–the therapist is judgmental the relationship is not going to last long,” Rose said. “Therapists have to create the relationship where clients can be comfortable. If they’re hiding things, thinking, ‘I don’t want to tell my therapist because she’s going to be disappointed.’ Instead, you should feel like, ‘‘I’m going to tell my therapist so we can process this and see what I can do differently next week.’
How to move forward
When you realize your current therapist isn’t the one for you, Rose says you shouldn’t be afraid to tell that person. It can actually do you some good.
“You can say to your current therapist, I don’t think this is a good fit,” Rose said.
She even suggests asking your current mental health provider for a referral.
“Therapists can make the referral. If the therapist is rude and you don’t feel comfortable, you don’t have to go back. But it’s common courtesy to let them know,”
Tips to finding a good therapist
Rose encourages people not to be discouraged on their search for the right therapist.
“Finding a therapist is like trying to find the perfect shoes or a nice pocketbook,” she says. “You might have to go to Marshall’s, go to the mall. Go to Nordstrom. You keep shopping around until you find the right one.”
Rose also tells clients to get curious before settling on one person.
“You can interview your therapists. Ask them questions. ‘How many years of experience do you have? Have you worked with people of color? What do you think about the Black Lives Matter movement?’ You can challenge them too. I don’t mind my clients interviewing me about why I became a therapist? That’s how you establish the rapport.”