Interview with a psychotherapist: how to find your doctor

Before the first session, the therapist is uncomfortable: where to start a conversation? How to tell if the doctor doesn’t like it? Therapy is definitely not for the “crazy”? Author Anjali Pinto went through it herself, and then decided to interview her therapist to help all of us to stop being afraid of the prefix “psycho”, long conversations and tears in the doctor’s office.

Anjali Pinto is a writer and photographer based in Chicago. Her photographs and essays are published in The Washington Post, Harper’s Bazaar, and Rolling Stone. 

Several years ago, Anjali’s husband died unexpectedly. From that moment on, for a year, she posted photos every day on Instagram and wrote about her life without him. 

It took her several months to decide to go to a psychotherapist. For some more time she was looking for the “right” specialist. And when I found it, I decided to talk to him publicly so that other people could also choose the psychotherapist that was right for them.

– I found you on the recommendation of a friend who visits a psychotherapist, but not everyone can find a specialist in this way. Where should you start your search?

– The best way to find a therapist is to ask friends, search online and look at referral sites. It is worth reading what psychologists say on their pages and choosing what attracts and interests you more. 

At the first meeting, you meet the therapist. If you don’t like something or you feel that this is not your person, you should not negotiate the next session. Better to say: “This does not suit me, I want to try with someone else.” It is possible to talk to several therapists before you meet someone suitable.

I tell all my clients that compatibility with the therapist is very important. You need someone who will match you on a personal level, who will be caring and compassionate the way you need it, and who will test you as much as you want it. A specialist may not be the right fit for you, and that’s fine. A good therapist understands this.

– Is it possible to advise online therapy for those who cannot afford full-time practice?

– To be honest, I don’t know much about it. But I’m not a big fan of pen therapy, because an important part of the practice is personal relationships. Even in silence, there can be therapeutic healing, and the texts appear to be faceless. 

But I think video chats are effective. Choosing a therapist for video sessions is the same as choosing a therapist – get acquainted and see if he is right for you. If not, look for a new one.

Online services for finding a psychotherapist

Alter – 146 psychologists, 2 rubles – the average price for a consultation.

B17 is the largest base of psychotherapists. Specialists conduct free demo consultations. 

“Meta” – if the first psychotherapist does not fit, they will pick up another one for free.

– I am a woman of color and I identify myself as queer (queer is a person whose sexuality does not fit into existing gender stereotypes. – Note. Ed.). In the introductory session with my first therapist, I felt that the woman sitting opposite did not understand me.

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– Unfortunately, it is the client’s responsibility to find a therapist who adheres to certain values. As I said before, don’t be afraid to tell the therapist what you are looking for frankly at the first contact.

“This is exactly what I did after my first failed experiment. She bluntly stated, “Hi, I’m an atheist, queer, black woman, and my husband is dead. I want to make sure that your practice will make all aspects of my personality feel comfortable. “

– Yes! Just communicate it and rate the therapist’s response – how open and accepting he is. On my website, I say that I will create a safe environment for everyone, regardless of their lifestyle.

– I can easily refuse, so after the first unsuccessful meeting, I calmly sent the therapist an e-mail with apologies and asked to cancel the second session, because I did not feel the connection with him.

“You could just say, ‘I have to cancel our next meeting and don’t want to plan our schedule yet.’

– When we first met, it was difficult for me to tell my story right away. It was impossible to lay down everything that happened to me in 60 or 90 minutes. What to do at the first meeting for those whose problems span months, years, or maybe the whole childhood or marriage?

“In our situation, you have told enough to understand your story in general terms. It will take more time for someone who needs to talk about their childhood. Firstly, it is impossible to tell everything at once, and secondly, you need to go at your own pace.

I remember how at our first meeting I asked if you felt okay talking about your husband’s death. I was worried that you shared too much and would leave feeling that it was too hard for you. Every time I consult a person with trauma, I remind him: it’s okay if he doesn’t tell everything during this session, we still have time. It’s a natural process to get to know each other and immerse yourself in history.

Part of the healing process consists precisely in recounting what happened, reliving situations anew. It is not as easy as writing everything down on a piece of paper and letting the therapist read it. You told how you turned on the sound of the ambulance siren in your home after Jacob’s death. It was a strong moment that I also experienced with you. It took you a while to get comfortable and start sharing your story. 

– I understood that I would go to a therapist after my husband died. But I have been preparing for this for five or six months. It scared me that I had to be honest and vulnerable in front of a stranger. How to relax and prepare for the first visit for those who need help for a long time, but are afraid to go to therapy?

– There may be a thousand obstacles on the way to therapy, you just need to understand what exactly is holding you back. Anxiety manifests itself in different ways for everyone. For example, I am always worried about parking. When I ask, “How is the parking lot in your office?” – I feel that I am in control of the situation, and imagine how I get to the therapist. This makes the situation less stressful and intimidating. 

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You should feel safe and comfortable in the presence of a therapist. As you tune in for your first session, reflect on your expectations and cheer yourself up. Seeking help is a bold move. Remember that you are in control of the situation. If you don’t like the first session, you can never come back.

– What do you think is the most important misconception about psychotherapy?

– The fact that therapy is intended only for “crazy” people. The media portrays therapists as scary, cold, and fake people. In fact, most professionals adore their clients in a good way. We chose this profession because we love to see our clients succeed, come to understand their lives, learn to make bold decisions and calmly react to their mistakes.

Some believe that therapists are not interested in their clients, but only watch the clock and at a certain time put people out the door. But this is not the case. 

I have the best job in the world, I do exactly what I think is necessary, and I enjoy it. I learn from clients and am proud of my work. I’m sure most psychotherapists feel the same way. I am happy for people who take risks and start therapy. I want my clients to be happy.

– I have friends who don’t like their therapists. Perhaps they do not fit together, or over time, their sessions have ceased to make sense. What exactly should the client expect from their therapist? Some people cannot immediately assess their compatibility, especially if they have not previously been involved in psychotherapy.

– This is a great question. The answer is vague – you just have to enjoy talking to your therapist. To test, you can answer yourself one question: are you sure that you are working with your own needs, and not with those chosen by the therapist?

Another way is to look at your progress. Does your therapist ask uncomfortable questions and help you look at the problem from a different angle? The classic trick is that we just nod and say “uh-huh.” 

Part of my job is to listen to clients, and part is to help them understand themselves. I ask questions, I try to push them so that they do not doubt in other situations. I’m not just a friend, I ask awkward questions and offer insights that they might not have come to on their own.

On the client’s side, therapy should not be just a story: first this happened, then this. Yes, sometimes you just need to tell what is happening in your life. But we also need sessions with questions and introspection. They discuss and study what you are dealing with and what you are trying to understand.

– Before therapy, I did not understand the uniqueness of the relationship between the therapist and the client. I feel that you are my friend, but I know that I am the only center of attention here. And I don’t have to shoulder your problems and carry them home. With friends, this cannot be. In my opinion, it is indecent to meet with a friend and talk about yourself all the time without asking about his affairs. And here I can do that. I have never felt selfish about the fact that we only talk about me.

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– This is important enough. If a client comes to my session and says: “My husband and I had a big fight today. How was your day off? ” – I understand that he is worried and wants to check if everything is all right with me. But I don’t expect this from my clients. We need healthy boundaries.

Even in arranging this interview, I wanted to make sure you would be comfortable meeting in my office, because this is also part of your therapy.

It’s easy for people to show concern, and it’s hard for many to refuse it. They are in a world where you need to pay attention to others, so it is easier for clients to ask me about my life than to take care of themselves.

The good thing about therapy is that here you can talk about anything, and I will listen to you. I will not judge you, but I can express my doubts. And I will do it because I care about you.

– I came to you without thinking about how long our practice will last. I had no time frame. Will therapy help those who need short-term help?

– I think so: come, take the tools for solving life’s difficulties and leave. Everything is fine. I have many people who visit me regularly throughout the year and then take a break. And they return when they have families, face death or breakup. There shouldn’t be any pressure. I think that for people with a short-term problem, therapy can also help. You come for five sessions, get what you need, and leave with a sense of benefit.

– Is there something that I did not ask about, but you want to add it? How else can you inspire people to see a therapist?

– Therapy is a place where they will listen to you and try to help. The only thing you have to do is be yourself and want to talk. And my job is to tie your ideas together, look at them from the outside and see the whole picture.

It is normal to feel uncomfortable in a session, cry, or sit in silence. And some believe that you need to come with an agenda and a prepared topic for conversation. 

Talking frankly about topics that we find shameful or too personal can help us to shake off the negative power these topics have over us. Therapy helps to understand who we really are. It feels great and inspires to show others who we are.

How to find your therapist and communicate with him

  • Ask for recommendations from friends and acquaintances, study specialized sites, look for reviews.
  • When making an appointment, honestly tell the therapist who you are and what you expect from him.
  • Do not be afraid to ask questions and refuse a second meeting if the therapist did not suit you.
  • If you have chosen online therapy, communicate via video communication, not by correspondence.
  • Take your time and tell your story at a pace that works for you.
  • Don’t be afraid to look impolite by talking only about yourself.

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