Ok, so I get this question a lot! I spoke about it this morning on my Instagram story, but I want to give you guys a permanent reference point in case you don’t catch it because I feel like it’s a very important topic & one that I can speak a lot from personal experience about.
One thing I will say before I begin is that the answer to this question isn’t necessarily particular to eating disorders. I genuinely hope that anyone who is trying to deal with a mental illness or an issue they need therapy for can learn a thing or two from my experience!
As you guys most probably already know, finding the therapist who truly helped me recover from my eating disorder & literally saved my life was not a walk in the park, to say the least. And to be honest, I don’t really think it’s a walk in the park for anyone. Accepting that you may need therapy to help cure your mental state, whether it be from an eating disorder, a personality or behavioural disorder or anxiety, is often very hard. Once you accept it, it’s also hard to find the right match. But, do not despair… when you do, it’s a match made in heaven & it all goes up from there!
Today, I want to give you guys a few tips based on my personal experience regarding how I really knew that my second attempt at finding the right therapist was successful! (I know, they say “three’s a charm”, but for me, the second time was!).
I started my therapy at a private clinic & it wasn’t working out, to say the least. But, I have to say that I really noticed the drastic change & understood why it hadn’t worked out the first time around when I met my second therapist. Let me explain!
(1) First impressions do matter, but aren’t everything.
And that’s with anything in life. If you go on a first date with someone & it goes really badly but there was one little spark, odds are you’ll be somewhat inclined to give it a second shot & try again, right? I can’t say that my first impression of the first clinic was absolutely horrible or was a 100% “NO”, but it also wasn’t a 100% “YES”. I did get a weird vibe at my first appointment, but I didn’t let my first impression make me close the door entirely, JUST YET! I mean, at the end of the day, it’s therapy & I can’t expect to walk in & click at the first encounter & I can’t expect to think I’ll get results overnight. So I gave it a shot & continued.
But, eventually, you get to a point where it’s no longer a first impression. After 2, 3, or 4 appointments, if things are still not clicking, you need to start questioning whether or not there’s a reason why things aren’t working out & if there’s a reason why you feel like you won’t be able to make progress with that therapist. The reason why I didn’t click for me was because I felt like I was just another “number” (the same way they say you’ll feel that way coming from a small private high school or college & going into a huge public university).
(2) Your therapist should make you feel like he/she is invested in your situation (but not overly), like he/she cares & you should not feel like a “case study”.
The first clinic was specialized in eating disorders, but let me tell you, that doesn’t mean much. From the first encounter, I almost felt like I was being used as a “case study”. She hardly made any eye contact with me, even at our first appointment & was too focused on jotting every single word I was saying down. And yes, I understand (and it’s part of the legal profession too), when you meet a patient or client for the first time, you want to get as much of the information down as possible, but you also & more importantly, have to establish a relationship where you actually LOOK at your client/patient, show investment & interest in what they’re saying and that you’re not just jotting it down to add it to another pile of notes about other patients/clients. You want your client or patient to feel as though you are becoming somewhat invested in their situation & care about what they’re saying,
It’s safe to say that I wasn’t feeling it. I would sit there & pour my life & heart out to a stranger, which was ALREADY really hard for me given that I was very closed-minded & had a lot of walls up. And not feeling that I had her full attention made it even harder. If expressing your emotions comes with more ease for you, then maybe you would feel good in this type of therapy because expressing your emotions is already something you are comfortable with. But, that wasn’t the case for me. TO have that difficulty already & to befitting in front of someone who I didn’t feel was invested in me or paying attention to me, didn’t work. And I’m sure they are specialized & know what they are doing, but it wasn’t the right approach for me.
Had I not given this clinic a 2nd chance after my first appointment, manure I never would’ve known that this type of therapy doesn’t work for me or maybe it would’ve eventually worked for me if I had given it more of a chance. But my problem is that I was already in a position where my situation was really severe, so I couldn’t really keep giving it another chance. My health was at stake & I had to be mindful of that.
Basically, what I’m trying to say is that your first appointment might feel weird. You have to tell your entire life story (or some of it) to a stranger so that he or she could really try to understand where the issue you’re consulting for is rooted in. You can’t expect to click on the first try or at the first experience (& if you do, ALL GOOD). But, don’t expect to. Obviously, you have to gage it for yourself. Take the first impression & make what you want of it. Give it a second chance.
When I went to my second therapist, the first appointment was weird because he was male & it was hard for me to describe what I was going through because I kept convincing myself that a woman would understand me more. But, that really wasn’t the case. I realized, after my second appointment, that your therapist’s gender makes no difference. What matters is that he or she becomes invested in you, but not overly to the point where he or she becomes your friend (it still needs to remain professional) and that you don’t feel like a case study.
(3) Your therapist should be knowledgeable & preferably specialized in the issue you are consulting for.
Obviously, general psychiatrists or therapists know a lot about mental illness in general, but they may or may not deal with people with eating disorders on a daily basis. It’s one thing to be a general therapist & help people get through all anxiety disorders, or all personality disorders, or all mental health disorders, with generalized criteria. But, it’s another to be specialized in a particular illness & its treatment, such as: eating disorders, anxiety, OCD, borderline personality disorder, bipolarism etc. For me, the specialized approach was necessary.
I remember I would be sitting with my therapist sometimes & I would be trying to explain how I felt about a certain situation & he would finish my sentence. He knew exactly what I was feeling & what was going on in my mind. And I genuinely believe that it’s because those thoughts & feelings are things he’s exposed to & works with on a daily basis. He is actually the head of the Douglas ED Facility in Montreal & what I was going through was what he saw other girls or women go through every single day. And for me, that was crucial. I was already somebody who had difficulty expressing my emotions, so knowing that my therapist was understanding me, even finishing my sentences & helping my describe how I felt made me feel so comfortable, was rewarding & made it a lot easier for me to want to talk.
(4) Your therapist shouldn’t make you dread your therapy appointments.
To a certain extent, everyone has a dislike for or dreads therapy. Nobody likes to go sit in front of a stranger & describe their entire life, sad experiences, feelings, because it’s NOT EASY.
But, when I was being treated at the first clinic, it reached a point where I was literally dreading my appointments. I would wake up in the morning knowing that I had therapy in the afternoon after work & it would change my perspective & mood for the entire day. It reached a point where I would lie about even attending my appointments. I felt horrible because I lied that I went but wasn’t actually following through. At a certain point, I was honest with my dad & told him it wasn’t working and that I hadn’t been going (& thankfully, he was understanding). I wish I had told him earlier but I didn’t know how to. I was really scared, I was really sick, I knew I needed it, but I also knew it wasn’t effective, so I felt really torn.
I think one of the reasons why I didn’t feel like going was because I didn’t feel her investment in me. There was NO RELATIONSHIP. And that made it harder for me to want to go to something that was already hard for me. Think of it like a relationship: would you want to sit in front of your boyfriend or girlfriend at the dinner table if he or she was constantly busy on their phone, hardly looking you in the eye & seeming uninterested in what you had to say? I don’t think so. The same applies for therapy.
Then, when started seeing my second therapist, I would wake up on a bad day or after having had a bad week & I felt eager to go speak to him because I knew he would put things into perspective for me. I’m not going to say I was the most excited girl int he world for therapy, but I was eager to go because I knew it was helping me.
(5) Slow & steady wins the race: You can’t expect results overnight, but you also need to start seeing them slowly.
Unfortunately, a common factor when it comes to most mental illnesses is that people wait until their illness reaches a very severe point to consult: sometimes, it’s because they don’t want to accept it, they’re in denial, it takes a toll on their pride, etc. And because they wait, it becomes crucial that they start seeing results somewhat soon.
Again, you can’t expect them to happen overnight. The first two to three appointments are literally a regurgitation of you telling your therapist everything you went through & you have to get everything out there to help your therapist understand where your illness is rooted. After your first few appointments, you can’t expect to come home & feel “fixed”, no matter how good or how bad your therapist is. It’s a process.
But, after a month or two of treatment, if you’re still not seeing results or feeling mental or emotional progress & like you’re just not getting anywhere, odds are, it’s not a match. And, I know, it’s hard. You invest a lot of time, energy & strength in telling & describing all you are going through & suddenly, you realize you did it all for nothing. That’s basically what happened to me the second time around. It was difficult to express myself all over again, but it’s part of the process.
You need to monitor your results & you need to be honest with your therapist if you aren’t seeing them. Explain yourself. But most importantly, you need to be honest with yourself. If you’ve gone to 8 or 10 appointments & you’ve made little to no progress mentally & in turn, no progress physically or emotionally, you need to make a conscious decision for yourself that it might be time to switch therapists (or to at least take your chances with another one before ending the relationship with your first one, to see how you feel in that situation & then gage it out for yourself).
All this to say: It won’t happen overnight. You are literally trying to transform your psyche, perspective, way of thinking & get rid of the demons in your head. So, obviously, you can’t expect it to happen overnight. But, you can have reasonable expectations. You’re sitting in front of a professional (like you would if you were consulting a doctor, lawyer, orthodontist, dentist, etc.) who is specialized in the domain that you’re consulting for, you can reasonably expect to eventually see results & if you don’t, it might be something to consider.
(6) You need to feel like you can be 1 million percent honest with your therapist.
Or else… TREATMENT IS VOID & USELESS! At the first clinic I started at, I was assigned a therapist & dietitian the first day I walked in. I couldn’t really fathom or understand the idea of how I was being assigned a dietitian who was going to construct a meal plan when I was going in with a disordered mind & seriously not ready to start eating again.
I vividly remember this. I saw my therapist & after one session, the next day, I had to go sit in front of the dietitian who constructed this full blown meal plan for me & tell her that I was going to do it because I was scared. I didn’t understand: “Are most people able to come in to see their dietitian after ONE TREATMENT APPOINTMENT & honestly say they are ready to follow a meal plan?”. She didn’t make me feel like I could be honest with her & tell her I wasn’t ready. And because of that, I sat through every following appointment with her & lied to her telling her that I’d started incorporating certain foods, and that I wasn’t able to incorporate others. It was not effective, to say the least. I was still eating all my “safe foods” and didn’t follow the meal plan, not even at 1%, but, the worst part is, I had no idea how to be honest with her.
But then, when I met my second therapist I trusted him wholeheartedly. I can’t really pinpoint why. You either trust someone or you don’t. But from the get-go, I felt like I could be 100% honest & open with him about EVERYTHING. Sometimes, I’d go see him & it would’ve been a really bad week & he’d weigh me (& I’d turn around & not look at the scale) & I’d outwardly tell him that I knew I didn’t eat well that week, that I had probably lost weight & that I had a hard week emotionally. I was able to open up to him and really express to him the whole picture of what I was going through. I think that’s the crux of therapy being 100% effective, because there are so many underlying issues to whatever issue you are dealing with. If your therapist is not getting the full picture, how do you expect him or her to help you fix those issues? It’s really a logical question. Sometimes, the answer isn’t as logical because being open about your emotions isn’t easy.
But, when you accept & know that you want and need therapy, that’s something you need to work on. You need to convince yourself, do a lot of mind work & tell yourself that the only way treatment will be effective & work int he long-term is if you’re honest. Your therapist is exposed to what you are going through every single day. If you’re a shy person, it’s normal that you have a hard time expressing it, but just keep in mind that what you are going through is NORMAL & won’t shock or alarm them in the way that it would alarm the average person who doesn’t really understand how controlled eating disorder victims or anxiety sufferers are, by their illness.
(7) Your therapist should never judge, shame you or make you feel embarrassed.
This is probably the BIGGEST RED FLAG! First & foremost, you are consulting your therapist to help cure a mental illness. And unfortunately, as a victim of mental illness, I speak from firsthand experience when I tell you that I already felt judged, misunderstood & underestimated by society because I didn’t fit the mould or the norm for what a regular 26-year old girl should be. Your therapist should NEVER be adding to those feelings, but should rather help you make them go away & make you feel BETTER.
(8) From a professional point of view, your therapist must be invested in you, listen to you & be present in the moment, but your therapist shouldn’t become your best friend.
Therapy needs to remain professional. If your therapist becomes your friend, it becomes hard to view it as treatment & it becomes more of a conversation at at coffee shop. And yes, it’s important & great to feel comfy with your therapist, but not to the point where you & your therapist are on BFF-basis. You want your treatment to be effective & your therapy to be targeted at your needs and in order for that to happen, it must remain professional.
(9) YOU NEED TO FEEL RIGHT. You need to trust your gut.
Therapy is kind of like dating or starting a new job. You can’t just settle in a relationship or in a job. You don’t just settle into things because you feel “okay” or “fine” about them. You want it to be the right fit. You want the person you are spending your life with to be right for you because you guys jive together, your values align & things just work. You want the relationship to be something you cherish & love and not something you invest in simply because you are comfortable or because you’re settling. You want the job to be something that you look forward to. And, it’s the same thing for therapy: you have to fit with your therapy & click! And only you can be the judge of that! Are you comfortable with them? Are they invested in you? Do you feel they understand you?
All of these tips, combined, will help you determine whether or not the therapist is the right fit for you & that’s why it’s important not to judge it from the first appointment without giving it a chance. First impressions are important, but they aren’t everything. It’s like a new relationship or job, you have to build upwards & welcome the “new” & only then can you start judging whether it works for you. Of course, if the first impression is absolutely horrible, you can make the decision to move on & change therapists (relationships or jobs), but only you can be the judge of that & make that personal decision for yourself.
At the end of the day, if you do make the decision to switch therapists, know that there are only better, bigger, brighter & more beautiful opportunities waiting for you, in the same way that when you end a relationship or leave a job, one door closes, but many more open.
I hope this was helpful, my loves! If you have any other tips & tricks that you’ve developed or discovered on your journey through therapy, please feel free to share them in the comments or if they are more personal, to share them with me personally! I love love love connecting & interacting with you guys & learning more about your journeys!