After being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, many people seek help from an experienced therapist. But how do you find a great therapist, and what traits and training should a therapist have to help you deal with your issues successfully? Just as importantly, how do you keep healing if your therapist is no longer available?

HOW DO YOU FIND A GREAT THERAPIST should be answered first.

Traits of a Great Therapist

Not all therapists think alike or have the traits you might seek, so you will need to evaluate them carefully. Most therapists will allow you one office visit to determine if their qualifications are a good fit or if you wish to move on to another therapist. It is important to note that, initially, you might not like your therapist all that much or you might like them too much. Both are reasons to regroup and try to put the therapist in perspective.  To help you figure things out, there are nine valuable traits that make a therapist great.

  1. A willingness to validate their clients. Validation, in this sense, means that the therapist believes in your ability to grow, change, and heal.
  2. The therapist tries to understand your world. You and your new therapist have many differing traits, including religious beliefs, minority or majority status, sexual orientation, and family of origin dynamics. A great therapist seeks to lay aside their own biases to work well with you.
  3. They do not feel they are or act superior. A great therapist does not believe they are superior in intelligence, economic affluence, and other areas. Such a therapist treats clients with dignity and respect.
  4. A great therapist has deep self-knowledge and understanding. These counselors look at themselves realistically and exude confidence. They have undergone psychotherapy themselves as part of their training process.
  5. Great therapists have firm and clear boundaries, which are vital for each client’s healing process and as protection for themselves. A reasonable boundary is a limit set to keep the therapist from being manipulated or violated.
  6. A good therapist isn’t afraid to challenge you. Upon entering therapy, many clients have confusing and ineffectual beliefs about the world around them. These challenges buck against what clients have learned about themselves and their current thoughts. For example, your therapist will introduce you to shades of gray if you suffer from black-and-white thinking.
  7. Therapists who are good at what they do would never, ever allow a sexual relationship to form between you and them. The therapeutic alliance is personal and intimate, and sometimes clients mistake caring for love. A good therapist squashes any budding sexual relationships and sometimes must refer you to someone else.
  8. Great therapists have a deep-seated interest in each client’s healing abilities. Their disbelief that you can heal will show in their body language and how they treat you. If you find that your therapist is stuck in terms of how to help you improve, it is time to search for a new therapist.
  9. A great therapist is also trauma-informed, meaning they understand, anticipate, and respond to your issues and expectations based on your trauma history. They understand the needs of someone who has been traumatized and are aware of trauma’s consequences and how it affects your life and relationships. A trauma-informed therapist seeks to do no harm, avoids re-traumatization, and does not blame you for your trauma responses.

If you find a therapist with at least most of the traits listed above, work with this therapist. Good therapists are hard to find, especially in remote areas.

Traits that Tell You That You Need to Leave

There are times when it becomes necessary to leave the therapist you have chosen. While this transition is challenging, especially since you have invested your time and energy in the therapeutic alliance and have shared your intimate secrets, the situations below indicate that you must say goodbye to your therapist:

  • You feel judged and misunderstood.
  • You feel too overwhelmed.
  • You feel you are not getting better under their care.
  • You leave appointments feeling defeated and invalidated.
  • You must repeat stories because your therapist cannot remember what you said.
  • You cannot afford therapy anymore and need to seek therapy you can afford.
  • You don’t feel safe, motivated, or comforted by your therapist.

There are also positive reasons for leaving your therapist, including the following.

  • You feel you have developed all the tools you need to move on.
  • You feel you have reached the goals you were working on.

You may discuss your departure with your therapist in person or you can send an email, letter, or text, but don’t leave your therapist wondering what happened to you. Therapists do have feelings, and a good therapist treating severe PTSD or conditions such as dissociative identity disorder long-term will be left wondering what went wrong.

When Your Therapist Leaves You

A therapist must leave you for many reasons, including pregnancy, family illness, or retirement. No matter the reason, because you have invested hours and hours telling them about your situation and wishes, a therapist’s departure stings.

Most of the time, your therapist will begin preparing for their departure as soon as they decide to leave. If your therapist is getting ready to retire, they will know sometimes a year ahead. Your therapist must tell you as soon as possible so that you can begin the difficult task of mourning the loss and finding a new one.

Your therapist may spend the rest of your time together concentrating on their leaving instead of the therapy that would typically be offered. It is best if you and your therapist decide not to begin exploring new issues because you will not be able to integrate that experience long-term.

Remember during the leaving process that your therapist is a human being with needs. If they are retiring, they need to rest. Some therapists have worked for decades treating clients and listening to their problems. They deserve to leave their practice.

You might experience a feeling of great loss due to your therapist leaving. Because it is a serious loss, you may find yourself experiencing the five stages of grief. You may want to increase your exposure to friends or family at this time or find a hobby that will give you a distraction while you are searching for a new therapist.

Whatever you do, do not decide to try to heal on your own. It won’t work. You will just end up with a mess that only a great therapist could unravel.

Finding a therapist

Finding a therapist is difficult today because there is such a shortage of therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists. This shortage leaves potential clients on long waiting lists, which is not helpful, especially if you have feelings of self-harm or destruction.

One helpful thing in finding a therapist is having an idea of what it is you want from them. Do you have a specific problem, such as needing to lose weight or wanting to work on childhood issues? Have no fear; knowing and understanding what you want from a therapist is not critical, as many begin treatment just knowing they don’t feel emotionally well.

You need to examine how much you can pay. Will your insurance cover what you need? Will you need to pay as you go out of pocket? Most insurance requires a referral from your doctor. If you find you cannot afford traditional therapy, you might try therapists who exist only online. Their rates can be much lower than in-person therapists.

You can also reach out to your county mental health facility as they often offer sliding-scale rates.

It is vital to check with your insurance company and determine what mental health benefits they cover.

Where to Find a Therapist

There are many ways you can find a therapist. You can go online and get help from many therapeutic opportunities. While you won’t be meeting a therapist face-to-face, telehealth is popular with many people as an alternative for reaching help that is located many miles away.

Consider calling your insurance company to ask who they recommend you see in your area. That phone call can save you a lot of headaches, and you can be sure the therapist you choose is in-network.

Many find-a-therapist sites can help you narrow down who you want to see. These sites are as follows.

Good Therapy

Mental Health Match

Psychology Today

Better Help

These free websites can help you enormously in your search for the perfect fit for your therapy experience.

Ending Our Time Together

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder, like dissociative identity disorder, is life-altering and cannot be healed by the survivor alone. You need the help of a therapist to aid you in gaining life and moving on from the trauma that caused your problems.

With this article, we have examined the traits of a good therapist. Hopefully, you will use this information to help you find someone who is empathetic and a great listener.

We also discussed what to do when your therapist retires or leaves you otherwise. Losing a therapist is highly traumatic and should not be minimized. Sometimes the pain and grief accompanying losing a therapist can last for years, so your new therapist must be aware of that.

As always, I wish you well in your search. There is a shortage of therapists, but you can find the right person for your care with due diligence.

“Words of comfort, skillfully administered, are the oldest therapy known to man.” – Louis Nizer.

“When we’re able to share with someone who we do feel safe with, we can realize that these things that are happening to us don’t make us unlovable and aren’t anything to have as a huge secret and don’t make our future dark and dreary. Actually, we have a really gorgeous future, and we deserve love and safety.” – Johnathan van Ness.