Karen Wulfson is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with a private practice in Beverly Hills, CA. Please visit her website for more information: www.karenwulfson.com.
“What kind of therapy do you do?” This was the first hesitantly-voiced question I heard yesterday afternoon, from the man who eventually decided to schedule an appointment. What my caller really wanted to know was, “can you help me?”
In the 15-minute space between that question and his decision to actually make an appointment, something magical happened. At least that’s how I see each one of these “firsts.” That first phone call, first session, first time revealing some challenging personal history – for me these are magical gifts given to me by those reaching out for help.
I know it’s not easy to contact a therapist you’ve never met, as you search for someone to talk to, someone to help you manage those challenges life brings to us all. But yet, it usually takes no more than 10-15 minutes of conversation for most people to decide if they feel we’re a match and to decide if I might be able to help.
So – what’s that magic about? I’m always curious about what happens to quickly turn strangers into bonded pairs. What is it I do or say to let a caller know that I really do understand and that I have the knowledge to help him through those tough times? I can create some of that magic by paying attention, responding as directly as possible to questions, and by recognizing what I can and cannot do. I can help that bond by just being me – as honestly and ethically as possible. And sometimes, being honest and ethical might mean that I refer to someone else, when I don’t think I’m the right therapist for this person. And, I firmly believe that people feel more hopeful when they understand that I’m making an effort to learn about their needs and to see if we’d be a good match.
How can you decide if the magic is there? How will you know when it’s right to trust and when you should be wary? And, how will you know whether this person you’ve never met can be trusted to honor and understand your experiences? You are the one who knows yourself the best. And you do have the ability to figure this out.
Trust your instinct! That first call is a mutual interview, as you each decide if this will work. This call is an introduction to a therapist’s style. Pay attention to your inner voice. Do you feel welcomed and respected? Starting to feel that magic? Feeling that this just might work out? Do you have a sense that this therapist is familiar with your challenges and can help? Not all of us can help every person. It’s the job of both the therapist and the client to pay attention and to bow out, when it’s clear this just doesn’t feel right. Pay close attention to that little voice and you’ll know when that magic bond seems likely. Then use the next session or two to find out if you were right!