How to find the right practitioner or therapist | Michelle Dixon

I’ve been there – wanting help, but not knowing how to get started! 

When you are starting a journey of therapy, or healing of any sort, the most important consideration is whom you seek support from, and how to get started. 

I’d love to save you some time and stress by explaining a bit about  what can go wrong, why, and how to make good choices to increase your chances of finding practitioners and therapists who make an amazing, positive difference in your life!

>>By the way – If you’d rather get this {very long} blog as a pdf guide, just scroll down to the bottom of this blog and opt in!<<

There is a lot that can go wrong! 

Things that go wrong include: choosing the wrong therapist or practitioner, who either just doesn’t help, or who irritates you, or who costs too much, is too far away, or worse – who has no experience in your particular kind of suffering. 

When it goes wrong, you can feel hurt, abandoned, and re-traumatised. For those with trauma histories, the risk is that much greater, because early wounds can make you doubly sensitive to how others relate to you. 

For example, because developmental trauma often came from mentors and/or caregivers (more generally, those charged with protecting you), you might be prone to distrusting those with any kind of authority in your life now, especially those in a role of ‘helping’ you!

You may be hypersensitive to signs of disinterest or criticism. You may have huge expectations from a practitioner to ‘fix’ or ‘save’ you, and at the same time, be convinced they won’t or can’t, or that they don’t like you! At the other extreme, you may even be ready at any moment to blame them or bolt. 

Don’t worry, I get it. Yes, as a practitioner I’ve experienced all kinds of scenarios including the above – and I approach it with compassion. A good practitioner will help you to have clear expectations and they will have healthy boundaries … but you may not know that about them straight away! 

Aside from having healthy expectations about what another human being, no matter their training or heart-centredness, can do for you – it’s vital to choose the RIGHT person for YOU!

Here is some clear guidance about what to look for when seeking treatment or any kind of therapy for emotional suffering, including trauma, breakdown, relationship abuse, life crisis, and grief.

Practical Considerations

⇨Affordability: 

What can you afford? Do you get insurance rebates? Is there an online course or program that is better for you for now?

⇨Location: 

Do you want to be driving a lot? Can you do virtual (online) therapy? Are you comfortable with Zoom? Covid has changed a lot about our daily lives, and this one could be one thing that is for the better. Working online via video call can be JUST as helpful as in person. Personally, I have clients globally, and it’s still powerful to work together!

⇨Gender, race, sexual orientation: 

These are important considerations when choosing therapists, because not all trauma aware therapists are familiar with the unique challenges of some categories of trauma. You will benefit tremendously from having a therapist who has insight into the kinds of struggles you face.

If your trauma relates to your sexual orientation, or if you have suffered trauma as a direct result of being transgender, for example, you should seek someone with a track record in this area. 

If you are Black, there are aspects of your trauma experience which are intergenerational and racial. Resmaa Menakem is an expert in black body trauma and I’ve done his course on racialized trauma. If you want a free starting point to understand this aspect of your struggles, I highly recommend Menakem’s course. (I also recommend his book on this topic, My Grandmother’s Hands.)

Even my female clients sometimes prefer working with female practitioners – and even sometimes men want male therapists or just want to work with women. 

It’s worth considering your unique circumstances and finding a practitioner who gets you. 

Yet, it’s just as important to feel into what kind of practitioner YOU are going to feel most comfortable with!

Here are some other important factors to consider:

⇨Find a compassionate practitioner you resonate with and feel safe with

Multiple studies show that this single factor is one of the best predictors of success in therapy. 

You may need to have a session with more than one person in order to find this resonance! 

Or, you can cyber-stalk them (did I just say that?). Check out their videos, read their blogs, and feel into if you vibe with them!

Finally, if you can get a personal recommendation from someone you trust, and that person speaks the same emotional language as you, follow up on it! But beware …

Here’s a true story: I went totally wrong in this regard when I was looking for my own therapist (you should know that ALL emotionally healthy practitioners and therapists have also been or are still clients). 

I took the strong recommendation of my male friend who absolutely raved about a woman psychologist. What I didn’t consider was that he loves straight talk, advice-driven ‘therapy.’ He LOVED the woman he recommended because she spoke her mind and was super logical – it was the kind of support HE wanted. 

I should have known this wouldn’t work for me, because I wanted emotional support and validation. It was a disaster. She totally rubbed me the wrong way. I felt criticized, and I left in tears. My friend was dumbfounded. Lesson learned!

⇨Seek more than one practitioner. 

Yes, you heard that right. A counsellor or therapist is wonderful for helping you unravel your story of suffering, and giving you compassionate support, but there is more to do. 

I wrote an entire blog about when therapy isn’t helping you and why

I also talk about this a lot in my 6 Step Guide Healing Holistically, but I will summarise here: any kind of emotional suffering affects your whole self, including your mind, your body, and your sense of self (soul/spirit). Trauma hides in the body, in your very cells and tissues. It rewires how the brain thinks. It changes how you relate to your true self, your Wholeness, the part of you that is never hurt. This means that you benefit from healing on all of those levels!

⇨Seek an approach which includes the body – a.k.a., a ‘somatic’ approach, whether it’s bodywork or just therapy that helps you feel your body and be present with sensations. 

This is because, as I just wrote, the body stores trauma, emotion, and memory, these things cannot be left out of the equation when recovering. In fact, the body can effectively release stored trauma with the help of a skilled bodyworker.

⇨Seek modalities which emphasize ‘changework’ and assist you to change thought patterns and beliefs. 

This can be anything from hypnotherapy, to NLP, or even a good psychotherapist – but it’s best to find out first if the practitioner can create changes or if they simply rely on the exchange of talking and listening and self-directed discovery. This is because there are certain very powerful practices which can more quickly change the neural pathways associated with beliefs and thought patterns.

⇨Take your healing journey into your own hands. 

This massively increases your chances of experiencing success in your therapeutic sessions. It’s the same principle as going to the gym in between your weekly 1-1 personal trainer sessions.

If you ONLY exercise when you see your trainer, you won’t have as much success in your fitness goals as if you also work out in between sessions.

In my signature approach, I encourage practicing becoming ‘the Witness.’ 

There is a part of you linked to your logical, critical thinking mind which is able to see the traumatised self without judgement, and which remembers the experience of feeling Whole prior to the traumatic experiences – if not in your genetic blueprint! 

Certain practices can build on ‘being the Witness’ in order to achieve a healing integration between the Whole or “Witness” part of you and the traumatized part of you. This integration is the key to relieving symptoms in the longer term, so that your body remembers and embodies the experience of ‘Wholeness’ and peace.

What to Avoid

I know what it’s like to surf the web at night looking for help, advice and support (maybe that’s how you found me!).

I also know what it’s like as a practitioner to have a client come into a session with me in a state of disarray, disappointment or nervous system dysregulation – after finding the WRONG solution online!

There are some practices and processes which are fine for most people; but in an individual with a trauma history, these same practices or processes can send the body in fight or flight, or even into freezing and disassociation, can re-trigger trauma, and generally can make you feel miserable and hinder healing!

Many types of activities can trigger anxiety, panic or an experience of ‘energy’ movement (like kundalini).

In the traumatised body, hypervigilance increases sensitivity to all stimuli, and this means that many practices which work for non-traumatised people can re-trigger individuals who are in recovery.

These include, but are not limited to: certain forms mindfulness or meditation practices (not trauma-aware ones), certain forms of yoga, especially Kundalini yoga, energy practices like working with Kundalini, Taoist energy practices or Tantra, and certain forms of bodywork.

This does not mean that you should never try these things. 

Rather, it’s important to be cautious and recognize that trauma creates certain conditions in the body which require sensitivity, patience and caution until healing has fully occurred.

When you need support urgently and start to ‘Google’ solutions, here’s what to consider

When you are looking for a solution to a symptom, in the moment, it’s perfectly okay to look for a thought exercise, breathing exercise, or meditation and so on.

Whether you are reading books or searching on YouTube, the key is to choose activities to which your body responds with a sense of safety.  Of course, most material does NOT come with the warning “may not be suitable for those with trauma histories”!

My advice, therefore, is to try whatever you like for a very few minutes and notice if your body feels safe, or if you feel on edge, panicky, or begin to detach/shut down. If the latter, discontinue.

Be especially careful with energy practices, opening the third eye or the crown, or anything that is meant to trigger peak experiences. When you have a trauma history, the first and most vital step is to calm the nervous system, NOT expand sensation or consciousness! 

Whew, that’s it! It took 2 cups of coffee and a few hours to write this – if you’d like to get a pdf guide version of this blog to save for later or even print for quick reference, just opt in below!

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