Thank you very much for your informative column, I look forward to reading it weekly. I recently began looking for a therapist for my teenage daughter. The primary issue I think is her mood and she seems to me to be depressed. I did my research about the best therapists available for the problem we are dealing with. Unfortunately, all the more experienced therapists who were recommended are not available and have long waiting lists. There is an option of a younger therapist who has only been practicing for a short time that can see her right away. Do you think a therapist with so little experience is a good choice or is it worth the risk to wait for a more seasoned practitioner?
You bring up a few factors relating to choosing a therapist. The question of how to obtain reliable information in order to identify an appropriate therapist is multi-faceted. There are a number of aspects to determine, including experience, specialization, modalities used, personality, age, gender, and other personal and professional factors.
It might seem that the personal factors, like personality, age, and gender would be less important than professional aspects, like experience, specialization, and modalities used. However, research has shown that perhaps the most significant predictor of success in therapy is the rapport between the therapist and client, and the general therapeutic relationship.
Certainly, it is important to verify that a therapist has the necessary qualifications and experience, and that their therapeutic style and modalities match what it is that you are seeking. Nonetheless, it is crucial that the personal and social facets not be ignored. For a teenager, this is likely even more important than for an adult. Without a comfortable, trusting, interconnected relationship, the effectiveness of therapy can be limited.
You are considering a “younger” therapist with “little experience.” I don’t know how young—or inexperienced—this therapist is. If they have almost no experience, in general or with depressive disorders or with adolescents, this may be a red flag. If however, they do have a fair amount of experience, have good supervision (or peer consultation), and appear to be a good fit for your daughter on a personal and social level, they may turn out to be a better fit for her than the more experienced therapists.
Therapy sessions are significant in that they help us to identify specific problematic thoughts, feelings, and behaviors—and to help us recognize patterns, causes, triggers, insecurities, and various other elements of our symptoms. However, the vast majority of the actual work (follow-through) is done outside of the therapy session. For any of us, we need to buy into the process in order for us to be consistently motivated to do the necessary work. This may be all the more important for a teenager. This is often even more important for a depressed teenager, as depression tends to sap us of the energy and drive to achieve.
Although you definitely want to choose a therapist who has the proper experience and credentials, you also want to choose someone with whom your daughter will connect. Additionally, you don’t want to wait interminably for the availability of a more seasoned and recommended therapist, as this can cause your daughter’s symptoms to become more deeply entrenched. Depending on your daughter’s personality, maturity, and the result of discussions with her, perhaps it makes sense to begin with an available therapist, and consider switching to someone else if this becomes necessary.
-Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW
psychotherapist in private practice
adjunct professor at Touro College
Graduate School of Social Work
author of Self-Esteem: A Primer
www.ylcsw.com / 516-218-4200