1. Great Therapists Are Where You Find Them
It does not matter what the person's training is. Intelligent, insightful, empathetic people with a sense of humor and of boundaries appear with anything from a nursing degree to an MD and ten years of psychoanalytic training. On the other hand, a person whose only training is a crazy mother, a weekend of reflexology, and a fondness for dream interpretation is not a great bet. The Internet has made it easy to look up anyone and see if they got their degree out of a Cracker Jack box or have been convicted of a crime. The bad news is that the only way to know if you have the wrong therapist is to sit with that person. And even then, you may not be sure if the problem is her or you... ever. But if the problem persists over months, it's probably time to stop—no matter where the fault lies. (You don't have to blame the oil or the water for not mixing.)
2. Therapy Is Not—By and Large—Fun
A shrink who has candy in bowls, delightful music playing, handknit afghans on the couch, and a tendency to compliment you on everything from your outfits to your high I.Q. is not doing her job. (Unless you came into therapy saying, "I don't give a damn how I get in my own way, just make me feel better"—in which case, you have found the perfect therapist. You may also want to consider gigolos and recreational drug use.)
3. Your Therapist Is Not a Friend
Don't get me started on how much your therapist is not a lover, or anything that even resembles a lover. Back rubs, lunch dates, and flirty e-mails are not part of the deal. The deal is: safety, security, and structure. A therapist who doesn't know this is an actual menace to you.
4. Time Is of the Essence
A therapist who can't start on time, can't end on time, who screws up your appointment more than once (you have to cut these people some slack), who needs to eat lunch while you talk, who takes phone calls during your session, or who in any way indicates that every minute of your session is not deeply important is not for you. If you really like the person anyway, bring this issue up. If things do not dramatically improve immediately, bail.
5. Nothing Wrong with Nuts
An eccentric therapist (tatty old furniture, orthopedic sandals worn with leopard-skin bustiers, or walls decorated with elk heads) is not necessarily a bad one. People do not become therapists because they are profoundly normal. If what comes out is sensible and sensitive, don't worry too much about the trappings. (If what comes out is "In a past life, I was burned at the stake" or "On my planet, we do things differently," head for the hills.)
We Hear You!