What Makes a Good Anxiety Therapist?

Do you blindly put your faith in your therapist?Received an email asking my opinion on what makes a good anxiety therapist, that I thought would be useful to discuss here on the blog.

I know you had several experiences with doctors about social anxiety – including psychologists. My question would be: What did you find most useful? What was frustrating and didn’t help? And what do you think they missed?

Let me preface my answer by saying, I don’t think any professional set out NOT to help me.

I’ve seen so many therapists in my life, probably more than a dozen. Only 2 were good. One of those two was excellent. All the others were mediocre to horrible…

If you suffer from chronic anxiety and start to seek professional help, you will likely meet a colorful assortment of professional characters who may or may not have your best interest at heart.

I sincerely hope you are all able to find a good therapist who meets your needs and gives you the help and hope you so deserve. However, hearing from readers over the years, this is unfortunately not as typical as I wish it were.

Some people absolutely do not deserve to hold their respective licenses, in my opinion.

Addressing the questions above, here are some of examples of what was Frustrating and Didn’t Help for me:

1. I once saw a psychologist who was convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was sexually molested as a child and this was what caused all my anxiety problems. I didn’t think he was on target. He was definitely a bit of a nut case, and my thinking proved correct. About a decade after I was his patient, this therapist made the cover of the New York Post for bilking millions of dollars out of his patients.

2. Then there was the lady I saw who would not see me, or anyone for that matter, without having her very large and unfriendly rottweiler present in the office. She said from the beginning this was to prevent anyone from attacking her. The dog was very menacing looking and I never went back after the initial visit.

3. Next there was the psychopharmacologist who had me sign a paper on our first meeting stating that I did not have tertiary syphilis, and neither did my husband.  wth??

4. There was also a psychologist I saw at age 19 who asked very inappropriate sexual questions of me while I was hooked up to a biofeedback machine. He was a creep. He even had me bring in my diaries and he kept them for 2 years.

5. I also had a psychologist who used to hide my pills in her office in an attempt to wean me off medication. This put me int full blown panic mode where I almost couldn’t leave my apartment. then one day she announced it was her last day – she was going on maternity leave. Leaving me high and dry and very alone.

6. Then there was the female internist who treated me like a drug addict and made me show her my pill bottle and count the pills in front of her before she would renew my prescription.

I wish I could say I was making this stuff up, but believe me I’m not. I’ve also heard from many of you over the years telling me your own personal horror stories with doctors, nurses, social workers and other mental health professionals.

What do I think they missed?

A lot.  I think the majority of them missed the mark on giving me what I truly needed to hear so desperately (and I think I can speak for all people who suffer from anxiety here) From the get go, I needed to hear loud and clear that, regardless of how bad I felt, I did have what it takes to get better. Seriously, why don’t doctors tell us we can get better?? We are the ones who have to walk the walk, they are not doing it for us! 

Recommended reading: Why Don’t Doctors Tell Us We Can Get Better?

I don’t see a therapist presently but I do have a pretty decent physician. Still, he doesn’t offer much in the line of help or hope. When I told him a few years back how I felt so much better, and had much less anxiety when I gave up gluten, he basically said it was nonsense. He couldn’t have been more wrong- when I lay off the gluten I feel calm and very grounded.

Recommended reading: Gluten & Anxiety- Is There a Connection?

We all have such amazing bodies, with our own natural and innate abilities to heal from anything. Anxiety included.

Why did I have to figure that out on my own? Were the professionals I saw too invested in dollar signs or their own agendas to help a poor girl and give her hope?

Recommended reading: Do You Know How Strong You Are?

I think when you see your patient as a whole person and give that person the respect he or she deserves , it goes a long way in establishing trust in that professional.

For further reading on this topic, see: 10 Important Questions to Ask a Therapist When Seeking Help for Anxiety

Looking back, had I asked the right questions in the first place, I probably could have weeded out a lot of the therapists that didn’t help me.

For further reading on this topic, see: In Therapy? Questions You Should Be Asking Yourself

Also, if you are trying to help and treat people with anxiety and panic, you should also have your own personal issues worked out  (referring to the pervert and syphilis guy and the giant dog lady above…)

Again, back to the  questions at the beginning of the post, What did you find most useful?

I mentioned that I had 2 good therapists in my lifetime, one of whom was excellent.  What set them apart, besides their clinical knowledge and expertise, was their compassion and caring attitude.

These 2 practitioners truly acknowledged my pain and feelings. They seemed to have empathy for my situation and that made me feel good. The excellent doctor promised he could help me, and indeed he did. He was available for emergencies “after hours” via telephone, which was so important. There were times I needed to call him when I was having severe panic attack emergencies and he would help me. That was huge. I stayed with him for over 7 years, until I moved out of New York City.

Ok well there are my answers. The girl who asked these questions is thinking about becoming an anxiety therapist herself, possibly as a psychologist. I do wish I could be more encouraging with my answers, but I can only speak from my own experiences.

Do you have any words of wisdom or advice for her to be a good therapist?

I wish you peace,

Jill G.

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6 Responses to What Makes a Good Anxiety Therapist?

  1. maz says:

    Omg that’s scarey. I can add to that one the first one I saw said I wasn’t ill “nice”. The second one didn’t even come to our second meeting he sent a trainee social worker needless to say I was out of the door like a rat up a drainpipe. I actually wrote a letter to their superiors saying they should be digging holes in roads not treating people with metal illnessThen I found my angel who dragged me from the hell that was my life at that point in time. I think her biggest attribute was her empathy as she had walked a day in my shoes. She was kind and gave me tools to help myself. I am truly grateful I found her. And get this she did not work for the NHS (I live in england) she worked for a mental health charity who I phoned in desperation. All I can say is thank god I phoned them and found her. I don’t see her anymore but I can call in a crisis great service So be kind show empathy and give lots of information and coping advice. That just my opinion but I hope it helped

    Maz

  2. maz says:

    It’s me again I forgot to say the first 2 we paid professional. The one who helped from the charity had all her qualifications but worked for the mental health charity for free go figure

    Maz

  3. JillG says:

    I neglected to mention that the 2 good ones I had also had personal experience with anxiety. I think that makes a huge difference. Thank you for your comments Maz.

  4. maz says:

    You’re welcome sorry about spelling mistakes

    Maz

  5. Ame Micas says:

    Hello!

    I asked Jill about her experience with doctors and psychologists and I couldn’t feel more thankful about her answers and her generosity sharing them.

    It is very interesting that you conclude that real empathy and understanding play such a role in the therapy process. I couldn’t agree more. I have been asking so many people with different attitudes about psycotherapy and in the end the feeling of being understood is way more powerful than any truthful information about how anxiety works or why we feel so bad (even though is useful). Sometimes the psychologist is so sure about what they know that they miss the person in front of them and that is very sad.

    I love Maz’s comment: “I think her biggest attribute was her empathy as she had walked a day in my shoes.”

    And this has been the best part: “From the get go, I needed to hear loud and clear that, regardless of how bad I felt, I did have what it takes to get better.”
    This is something very few psychologists try vigorously to do, not to take control over their clients life but letting them understand and feel that they already have all they need to get going and this is just temporary help.

    I’ve been in both sides (I’ve been a sad patient and now I am a psycologist). And I have realised I don’t want to be another mediocre psychologist. I want to be a good one, proud for helping every person with whom I have professional contact. And if I can’t help someone I will try to advise them or suggest someone better for the job but I won’t take someone I can’t help misleadingly, it just doesn’t feel right.

    I don’t know Jill personally, I have followed her blog for some time. But I must say that in spite of how hard it has been for her or the bad experiences she’s had with psychologists it is motivating and inspiring how she is kicking and getting farther every single day.

    • JillG says:

      It sounds like you’ll be very good at helping people. Since you have lived what you’ll be teaching, that is also a plus, in my book. The best psychiatrist I had was married to a woman with panic disorder and he loved her dearly. Hence he was very in tune to me and able understand me and to help. Empathy is huge.

      I think this is key as well Ame: “And if I can’t help someone I will try to advise them or suggest someone better for the job but I won’t take someone I can’t help misleadingly, it just doesn’t feel right.”

      Best of luck to you!

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