Finding a therapist is a very personal task. You are not searching for someone to steam clean your carpet, or searching for the best dog groomer in town. You are looking for that one individual that you are going to tell your deepest fears, hopes, and secrets. This person is going to assist you to find a healthier mindset in life.
While there is no secret formula and no two therapists that are the same, here are some of the most important questions you should ask yourself when evaluating whether a therapist is a good fit for you:
- Do they make you feel better?
Perhaps you haven’t worked through all your issues, but you are starting to feel some relief, sometimes that relief means now you understand the problem and sense your time invested with this person is producing results.
- Are they a good listener?
Good eye contact is just the beginning. You need to feel that they are hearing what you are saying and that they provide worthwhile feedback and questions back to you that furthers the discussion.
- Are they trustworthy?
The most important quality in a therapist is that you trust them. While trust is built over time, with anyone, you need to feel like this person is not going to violate your trust in any way. Are they communicating verbally and non-verbally as someone you can trust? In therapy, you should not feel judged in any way, and safe to share what you are experiencing.
Another important dimension of trust is you should feel they can properly help you. You are making a significant investment in your trust, time, and sometimes money. You should feel like this person has the ability to help you get to where you want to be.
- Do you feel understood?
They should not be talking with too much clinical jargon. They should be speaking so that you fully understand them. If you don’t, you should feel comfortable with this person to ask for an explanation.
- Do they express hope for your situation?
You need to feel, and the therapist needs to communicate, that he/she has hope for you. They don’t need to be a cheerleader, but they should point out areas of progress that they observe and show belief that this progress will continue.
- Do they seem qualified?
Therapists have to constantly attend training that will keep their skills and techniques current. You should feel that they are well-trained and not using an out-dated or ineffective/marginal method of treatment. You are strongly encouraged to do your own research on treatment methods and discuss them with your therapist. One of the first things you can do is to ask them about their training, they should be able to explain in basic terms their training, method of therapy.
- Do you sense a therapeutic alliance?
A strong predictor of a positive outcome to therapy is the belief that you and the therapist are in partnership. This is called a therapeutic alliance. This partnership is established on mutual trust and shared therapy goals.
- Are they a straight-talker?
You may have questions over why you feel the way you do. You may already know a diagnosis if there is one. The therapist should be able to explain, in a non-clinical manner, what your symptoms mean and what elements in your life contributed to those symptoms (for example, life events and/or genetics.)
- Do they have a plan in action?
After the initial meeting, what is usually referred to as an assessment or intake, the therapist should work with you on what they think is a suitable treatment plan. This plan should include the type of therapy to be used and elements of your life that they think should be covered. If you don’t know the plan of treatment, why would you comply with the recommendations of the therapist? Simply put, you need to see the map before you drive on the road.
- Are they culturally sensitive?
The therapist should always be aware of your religion, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, class, gender, age, and any disabilities you may have. In addition, if the therapist were to say something insensitive to your cultural background, you should feel comfortable discussing it with them. In return, they should welcome your feedback as a learning opportunity.
- Do they maintain a neutral stance?
While it is common for therapists to share their own life experiences with you, there should be a limit to this practice. Sharing similar life experiences helps the client feel like their challenges are not exclusive to just them. It also helps the client see that those challenges can be successfully overcome.
What the therapist should not do is share their personal problems or personal beliefs or values with you. This takes away from your therapy time and will usually result in less confidence in the therapist’s emotional stability. If this does occur, you should feel comfortable asking the therapist to stop and they should welcome your feedback as a learning opportunity.
One Final NoteFinding a therapist is similar to buying a car. You don’t go car shopping and buy the first car you test drive (maybe you do.) You don’t have to buy the first car you try. You may choose to try out several cars.
Finding a therapist is the same way.
You may want to meet a few therapists before you pick the right one. You have that option and that right. Even if you are several sessions in and you realize that it’s not the right fit, feel free to change. This investment in time and trust is too important to settle for someone that does not meet all your needs.