10 Signs You’ve Chosen the Right Therapist
10 Signs You’ve Chosen the Right Therapist
Written by Jessica McEachern
With so many to choose from, it can be difficult to find the right therapist for you. Here are 10 signs that you’ve found the right fit.
- You look forward to therapy. This might seem like an obvious one, but it’s easy to fall into the “trust the expert” mentality. Don’t get me wrong, therapy is not always comfortable — but if you are dreading walking into your therapist’s office for days before your scheduled appointment, it might be a sign that it’s not working for you. Nervousness is one thing, but gut-wrenching dread is another. If this describes how you feel about your therapist, it may be a sign that something isn’t right.
- Your goals and priorities begin to shift. Most people come into therapy with an idea of how they might want their life to change for the better, even if it’s a vague one. Increasing motivation, improving their relationships, or decreasing symptoms of anxiety and/or depression are just a few examples of therapy goals. What some don’t know about therapy is that with good work, your goals tend to change. This is because increased awareness can cause us to realize that our original issues were actually the top layer, masking the more fundamental issues lurking underneath. An example might be that an individual comes to therapy because she is having panic attacks at work. She tells the therapist that she wants to learn some coping strategies, in order to reduce her anxiety. After several sessions, she begins to realize that her anxiety actually stems from a dysfunctional relationship with her husband, who makes her feel guilty about choosing to work instead of spending more time at home with her kids. At this point, therapy tends to shift gears as the client realizes what is actually at the root of the problem. So if your goals tend to change in therapy, it can be a sign that the relationship is helping you to reflect on the deeper levels of your psyche.
- You sometimes leave therapy feeling off-balance. This may seem counter-intuitive to the first point, but let me explain. As mentioned above, therapy is not always comfortable. It can be painful sometimes, although as therapists, we have a responsibility to tread with caution. Your therapist has likely realized ages ago what the real issue is, but it’s not as simple as just blurting it out to you. We need to proceed obliquely, so that you come to the realization yourself. Sometimes your therapist will “push” you if they feel you’ve become stuck. It’s part of our job if things begin going in circles. This can feel off-putting, as if someone is showing you a truth you’re not quite ready to see. The realizations that we have about ourselves are not always flattering, but they are important nonetheless. If you sometimes leave therapy feeling more vulnerable than when you arrived, it can mean that you’ve stumbled upon something very important. Just make sure that you feel comfortable expressing your feelings of vulnerability with your therapist, as ruptures in the relationship can sometimes happen at this point.
- You feel comfortable enough to discuss your feelings about your therapist together, without fear of judgment or of hurting their feelings. As referenced in the last point, it is important to be able to talk about your relationship with your therapist when you feel vulnerable. Good therapists will ask their clients for feedback about how they are working together, in order to make sure the client feels good about the way things are going. This builds trust between client and therapist, and it’s a unique aspect of the therapy relationship that can be beneficial to the client in so many ways. The best therapists in the world might sometimes hurt your feelings, piss you off, or embarrass you without realizing it. We are all human, after all. But a good therapist will be willing to talk about it and take feedback from you, without becoming defensive or offended by it.
- You laugh with your therapist. This varies, but it’s generally a good sign if you and your therapist can share a laugh together. This signifies ease in the relationship and warmth toward one another. Although, if you are a particularly stoic person, you may find yourself matching better with an equally stoic therapist. As previously stated, your miles may vary with this one.
- You feel that your therapist is genuine with their feelings. Nobody likes having to second-guess how their therapist is feeling. If you feel like your therapist actively tries to hide their emotions from you instead of expressing them, then this is a bad sign.
- Your therapist sometimes asks you questions that you think are irrelevant to the problem at hand. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard the phrase: “Why are we talking about this? I thought we were here for (insert issue here)”. This tendency for therapists to pick up on seemingly irrelevant details can be maddening for some clients, but I can guarantee that there’s an important process at work here. The influential psychologist and author Irvin Yalom said “never trust indifference” in therapy. If there is a lack of curiosity about a particular topic in your life, this usually means that it’s an important issue to explore. We often construct “mental road blocks” to avoid reflecting on painful truths. A lack of curiosity in a typically curious person is a major red flag, and a good therapist will attempt to broach the topic with you in order to get to the bottom of what’s really going on.
- If your therapist gives you advice or homework, it makes sense to you and you don’t feel frustrated by it. A lot of therapy literature discourages giving advice altogether, but I tend to disagree. Sometimes advice can be helpful, but not when it’s given too early. It’s important that you feel like your therapist understands your situation on an emotional level before any attempt to give advice is made. If your therapist tries to give you advice before you feel completely understood by them, then this signifies that they aren’t willing to feel your pain with you. It’s an attempted short-cut in a realm where short-cuts don’t exist. You shouldn’t feel pressured to “get better” just because your therapist wants you to.
- Your therapist takes care of themselves. If your therapist takes breaks and engages in a healthy lifestyle, this means that they are coming to your sessions fully charged and ready to give you their full attention. It can be irritating and scary when your therapist goes on vacation or becomes unavailable to you for a time, but this means that they are practicing adequate self-care. If your therapist is constantly on call, appears fatigued, and doesn’t seem to have much of a life outside of the office, then it probably means they aren’t able to give you 100% in your sessions together. This is a disservice to them, and to you. Plus, a therapist who practices self-care will be able help you establish your own self-care routine.
- You take an active role in co-creating your treatment plan. Good therapists understand that your feedback is essential in creating a treatment plan that works for you. You shouldn’t feel like a round peg attempting to fit into a square hole. If something isn’t working for you, your therapist should be flexible enough to accommodate your unique needs and personality. The treatment should be designed to fit your needs, not the other way around.
If you feel like your therapist brings these 10 things to the table, then there’s a good chance that you’ve found someone you can work well with. If you have concerns about how therapy is going, don’t be afraid to talk about it with your therapist. If something feels “off”, a constructive conversation can alleviate the problem, as well as increase the bond between therapist and client. Your therapist may be the expert in the field, but don’t forget that you are the expert in you.