Qualities to Look For in a Good Therapist
Have you already read part 1 of how to find the right therapist? If not, you may want to check that out before reading on. After learning about all the logistics of how to find any therapist, now we’re getting into the weeds of finding the right therapist for YOU.
You might be relieved to know that more than any other factor, the quality of the relationship has the most significant impact on positive therapeutic outcomes. In other words, your alliance and the agreement on goals is the most important factor. This leads me to 4 qualities to be on the look-out for when finding a therapist.
Does the therapist communicate with you in ways that make you feel understood? Is their language accessible and relatable? Are they interested in your experience?
Great therapists are adept communicators. They are able to adjust their style to fit with various clients as they seek to understand the individual’s unique idiosyncratic self. They make you feel heard, understood and felt.
There is a sense that they can reach in and help you articulate, conceptualize and process the most painful parts of yourself. This sense of being authentically and accurately seen and related to facilitates positive outcome.
Who drives each session and the overall agenda? Does the experience feel like a partnership? Is your therapist able to negotiate between directing and following?
If you’re part of a couple or family in therapy, the balance becomes even more delicate. A great therapist ensures that each member feels aligned. They skillfully support and enhance individual agency while balancing their relationship with each person in the room.
In good therapy, you and the therapist co-create tasks and goals meaningful and relevant to you. And they are regularly referenced and reviewed throughout the treatment process.
Openness & Responsiveness
Is your therapist open to correction? How do they address differences or conflict in the session?
There is a necessary amount of hit and miss in therapy. Communication and relationships are complex. This is especially true when you’re focused on exploring and shifting the most painful and challenging aspects of yourself, your experience and relationships. How does the therapist manage these misses?
Great therapists meet you where you’re at and press gently forward. They have a style that facilitates the deepening of your experience and understanding, while also attuning to and appropriately addressing the moment-by-moment shifts in the room.
Space & Direction
Is there a sense of a special space being created in therapy? How does the therapist balance acceptance and change? Is the therapist confident and communicative about their plan for the course of treatment?
Therapy needs to access various levels of your experience. Great therapists support you to reduce the distress and painful symptoms that brought you there in the first place- whether through cognitive, behavioral, emotional, affective and/or relationally-based interventions.
Therapy is not a panacea. However, if you’re not noticing improvement over the course of therapy, it needs to be addressed. In fact, your therapist should initiate this dialogue as a regular part of the therapy process.
Goodness of fit is a thing to consider when finding the right therapist!
Even when you have done your best to account for your needs – you were given excellent referrals from trusted sources, and have researched and verified the therapist- it can still end up feeling not quite right. Don’t settle. Trust your intuition and speak up!
It’s not easy to do this when you’re in need of help. But it is SO important to address this with your therapist. It is possible that for you this is a relational dynamic from your life now playing out in therapy. At any stage in the process, you can seek support in finding a better fit. A great therapist will welcome addressing the issue head-on, with compassion and without judgment or resentment.
If you are trying to find a with a new therapist, consider reaching out for a free 15 minute consultation.
All MCCC therapists are qualified to provide each of these 4 qualities. You won’t know how it the therapeutic relationship feels with you specifiaclly until you give it a try!
About The Author
Sabrina Gibb is a Maryland and DC licensed graduate professional counselor and psychotherapist at Montgomery County Counseling Center. She has completed Level 1 and 2 training in Emotion-Focused Therapy and recently completed initial training in Emotion-Focused Family Therapy. She supports individual, couples and family clients by guiding them to recognize and transform painful emotions, behavior and dynamics—freeing them to pursue a more fulfilling life and relationships. Sabrina is currently accepting new clients at MCCC.