Congratulations – you have made the brave choice to begin therapy and naturally, the next question on your mind may be “What do I look for in a therapist?”
As a relationship therapist practicing for over 11 years, and an experienced therapy client, I want to provide you the top three tips for what to look for in a therapist. The truth is the success of your therapy is largely dependent on finding the right therapist for you. To make your search simpler, and most effective, read on.
Tip #1 for What to Look for in a Therapist: Look for a therapist you “click” with
Therapy is a human relationship. And like any human relationship, there are some therapists who you will connect with more naturally than others. There is no problem or flaw in this.
Research shows that having a good connection (called therapeutic rapport) between you and your therapist is the most important determining factor for your success in therapy. Feeling a sense that your therapist is trustworthy and understands you allows you to make the greatest changes in therapy.
This sense of connection between you and your therapist is more important than the therapist’s years of training, specific models they use, or educational background.
Finding a therapist you trust
It makes sense that trust is fundamental to ensuring your success in therapy. After all, trust is the sense that someone has your best interest in mind. Without this sense of trust, it’s incredibly de-motivating as the client to keep working hard to change your life and heal. You will naturally want to give up and quit.
You want to find a therapist that you feel a connection with and at the same time, this sense of trust may take some time to develop. My top recommendation here is to search for a therapist that feels “right” online. Then, give it a few sessions before you decide if you connect with the therapist or not.
You may prematurely give up on this therapist and relationship because therapy can feel awkward. Furthermore, if you find it hard to trust others, you naturally will need to give it more time to feel this connection.
Don’t give up on finding the right therapist for you
However, after a few sessions, if you don’t feel a sense of being understood by your therapist, please continue your search. Sadly, I have met far too many people who gave up on therapy and healing for years because they didn’t feel an initial connection with a therapist. This is the equivalent of giving up on dating after one lackluster date.
You deserve to keep exploring your options. There will be a therapist you connect with if you persevere. You may also want to ask friends for a recommendation as they may have a therapist they trust.
Tip #2 for What to Look for in a Therapist: An effective therapist does not make you feel like you are just talking to a friend
In addition to feeling there is trust and understanding with your therapist, you should, at times be appropriately challenged by them. Therapy is a different type of relationship than a friendship. While our friends are often our cheerleaders who take our side, an effective therapist doesn’t always do this.
In the beginning, an effective therapist will likely challenge you very little. This is because they are establishing rapport. Yet, over time, if your sessions feel like you are just talking to a friend, you are likely missing out on some of the greatest opportunities to initiate your change and healing in therapy.
You should be appropriately challenged in therapy
You came to this therapist to heal by learning skills and tools to effectively manage the problems which led you to therapy. If you are never challenged, you will inevitably, continue with the same patterns.
An effective therapist does not always tell you what you want to hear. After all, we all have blind spots, and personal limitations which negatively impact our life and relationships. When effective, a therapist will gently honor where you may be overlooking a trait or pattern that’s limiting your joy and peace.
Discomfort allows for healing
Of course, it’s uncomfortable to be told things you don’t want to hear but may need to hear. At the same time, change and healing is inevitably uncomfortable at times because it’s pushing us beyond our current limits.
I’ll never forget the time that my most effective therapist told me that I was acting “desperate” in a relationship. At the time, I was shocked and offended. But a few years later, I was able to see the truth in this statement. Especially when years later this relationship inspired the article, 7 not so obvious signs of emotional abuse.
Tip #3 for What to Look for in a Therapist: You should be empowered by your therapist
Deep down, you have the right answers for you to your questions and problems. Sometimes though, with the busyness and chaos of life it can be challenging to hear your authentic voice and intuition.
Therapy ultimately is a learning process enabling you to hear your truth. This allows you to know how to care for yourself effectively as needed. After all, the goal of therapy is to end therapy. A therapist has been effective in your life when you can graduate from therapy for the problem which brought you there.
Of course, life has new challenges at times, and you may choose to seek therapy again for a new issue or problem. This is the natural evolution of life. Again though, the goal will be to resolve this new issue significantly enough where you can end therapy again.
Your therapist should support you in being truly empowered so you may graduate from therapy.
What it feels like to be empowered by your therapist
Often, when a person seeks therapy, they are overwhelmed and confused. It’s common to go to therapy wanting your therapist to have the right answers as to what you “should” do in any given problematic situation or relationship.
However, effective therapists are not there to give advice.
You may find it frustrating to not be told the “right” answer by your therapist about what you should say or do, yet your life journey is only your own. An effective therapist knows that what may be personally “right” for you may completely differ from another person’s experience or even the therapist’s experience.
Instead, an effective therapist will refrain from giving advice. They will ask you to tap into your truth and be silent and still. You will be asked to connect to your body and gut enough to hear your truth.
This is a slower process than someone giving you advice. Yet, it’s the only way to truly prepare to be your own guide as problems arise in the future.
An ally rather than providing advice
An effective therapist will have your back but also knows you must connect to your own truth to fully heal. Yet when a therapist is empowering, they will also side with you against any abuse or trauma you have endured. This is the difference between being neutral, yet not morally neutral which Judith Herman explains,
“In entering the treatment relationship, the therapist promises to respect the patient’s autonomy by remaining disinterested and neutral. “Disinterested” means that the therapist abstains from using her power over the patient to gratify her personal needs. “Neutral” means that the therapist does not take sides in the patient’s inner conflicts or try to direct the life decisions. Constantly reminding that the patient is in charge of her own life, the therapist refrains from advancing a personal agenda. The disinterested and neutral stance is an ideal to be striven for, never perfectly attained.
The technical neutrality of the therapist is not the same as moral neutrality. Working with victimized people requires a committed moral stance. The therapist is called upon to bear witness to a crime. She must affirm a position of solidarity with the victim.”Judith Herman, M.D., Trauma and Recovery
It’s worth the work of finding the right therapist
Hopefully, this article has provided you clarity and guidance as to how to find the right therapist for you. Admittedly, it can sometimes take trial and error to find the therapist who you will work best with. Yet, it’s worth this work.
Therapy, when effective, is a gift you give yourself for the entire rest of your life. It positively changes the entire trajectory of the rest of your life. Therefore, it is worth the patience and assessment process of finding the right therapist for you. The returns you gain are immeasurable.
My own life changed dramatically when I found the right therapist for me. Honestly, if I had not found my right therapist, I don’t think I would have healed so profoundly from my codependency. Therefore, my safe, loving relationship with my husband would have never been possible. But it took me at least four different therapists before I found my right therapist. Other therapists before did help to lesser degrees. Therefore, it was worth the patience, and continued effort, to find my right therapist.
I’m wishing you all the best as you find your most effective therapist!
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About The Author, Krystal
Krystal Mazzola Wood, LMFT is a practicing relationship therapist with over a decade of experience. She has focused her entire career to empowering people to heal from unhealthy relationship processes. She teaches the skills and tools necessary to have a life filled with healthy and loving relationships.
This passion led her to write her best-selling books and create courses. Her books, The Codependency Recovery Plan: A 5-Step Guide to Understand, Accept, and Break Free from the Codependent Cycle and The Codependency Workbook: Simple Practices for Developing and Maintaining Your Independence have helped many people heal.
Her third book, Self-Love Made Possible: The 5-Step Guide to Stop Being Your Own Worst Enemy and Become Your Own Best Friend will be released late 2022. To be notified of its release, please join the waitlist here.
Her course, Confidently Authentic: Stop People Pleasing and Start Being True to Yourself, provides the skills necessary to have a healthy relationship. This course features over a year of relationship skills you would learn in therapy. Students share this course has been “life changing.”
Each week, she answers your relationship questions from a place of expertise and compassion. To submit your relationship questions, please DM us @confidentlyauthentic.com or you may send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to submit your question.