This post isn't just about finding a "good therapist"; it's about finding a good therapist FOR YOU! I say that because every therapist is unique, just like you and your struggles. So, I decided to write about what to look for in a therapist that meet your specific needs. The first quality that I pride myself on as a therapist is having unconditional positive regard for my clients.
Psychologist Carl Rogers defines unconditional positive regard as the basic support and acceptance of a person no matter what they say or do. This allows you the freedom to speak what is on your mind without fear of push back or judgment from your therapist. Having a safe space where you can talk about her thoughts and feelings is part of the therapeutic experience. IF you feel that a therapist is making judgments talk with them about this; express what you are seeing or feeling. We are therapist also struggle with our own biases and often need to be reminded of this. A good therapist would take into consideration your reflection of feeling judgment and will adjust accordingly; if you feel that is not happening then perhaps, they are not a good fit for you.
Interpersonal skills are another great quality to look for in a therapist; these skills include active listening, the ability to empathize, dependability and patience. Look for whether your therapist is good with managing their session times; are they consistently late or running over on session times (sessions are usually 45-60 minutes on average). Are they reflecting and confirming what you are trying to communicate in sessions? Is your therapist able to stay focused on you? I know this is a silly question but I’ve actually had several client come to me saying they discontinued previous treatment because their therapist often talked about themselves or their problems in sessions.
It goes without saying, that a good therapist is one that is able to empathize with what you’re going through and validate you. Empathy is different from sympathy; you don’t want your therapist to pity you, you want your therapist to be aware and mindful of what you’re experiencing. They are able to place themselves in your situation, process your reactions and emotions. You will be surprised how often a client has reluctantly disclosed something to me, only for me to say "Yea, I'd be pissed too" or to say "Yea, I could see how you were bothered by..." and they respond with surprise and relief.
Another quality to look for is goal oriented discussions within the first two sessions. A therapist should listen to what you want to happen, what you want to achieve; they should also be committed to what you feel you need out of therapy, not what they think you need out of therapy. Keep in mind, that your goals may not align with a therapist’s modality and this is something that you and your therapist should have a discussion about that. Each client is unique and not everyone may respond to CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy) or EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). So ensure that if you feel something isn’t working for you that you have that conversation to see if they are trained in a different modality that would better suit you. Part of this should be addressed in your treatment plan.
I strongly believe, as a therapist, that we should develop a thorough treatment plan for our clients. Helping a client identify goals and objectives can keep sessions focused. Not only developing a treatment plan but also checking in with you and reviewing it is important. Your therapist should want to sit down and point out your achievements and the progress you’ve made throughout your sessions. Developing and sticking to a treatment plan is vital to therapy.
For the most part, therapists are discouraged from divulging too much personal information. If you find that you are coming into sessions and a therapist is more often than not discussing their woes and troubles that’s a red flag. While we want to disclose some information to help a client feel that they can relate and build a therapeutic relationship, there is a level of expectation in ensuring that we are not taking up a client’s precious time by talking about ourselves.
The last thing I want to really stress about finding a good therapist for you is their training. You want to ensure that whatever therapist you decide to go with, that they are trained in the modalities and population that they are currently practicing under. Ethically, the therapist should have appropriate training to work with someone with a trauma background if you are struggling with PTSD for example. So before even scheduling a session with them, call their practice and ask about what populations they work with and what their niche is.
I hope that this little bit of information was beneficial for you. Bottom line that I want everyone to take away from this post is this: if you feel that treatment is not benefiting have an open and honest conversation with your therapist about this concern.