How do you tell if a therapist is right for you? This is an excellent and important question. The answer is two-fold. You need a therapist who is:
- personally a good fit for you.
- objectively good, in terms of ethics, education and training, and boundaries.
I once had a therapist who would always eat during our sessions together. This didn’t bother me so much until one time she had her lunch delivered during my session. True story! In walks the delivery man with her food while I’m crying on the couch. Hello HIPAA breach! Needless to say, I didn’t go back to her. I laugh about this now but it was horribly inappropriate for her to put me in that position.
You do not and should not have to settle for a therapist who makes you feel uncomfortable or judged. Now, much like everything else in this field, nothing is black or white, except for certain ethical situations (sexual harassment, etc). What I mean by this is that it’s quite likely that you will feel uncomfortable at some points in therapy, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that something is wrong. Your therapist will challenge you at times and you may sometimes feel worse after therapy because so much is being uncovered and explored. But you should always feel safe with your therapist and unafraid to process these uncomfortable feelings with him or her.
Here are some red flags that you don’t want to ignore:
- Your therapist is being flirtatious, coming onto you, or touching you inappropriately.
- Your therapist overshares about their personal life and spends most of your session time talking about themselves.
- Your therapist breaks confidentiality without your consent (this does not apply if you are a danger to yourself or others as we are legally and ethically mandated to make sure you are safe).
- You feel like you need to “take care of” your therapist because you’re afraid of how they will react to certain situations.
- You feel judged.
- Your therapist cancels on you frequently and with little notice.
- Your therapist frequently doesn’t remember important information about you, your life, or your interactions.
- Your therapist is often distracted and doesn’t appear to be listening.
- Your therapist imposes their personal beliefs on you.
- Your therapist pushes you to talk about issues you’re not ready to discuss yet-it’s important for your therapist to meet you where you are and go at your own pace.
Every therapist is different in terms of the amount and type of information they disclose with their clients. In school we used to be taught that we are a “blank slate” and that clients shouldn’t know anything about us or our lives. Personally, that’s not my style. I’m of the opinion that my clients are naturally and harmlessly curious about my life and I’m open to sharing certain information with them. Most of my clients know my husband’s name and that I recently moved. I may share more personal experiences, but only if I know that sharing can be helpful to my client. When I do choose to disclose or answer client questions, I swiftly move the conversation back to my client because session time is yours, not mine. You are investing your most valuable resources (time and money) into our sessions and they are all about you.
Some people look at reviews online for therapists, much like when searching for restaurants. Unless reviews of therapists online have blatant, objective negative information (inappropriate behavior), I usually advise people not to pay much attention to online reviews. Finding a therapist is such a personal process and a great fit for you may be a terrible fit for someone else, and this doesn’t mean that the therapist is “bad.” Some clients may also react poorly to a perfectly appropriate and ethical boundary or decision that was made by their therapist, so they may be lashing out and that’s why there can be a negative review online.
When searching for a therapist, you should always ask for a phone consultation and be prepared to ask them questions that are important for you to know the answers to. What’s your style, do you have any specialties, what types of therapy do you use, etc. Don’t be afraid to ask all of your questions and if you don’t understand what something means (like a type of therapy that they use), ask them to explain. This is what we are here for! Transparency is very important. If you can tell on the phone that they are not a good fit, don’t be afraid to say that (or something else if you’re not comfortable saying flat out that you don’t think you’re a good fit). You never have to move forward with booking the appointment and a good therapist will not make you feel forced or pressured into doing so.
Now we therapists are human and make mistakes like everyone else. I always tell my clients that from time to time, I may say something that you disagree with or don’t like. Please, tell me! I know that confrontation is hard for most people but one of my goals in therapy with you is to model healthy communication and relationships. Like any other relationship in life, we may come across conflict. And that is super normal and healthy! I promise good therapists do not take anything personally and welcome and encourage open dialogue and feedback. We would much rather have this conversation with you than you ghost us or move on without telling us what happened or giving us the opportunity to address and resolve the issue. However, if you have an open conversation with your therapist and they still make the same offenses, that’s a sign that it could be time to move on. You should never feel judged, invalidated, or disrespected and if you do, please express that to your therapist. They may have no idea that they offended you or you may have interpreted something they said into something they had no intention of meaning. However, giving a therapist the benefit of the doubt if they say or do something blatantly inappropriate (racially, sexually, etc.) is not something you need to do. You have every right to leave the situation and never resume therapy with that person again. You are also able to report therapists to their licensing boards if you think that they have acted in a way that has caused you harm.
It can take a few sessions with a new therapist to see if you click and connect with them, but you can usually get a good sense of whether or not you’ll be a good fit relatively quickly. If you start seeing someone that you thought would be a good fit but then realize you want to try someone else, that’s your right! Sometimes people start therapy and then realize they need something or someone else, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a few weeks, months, or years down the road. You might have a therapist who helps you through certain situations and then you outgrow them or want to work with someone else with a different perspective and style. This is all perfectly okay and normal. Good therapists know this and are not offended.
For my clients, I know that I am a good fit for them because of my warmth, my honesty and transparency, my sense of humor, my flexibility, and my clinical experience is a good fit for what they’re going through. But does this mean I’m a good fit for everyone? Of course not!
You know yourself best. Trust yourself to make the best decision for yourself and give yourself permission to try on different therapists for size until you find the right one for you.
If you’re based in New York or Connecticut and would like to schedule a FREE phone consultation, please contact me here.