Posted on June 09, 2020
Wondering how to decide if a therapist is right for you? Read on to discover the signs of a good therapist.
Not all therapy is created equal, and neither are individual therapists. Like any profession, there are amazing therapists, professionals who are satisfactory, and some who are not up to par. Aside from objective skills and talent, a good therapist will have a natural connection with their clients. There are many benefits of therapy, and selecting the right therapist will help you experience them. This is why it’s so important to do your research and interview several therapists before choosing the right one for you.
During the process of finding a great therapist, it can be confusing to gauge how skilled a therapist is with how well you match with them. Luckily, you can use a therapy matching service, like Advekit, but you still need to know what qualities are important to you as you figure out how to find a therapist.
So, what are the signs of a good therapist beyond the ability to make a client feel a little better? Because most forms of psychotherapy are effective, any competent and licensed therapist can make a small difference. However, the right therapist can make a huge impact on a client’s life. They can teach each patient new cognitive and emotional skills, help them overcome trauma, guide them toward better relationships, and even transform patients into better versions of themselves.
First things first, ask yourself what kind of therapist do I need? Understanding the answer to this question will help you find your perfect match. Once you do, keep these 8 signs of a good therapist in mind as you look for your next practitioner.
If your therapist was just like a friend, then chances are you wouldn’t need a therapist because presumably, you already have enough friends who could help. Something that we don’t usually consider is that you have multiple relationships with your friends. You can go into business with them, borrow money from them, and even have intimate relations with them. With your therapist, you can only do therapy.
While you might seek advice from friends all the time, the difference is, those conversations with friends don’t require a plan, goal, or purpose beyond the friendship. You can hang out with your friends, aside from getting advice, for no good reason other than that you enjoy it, are used to it, or have nothing better to do. You should never hang with your therapist, no matter how much it seems like you get along. Therapy is purposeful and pragmatic, moving deliberately toward one or more mutually negotiated goals, not an end in itself.
Additionally, you don’t want a therapist who acts like a friend because you and your friends are equal. You and your therapist are not. By design, therapy is one-sided; it is about you. Every action of the psychotherapist can legitimately be directed only toward one goal—helping the client. The therapist cannot use therapy time, or the therapeutic relations, to take care of their own needs.
A skilled therapist will keep sessions focused on you, and never bring in personal bias. They will be friendly, but not your friend. They will be vigilant in maintaining clear and consistent boundaries that foster a healthy, professional-client relationship.
You’ll know you have a good therapist if they only use therapy techniques and strategies that are up-to-date and have evidence to back their efficacy. Psychotherapy is a clinical field, based in years of research. Approaches, tools, and techniques are always being refined and updated as new research is performed. A skilled therapist will be on top of the latest studies and trends in their field and in any specializations they may have. Feel free to ask your psychotherapist about the efficacy of his or her techniques. They should have nothing to hide.
Additionally, good therapy involves keeping detailed records, connecting anecdotes into patterns, generating hypotheses, and testing them. A good therapist is responsive to new knowledge and can admit and correct mistakes. And, while a good therapist fosters an attainable path to positive change, the approach should be tethered to facts and data.
That said, therapy is an intentional human encounter. It is inherently dynamic, creative, and unique in a way that makes the practice a bit more nuanced than medicine. But the art of good therapy must align with science in the way that the art of architectural design must align with the principles of sound engineering. A good therapist will only offer interventions and guidance based on scientific research, to the extent that such research exists. This is what makes a good therapist vs. a bad therapist.
Good therapy never judges, and a good therapist is a chauffeur, not a driving instructor. Good therapy concerns itself with judgments, but it is not about judging people, most notably clients. In many cases, patients seek counseling because of issues related to being judged harshly by themselves, their peers, spouses, employers, neighbors, and often, society at large.
Counseling isn’t about looking for advice, it’s about offering a healing experience. A transformational therapeutic experience never contains judgment. Instead, it consists of understanding, empathy, attention, acceptance, and encouragement. A good therapist will accept, listen, and seek to understand, respond appropriately to, and honor every client’s humanity, regardless of how much the therapist "likes" or approves of the individual. While it certainly helps the therapist-client relationship if there are similarities in lifestyle or perspective, it is not necessary. A good therapist will never let any personal differences even become known. And if they do, this is one of the clear signs of a bad therapist.
Though the patient-client relationship can feel stiff and strange, you will get used to this one-sided relationship. It’s understandable to feel weird allowing yourself to become so vulnerable week after week, without any reciprocation on the other end. Ideally, you want your therapist to show they care about what you’re saying, which can be as simple as providing emotional feedback via facial expressions or statements of affirmation.
Good therapists are constantly trying to place themselves in their client’s shoes. This can help you feel heard, and less vulnerable sharing intimate details and thoughts. Though, empathy alone won’t be effective. You’ll also need practical feedback, including suggestions for new ways of thinking, assessing relationships, and improving mental health outside of sessions.
Any therapist can listen to what you’re saying during your sessions, but a truly good therapist will be able to recall anecdotes, important names, and behaviors to the point where you no longer need any context or backstory. But, listening on its own isn’t enough. A good therapist will be an active listener, meaning they will have questions and responses that show genuine interest in your thoughts and emotions. They will probe and push you to pause and dig deeper into key moments that caught their attention. Good therapists aren’t just listening to the details of what you’re telling them, but they’re simultaneously searching for the patterns, themes, and the “why.”
In addition to listening to what you say, good therapists are attuned to your energy and emotions. For instance, say during a therapy session you mention that you’re visiting your college friends and are concerned about your appearance since you don’t feel your best physically. Your therapist should clock this statement, not just as an isolated feeling associated with an upcoming event, but rather a deep underlying fear and distortion in self-image.
A good therapist will also rarely try to insert themselves or their lives into your session. Rather, they protect the requisite space and time to attend to the issues with which the client presents fully. In other words, an effective therapist doesn't let their emotional baggage into your therapy session.
The other side of being an active listener is being an effective communicator. Just as good therapists will actively listen and connect dots, they will also be able to relay their observations in a clear, concise way. Therapists should be able to communicate their suggestions concisely and clearly. Skilled therapists can analyze symptoms that clients don’t even realize are symptoms, and eventually offer clients an explanation of what factors might be contributing to them.
A good therapist will also consider your personality type and where you are at in treatment when delivering thoughts or guidance. The best insight in the world is useless unless it’s properly received. An effective therapist will also be observing how you receive information and take note of how and when it’s easiest for you to accept and activate feedback.
A good therapist will not let things slide. While it’s always good to keep your own records and “manage up,” so to speak, it’s your therapist’s responsibility to make sure your treatment remains on track to achieve the goals you created together. A good therapist will check in with you regularly in regards to your progress to make sure you feel good about the process. They’ll also check in to make sure that your insurance is up to date and that the day and time still work with your schedule.
Therapy is not about handing out solutions to problems; it’s about teaching the client to solve problems. If you ask your therapist how long does therapy take, remember that a good therapist doesn’t want to see you forever. If you end up staying in therapy for the same issue for an extended period of time, it would seem as though the treatment is not working, and the therapist not effective at their job. While many people remain in therapy treatment for years, it’s common to take breaks once issues have been resolved and change has occurred. A good therapist wants you to feel better and move on from treatment eventually.
Ready to find a great therapist today? Get matched with Advekit.
Alison LaSov, LMFT
Alison LaSov is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with experience treating clients struggling with anxiety and depression. She predominantly focuses on mental health intervention for children and adolescents, particularly those who are in crisis. She has worked within the Los Angeles education system treating students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), as well as supervised a non-profit Teen Crisis Hotline out of Cedars-Sinai Hospital. Alison earned her B.A. from UCLA and M.A. from Pepperdine University. She is a native to Los Angeles and co-founder at Advekit.