Is Your Therapist Right for You?

Wednesday, July 8, 2015
lucy-peanutsYou’ve been seeing your therapist for a while, but don’t seem to be making much progress. Or maybe you’re being treated by someone who comes highly recommended, but you feel low on his priority list.
Is it time to look for another therapist? Possibly. But take some extra time to scrutinize the relationship before jumping ship, advises Hans Meyer, LCSW, senior social worker with Pathfinder, Menninger’s community integration program. 
“Working through rough spots with your therapist can be a critical aspect of therapy,” he says. Unfortunately, many patients don’t feel the empowerment that comes from asserting themselves with their therapist because they drop out of therapy too soon.
That said, sometimes the relationship just isn’t working out. How can you know for certain? Meyer suggests a gut check. Do you instinctively feel your therapist is a good match?
“To me, it is all about fit,” he says. “There needs to be a strong rapport and sense of trust in the relationship.” Meyer offers the following checklist to help determine if your therapist is right for you:

Signs of a good fit

  • You know the plan. Your therapist has a good initial idea of your mental health needs and how to help. He has provided you with clear, realistic goals focusing on relief.
  • You feel safe. During therapy sessions, you feel comfortable and safe, trusting and able to be honest and open (or share with your therapist when you are not feeling this way).
  • You sense some progress. You find the therapy useful and feel like you are making progress, even if it seems difficult at times.
  • Friends and family notice. It’s a powerful sign that therapy is working when parents, partners or loved ones notice a change in your behavior for the better (“He’s less irritable,” “She doesn’t seem as sad.”).
  • Collaboration is OK. Therapy is not one-sided. Your therapist is interested in your input, and you feel heard and understood. A good therapist is also willing to collaborate with your family members and other mental health providers to get the full-picture of what your life is like.
  • Your therapist is not afraid to seek help. A good therapist will be humble enough to steer you to more seasoned therapists or other mental health providers if you need additional help. That could mean another type of individual therapy or group therapy.
  • You both understand that therapy should end. Successful therapy should ideally end once you meet your treatment goals, unless you feel you have additional concerns you want to tackle.
Signs of a bad fit
  • You feel you aren’t being heard. Your therapist seems inattentive or questions you repeatedly about information you have shared previously.
  • You feel judged or ashamed. You should be able to share your experiences freely and without judgement in a therapy setting.
  • You don’t feel respected. Your therapist dismisses your concerns or disrespects your time by routinely cancelling or rescheduling appointments, or taking phone calls during therapy sessions.
  • Therapy is all about the therapist. Your therapist shares too much personal information, leaving little time to delve into your issues.
  • The relationship is too close. While it is natural to bond with your therapist, the therapist/patient relationship should always be strictly professional. It’s a red flag, not to mention a serious violation of professional boundaries and ethics, if your therapist is growing too friendly, or makes romantic advances.
  • You aren’t making progress. In therapy, personal growth takes time and can be difficult; however, you should consistently see changes or increased insights. Some stalls in progress happen. But something’s wrong if you are not feeling some improvement or alleviation of your symptoms.
Did you check off more signs that your therapist is a bad fit than a good one? Then consider checking your therapist off your list. “If you feel like something is not right, it would be important to address this,” Meyer says. “You have hired your therapist to get you the help you need. If you are not getting it, you have the right to find someone else.”