Finding a therapist can be a long, frustrating process. Once you find a provider who takes your insurance or has matching availability, the thought of finding someone else can be paralyzing. While it might be hard to find the right fit, it is worth it. The relationship you have with your therapist can make or break your progress. Here are some general things to avoid and look out for when selecting a therapist.
Therapist Red Flags
You may want to start the search if a therapist…
- Makes you uncomfortable
It is natural to be uncomfortable sharing intimate lief details with a stranger. However, your therapist should make it clear to you that your sessions are a safe space. If you find you remain uncomfortable sharing after a few sessions, it may be something to think about. Sometimes discomfort can be worked through, sometimes it warrants a different provider.
- Responds to you with judgement or criticism
A good therapist will help you challenge your irrational fears or negative thoughts. What shouldn’t be challenged is the fact that you are feeling pain. If your therapist seems to judge what you do or say, there may be a lack of understanding or bias at play. Remember, therapy can be challenging without feeling judgemental.
- Lacks understanding about you or your identity
A therapist should have cultural competency. This means that they may not have the same lived experience or background as you, but they should be able to empathize and have basic knowledge about your culture/identity (or admit that they don’t and do some research!). If you feel that a majority of time is spent explaining things about your culture or identity instead of getting support, you may need a better informed therapist.
- Offers little support or guidance
Many people leave their therapist because it feels as if they are talking to a friend and not a professional. Talking alone can promote healing, but if you’re leaving session wanting more it’s important to communicate that. Try asking your therapist what their treatment plan is or what skills they can teach you.
- Makes inappropriate self-disclosures or comments
Therapy is your time (and money!). There is a time and a place for small talk and self-disclosure in session, but it shouldn’t make you uncomfortable. Therapy doesn’t have to be overly formal to be effective, but your therapist should keep a level of professionalism in sessions.
- Doesn’t take feedback or won’t answer questions
Part of the therapeutic process is finding things that don’t work. If your therapist insists on a modality or treatment that isn’t working for you, it’s important to tell them. If your therapist isn’t able to pivot when you need them to, it may be a bad fit. Additionally, your therapist should always be able to answer your questions about why they think something may work. Therapy should be open and done with informed consent.
Remember: Just because it’s not a good fit doesn’t mean you can’t be helped, or even that the therapist is bad at their job. It takes two to tango!
Therapist Green Flags
Some signs you found a good fit are when a therapist…
- Asks for feedback
Asking for feedback or concerns is a sign that a therapist sees therapy as a collaborative process. A therapist should also check to make sure you understand what they’re telling you and offer space for your questions.
- Shows cultural competence
Your therapist might not know everything about your culture, identity, religion, etc., but they should be able to understand on a basic level. You may have to explain how those factors impact you personally, but you shouldn’t have to answer an onslaught of basic questions. Your therapist has Google!
- Allows you to set the agenda
Your therapist most likely knows what they think would be helpful to talk about, but it’s important that they check in with you. Sometimes things come up that are more urgent! A therapist should be able to flex with you and meet you where you need to be met.
- Makes you feel comfortable
This is where the therapist magic comes in. Maybe it’s the active listening or the low, soft voice- or the fact that they can talk about your favorite video games. Whatever it is, pay attention to how comfortable you feel in session. If things seem to flow naturally, you’ve got a good thing going on!
- Validates your feelings
Therapists are here to support you. While the gentle challenge is sometimes appropriate, it can be done without invalidating your experience or emotions. Look for signs that your therapist is comfortable speaking about hard things and can support you while helping you grow.
- Asks inclusive questions
A green flag that can be seen right away is what kind of questions your therapist asks. If you’re looking for a gender-inclusive therapist, look for pronouns and preferred name questions. If you’re looking for faith-based therapy, look for questions about your religion. If your therapist is asking questions you want to answer, you’re probably in good hands.
Remember: your green or red flags may look entirely different from someone else’s. Learn more about finding the right therapist here!