Updated: Apr 12, 2021
When we decide to take that next step for our mental health and find a therapist, what many people do not talk about is the process of actually finding one. Like any health provider, it’s important that you find a therapist that feels just right for you. This can be a bit more nuanced, though, because a therapist will know very personal parts of your life and you want to be sure to experience the healing that you are hoping to receive. It can be kind of like a “therapist shopping” experience, which is completely normal.
But how do you know when you’ve found a good fit? How do you know when you’ve found a therapist who can help you with your personal growth?
They actually listen to you. This feels like an obvious sign that you’ve found a good therapist, but it’s something that needs to be discussed. How do you know that someone is invested in what you’re telling them? It could be in the way they respond, verbally and nonverbally. It could be in the words they use, the resources they give, among other things. Does your therapist do this when you’re sharing parts of yourself and your story?
You feel validated. When we express something that’s happened to us, it is normal to want validation. The opposite of this, invalidation, can come in subtle forms. A therapist who is a good fit for you, and a generally good therapist, will not doubt a troubling experience you share with them. A good session and therapist will help you walk out of your time together feeling understood, heard, and, well, validated!
They check in about your experience. Sometimes therapy can be really overwhelming, especially in those first few sessions. You’re being tossed around left and right with information about policies and procedures. You might be trying to get a gauge on how you’re experiencing the session together, and a good therapist will take that pause and check in: how are you doing with all of this info? This could happen later in your work together, too. You had a particularly intense session, or you’re just not feeling it today. A therapist who checks in with you to help you feel seen and makes room to understand how you are doing is a good sign!
They take the time to educate themselves. We each are unique constellations of experiences, and these experiences may be altered by our identities. Even if your therapist shares many identities with you, and especially if a therapist does not share identities with you, a good therapist will take the time to read up about how to best serve you. Therapists are not all-knowing beings, so knowing that they are taking the time and effort to get to know you and what you’re bringing to session could mean that they are invested in your growth.
They are aware of your and their own identities. Just like we mentioned in the previous point, we are a constellation of different experiences that may be shaped by our identities. A good therapist will point out how your identities may be similar or different. They’ll ask about your experiences and acknowledge them. If at any point it feels like a microaggression (which can be hard to pinpoint, but trust your instincts), it could a sign that there may be lack of awareness of their impact. Take inventory of yourself: what parts of your identity are you comfortable sharing with your therapist? What parts do you feel unsafe sharing?
You feel comfortable sharing with them, at your pace. Therapy should always go at your pace. At no point should your therapist be pressuring you to disclose information and at no point should you feel as though you must disclose because they are asking. Your experiences and thoughts should be freely given. If you don’t feel safe with your therapist to share these things with them or you get the sense of being pressured to disclose, this could be a sign to reevaluate your relationship with them or, if you feel safe, provide feedback about it.
They respectfully challenge you. In therapy, you will be challenged to step a little bit outside your comfort zone and try new things to help with your personal growth. Respectful challenging means that if something is outside of your comfort zone and you vocalize it, your therapist doesn’t push the issue. Remember, your therapist is not there to be a supervisor or evaluator. Your therapist is there to support you and your journey. And like we said in the previous point, it is to be done at your own pace!
They are open to feedback. Giving feedback to your therapist can be challenging, vulnerable, and anxiety-provoking. If something didn’t go well in session, if they invalidated you, if they hurt you, if they didn’t understand you, it’s important to vocalize this. How open your therapist is to this sort of feedback can speak volumes about their style and if it's one that is a good fit for you. Ideally, a good therapist will receive the feedback, acknowledge the feedback, and adjust to suit your needs.
They communicate well with you. This point also seems like a no-brainer, but hear us out. Everyone has different styles of communication. Some of us are highly direct and some of us are more subtle. Some of us utilize more gestures or figurative speech and others of us may search for concrete terms. While there can be some adjustment in how to communicate with your therapist, if it’s simply too difficult to connect because of the different communication styles, it might get in the way of your treatment. Communication with your therapist should come relatively easily. It’s also a unique space to discuss your communication styles with them to see if you all are a good fit.
You see the worth in your work together. Therapy is a place for you to grow, heal, and safely explore. Think about the goals you both agreed to have in therapy. What progress are you making on them? What plans did you both make to achieve them? If you don’t experience worth in the work that you are doing together, then it might be a good sign to reevaluate your relationship.
Therapist shopping is a bit of a process. Some say that you can tell on the first session whether or not you and your therapist will work well together, and others may say that it takes upwards of four sessions to really determine if your therapist is a good fit. While the time frames of knowing a good fit varies, it’s still important to think a bit about the signs that you want to see in your work together. And by no means is this an exhaustive list! There may be other things that you personally would want to have in a therapist that will help you know that you both are making strides in work and that you both work well together.
At Cultured Space, our hope is that you are able to sit down with our therapists and have these conversations. Our goal is to help you feel safe as you explore, heal, and grow. Our therapists are open to having this honest conversations about fitness, your goals, and how they can help you achieve them.