The quality of your relationship with your therapist is the most important element in making your therapy affective.
If you are looking for a therapist or already have one the following 5 qualities are essential to having the right person in our corner.
1. A person who has good boundaries. They are friendly but not your friend. They do a good job of explaining their office policies like their availability to phone consults and payment for missed appointments. Note that they also start and stop on time (give or take a few minutes). By holding these structures in place they create a safe and consistent environment for you to develop trust and open yourself.
2. Someone who can be challenged, and you can get angry at. They do not go into defense mode or try to be right in the discussion. They stay present to you and take ownership of their actions (say being late for your appointment) and apologize if needed. You can say you don’t agree with their viewpoint or interpretations of your actions and they stay engaged with you.
3. Someone who is directive, not passive. The complaint I have heard over the years about a client’s past therapist is they do not offer much. Usually just a vague, “Un huh” or “Say more”. These are not engaging or offer helpful comments. It is very helpful at the right time to hear something like, “That is outrageous! I can’t believe that your mother talked to you like that”. Or by naming things that you had not seen or noticed like: “That is abuse! You didn’t deserve that.” Even at times saying something like, “You need to end that friendship. It sounds toxic. Let’s talk about how you feel about what I just said.” That way you get a possible direction to move but also someone who wants to know what you think and feel so you are in charge of your choices.
4. Someone who is optimistic about life, themselves and you. One of the greatest purveyors of healing is hope. This includes having a positive outlook on life and holding a belief that things can and will get better. Especially as you challenge your mistaken beliefs and learn new healthy behaviors. Although a therapist with good boundaries does not share a lot about their own life at certain moments having them share how they moved through their own difficulties can be inspirational and help you move through your own challenges.
5. Someone who is genuinely happy to see you at each appointment and who gives you their full attention and is warm to you. They are genuinely happy as you share your victories to live a better life. They also affirm that you are capable, strong, brave and lets you know you are still ok when you fail and help you see that it is all about learning.
Think about what issues are bringing you to therapy so that you can find the right person to help you with them. If you had difficult relationships with either parent, it would be good to work with a therapist of the same gender as the difficult parent. If you had sexual trauma it is important to find a therapist who is skilled in working with that issue.
And finally, after you have done research or gotten recommendations from friends or family it is important to meet and interview potential therapists. That face to face meeting is the best way to know if the two of you are a fit. Some therapists, myself included, offer a no fee half session to make it affordable to meet with them.
Good luck on your journey to finding the right therapist for you.