Today I wanted to take some time to talk about finding the right fit in therapy. I’ve heard some sad tales about people having therapists that either aren’t as educated as they needed to be or are simply the wrong fit. It’s such a shame because it can turn people off to therapy for a long time and it can cause future therapy attempts to be more difficult due to the time it takes to build trust. Making sure that your therapist is right for you is incredibly important!

So, you’ve taken the leap and decided that therapy would help you. Or you’re not sure what else to try and while you don’t know what you believe in therapy, you’re ready to try anything. Or maybe you’ve been in therapy for a while and it doesn’t feel beneficial. How do you know you have the right therapist?

Each Therapist is Different

It depends on what you’re looking for, for starters. Every therapist has different skills and unique background of both knowledge and experience that they use in therapy. Most therapy offices have a webpage that lists their therapists’ specialties. These are topics or issues that therapists feel especially competent in treating and have a background in treating. Start there; if you’re looking for help with binge drinking, look for someone with substance abuse listed as an issue they address. If you’re having trouble with body image or feeling confident, someone who sees people with eating disorders can be helpful. You can also get a sense of the person’s beliefs and tone from their biography sometimes (Perspectives is great for that). But beyond that, it takes honest conversation and courage to make sure you’re getting what you need from therapy.

Therapy is Different for Each Person

Therapy looks different based on need but there are some common themes. Therapy is most often a place to gain a new perspective and learn new skills. It tends not to be very helpful if it’s too casual (think spending the hour talking about current events or just venting), but instead tends to work best if your therapist non-judgmentally challenges current behaviors and thoughts that aren’t working for you while also teaching some skills. While I wish we had a magic wand, we love watching people grow and overcome old habits. When you do the work (because you have to, we can’t rescue you), you learn and gain so much that will help you now and in the future.

So just because your therapist says something that you disagree with or they gently call you out on an unhelpful behavior (e.g.: “You said last week that you wanted to work on being more assertive but it seems like today you’re stuck in the pattern of venting”) doesn’t mean they’re not a good fit.

Balance

It takes a fine balance to know the difference between a therapist encouraging change in a loving way and being confrontational to the point of frustration and disrespect. Therapy will not always make you feel better the moment you walk out- that doesn’t mean your therapist is the wrong fit for you. While it can be hard to hear and acknowledge your role in what’s causing you pain, it’s essential for growth and healing. And sometimes it gets worse before it gets better because we’re digging up painful memories so that we can let them go.

Anxiety

Another piece that makes it hard is anxiety or social anxiety. Often when we deal with anxiety, we have a gut feeling that people don’t like us and are just tolerating us. We can feel judged even when others are trying to be compassionate. If this is something that happens to you, make sure you try to take that into consideration.

What Makes A Good Fit

So if even a good therapist can leave you feeling worse for a few sessions, can challenge you in a way that may feel accusatory at first, and can feel like they’re judging you…how in the world do you know if your therapist is a good fit?

  • They don’t make comments that are unequivocally judgmental. They don’t say things like “well that’s not the choice I would have made” or “well that was dumb” (unless you’ve clearly established that joking like that is OK). They don’t make comments that are blaming and don’t give you the feeling that you can do better. For example, a skilled therapist might say that hitting your kid because you were frustrated isn’t OK, but they’re not going call you names or seem frustrated. They’re there to help you problem solve; how can we do this better?
  • They don’t make clueless statements like complimenting you on weight loss when they know you have a history or an eating disorder.
  • They don’t invalidate your pain by minimizing. They don’t compare your problems to others’ and they don’t say things like “it could be worse” or “at least you didn’t…”.
  • They’re honest about when they don’t know something. They sometimes say “let me reach out to my colleague and see if they have any resources” but they do get back to you!
  • They support your beliefs. If you believe in astrology, they don’t put it down. Similarly, if you’re agnostic and they quote the Holy Bible a lot, it’s probably not a good fit.
  • They don’t tout themselves as the expert on your experience. They never say things like “that shouldn’t make you anxious”.
  • They focus on the goals that you set- not just what they think you should work on.

Things for You to Say

Lastly, here are a few things you can say (and should! Therapy is a GREAT place to practice being assertive and voicing your needs) to make what you need clear to your therapist because we’re not mind-readers:

  • “Hey, I’m feeling like we’re not making the progress I want. Can we review my treatment plan”.
  • “I’ve noticed we seem to get stuck on a topic for a long time and never really get to the ‘core’. How can we make sure we get past the fluff and events of the week?”
  • “That hurt my feelings.”
  • “When you said that, I felt judged. I felt that pang of not being good enough”.

If there’s name-calling, a clear lack of respect for you or your beliefs, not remembering important details about you, or invalidating your experience, you can make one attempt to clear it up but those are huge warning signs.

I hope this has been helpful and given you some clues about how your therapy relationship should look. As always, if we can be of any help, don’t hesitate to reach out! The intake coordinators at Perspectives Therapy Services can help you find the right therapist for your needs.  Be well and have a fantastic week.

Kayla Valley is a Licensed Master of Social Work (LMSW) who works at the Highland location of Perspectives Therapy Services. She became a therapist to help people struggle with the depression and anxiety that she understands intimately. She loves being a Michigander and is an avid sewist who loves spending time with her cats and sugar gliders.

Perspectives Therapy Services is a multi-site mental and relationship health practice with clinic locations in Brighton, Lansing, Highland and Fenton, Michigan. Our clinical teams include experienced, compassionate and creative therapists with backgrounds in psychology, marriage and family therapy, professional counseling, and social work. Additionally, we offer psychiatric care in the form of evaluations and medication management. Our practice prides itself on providing extraordinary care. We offer a customized matching process to prospective clients whereby an intake specialist carefully assesses which of our providers would be the very best fit for the incoming client. We treat a wide range of concerns that impact a person's mental health including depression, anxiety, relationship problems, grief, low self-worth, life transitions, and childhood and adolescent difficulties.