what makes a good therapist
True story: the first therapist I’d ever seen matched what I was looking for in a therapist.
For over a year, I showed up every week, talking to the ceiling and feeling understood and validated by her.
Then I moved away.
I did my research and found a therapist who aligned with my needs – until I actually arrived. I made it through five sessions, running out the door as quickly as possible after the last one. She was judgmental and dismissive, and I found myself feeling even worse after a session. Aka, the exact opposite of what you should feel.
I quickly learned that I was super lucky to have found a great therapist on the first try. This horrible experience was a lesson: it taught me what makes a good therapist, and why you shouldn’t settle for a therapist you don’t get along with. I began to “shop around” and avoid settling, and I found my next therapist after much trial and error. Here are my tips on how to find a therapist who you fit with, and which therapists to avoid.
First: What’s a Toxic Therapist?
Ah, yes, toxic therapists. I learned plenty firsthand about what to avoid.
First of all, don’t stay with someone who invalidates your feelings. Everything you feel is legitimate, and a good therapist knows that. Rather than lead you away from these thoughts, they should help you move through them. Solving trauma isn’t easy, but it’s better to work it out (at the pace you prefer) than compartmentalize it because it doesn’t fit their agenda.
Second: fixing problems isn’t realistic. Toxic therapists believe that they can rectify your issues, and some may even exhibit frustration if you’re stuck on a specific topic they think you should have moved past. You’re not broken if you struggle. They should be helping with recognizing triggers and coping mechanisms, not trying to “fix” you.
Finally, never stay with a therapist who pushes you to open Pandora’s box when you’re not emotionally ready.
While therapists should guide you through trauma, they absolutely should NOT force you to acknowledge a deeper issue that you aren’t prepared to address. This can cause more harm than help, and a good therapist will listen to you when you say you don’t feel comfortable yet.
. . . .
What Makes a Good Therapist?
Finding a good therapist is difficult. But just as they’re asking questions to see if they’re a good fit for you, you should be asking your own questions. Ask them about the type of therapy they practice – for example, are they a fan of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), or do they prefer eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy? Do they give homework? Do they have their own measure of success, or do they let you determine the course of a session?
Another important aspect of finding a therapist is seeing if you feel comfortable talking to them. Of course, it will always be a little awkward and more of a getting-to-know-you first few sessions, but you should feel comfortable with them when discussing your needs. If you find yourself omitting information because they seem judgmental or they’re rushing to get to know you too quickly, that’s a sign to move on.
Lastly, what does your gut say? This has been a HUGE lesson when finding therapists. Sometimes, I’d get along with a therapist during the first few sessions, but my gut told me that it wasn’t the right fit. I used to ignore it, but I’ve since learned that your brain knows when something is off. It’s because of my gut that I left a decent therapist and ended up with an even more understanding one.
Therapy is as personal as it gets, and knowing how to shop around for mental health professionals is crucial to the healing process. Are you in therapy? How did you find your therapist? Do you have any tips? Drop your wisdom in the comments.
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