How do I know my therapist is the right fit for me?
Looking for the right therapist for you can be stressful and daunting, even if you know what you need in someone to adequately support you.
My professional experience has taught me that accessing therapy is rarely a linear process. Many people’s experiences include being stuck on long waiting lists, being passed from service to service, feeling judged or misunderstood, not being offered enough appointments.
This is a particular challenge for people who need specialist support, such as survivors of trauma. Equally, specialist support is required for those who have elements of their identity that need to be actively incorporated into a service, such as: LGBT+ folks, people of colour, and Black folks. Sadly, for many this results in not coming away with enough of what is needed.
In a mental health system that isn’t accessible to all, it is even harder to find the right therapist for yourself at the point when you need someone’s help. The humane contact that is needed to understand, affirm, and recover from one’s experiences becomes further and further out of one’s reach. Therefore, knowing when you have found the right fit for you in a therapist becomes ever more valuable and urgent a task.
Knowing whether your therapist is the right fit for you comes down to a number of elements that come under two categories. Firstly, what kind of experience do I need in order to benefit from the supportive work on offer? Secondly, what are the practical factors available to put what I need in place?
What kind of experience you want to have with your therapist includes knowing what you need from your therapist to create that experience. For example, do you primarily want a lot of space to talk, with your therapist giving you space to be heard? Is it important for you to have a therapist that is more directive, including giving advice and information on areas you’re struggling with?
Knowing your therapist is the right fit for you isn’t always a cognitive exercise. Ultimately, how it feels to work together is the biggest indicator of the experience of working with your therapist. You are the authority of knowing what this experience is like, meaning that you have the authority to continue with a therapist or not. This could include being aware of gut feelings, emotions, physical sensations, and thoughts that arise as useful sources of information on how things are going for you.
Have a think about what you want the experience to be like, including how you want to feel, when working with your therapist. It might be feeling comfortable, safe, heard, and responded to are what you need for the conversation between you to evolve in a collaborative manner. This evolving can be part of a forward motion in creating the changes you want to have in your life, with your therapist’s support and input.
Practically navigating the mental health system is a part of finding the right therapist to fit what you’re looking for. It’s worth being explicit here that your personal resources play a part in this, such as: time, budget, travel options, and what do I need from my therapist to help my access their services given my mental and/or physical health?
Some of these may be things you can be flexible about, so it’s not the case that all of these have to line up perfectly for you. When looking for the right therapist to fit you, you are always allowed to ask whether they have any flexibility to meet you in the middle, as part of the joint task of working together.
This can include asking whether your therapist offers concessions for people on a lower income, how many appointments are on offer (including whether open-ended work is an option), and whether online therapy is available to navigate any challenging logistics of travel and the face-to-face appointments.
You can also ask whether a service can match you up with a therapist of a specific gender, ethnicity, lived experience, or specialist issue, rather than being allocated at random. You know what you need to feel comfortable and understood, so it’s okay to request this.
Being In Control
As a final point, it’s always up to you whether or not you meet with someone, including for how long you work together. Although your therapist is there for you, and can offer their skills and expertise, it’s you that’s in control of the process. If it doesn’t feel right, you are allowed to move on in line with your needs at the time.
If you’d like to explore working together, get in touch.