What to look for in a Therapist
Therapy should be a safe and positive environment in which you can share anything without fear of judgement or rebuke. That type of environment is created by a good therapist. However, not all therapists are the same. That’s why it’s important to know how to tell a good therapist from a bad one. Here is a list of what to look for in a therapist.
What a Therapist Should Do
- Create a Safe Space for You
Your therapist should make you feel safe with them in a private room where no one else hears your private conversations. Generally, there should be a warm atmosphere—with low lighting to help you relax; a comfortable place to sit and talk with your therapist; and a kind, patient therapist sitting across from you, putting you at ease.
- Be Accepting and Non-Judgmental
A good therapist does not pass judgment on their clients. Your therapist should be accepting of you as you are—where your current state is, where you are in life, what your thoughts/opinions/feelings are, and your goals. A good therapist views their clients as good people who are in a rough situation in their lives.
- Stay Present With You in the Moment
They should be focused on you and what is happening to you in the moment. In addition to listening to what you’re saying, your therapist should use your eye contact, body language, behavior, and tone of voice to help them assess your situation, thoughts, and feelings. They may even address these more subtle cues to help you recognize your thoughts and feelings. How do you feel when you talk about your mother? Have you noticed this before? Why do you think this is? A good therapist is 100% dedicated to you during your time together.
As a client, you want to get a sense that the therapist truly cares about you and your wellbeing. One way to assess this is to see if and how well they empathize with you. Are they relating to you? Do they understand what you are going through? Empathizing is understanding your feelings and sharing them with you—almost as if they are in the same situation as you.
Note that this is different from sympathy, which is feeling for someone, like your therapist feeling bad for you. Sympathy is almost like pity, in a way. With sympathy, the therapists’ perspective may be different from yours. When your therapist empathizes with you, they’ll try to understand where you’re coming from and why you’re feeling the way you do.
- Be Objective and Neutral
A therapist should give their professional opinion and analysis without any bias. They should be objective, looking at situations from an outside view and forming opinions based on the facts rather than on their personal thoughts or beliefs. Your therapist will analyze and explore scenarios, thoughts, and feelings to find a resolution that works best for you.
What a Therapist Should NOT Do
- Be Judgmental
You should not feel that your therapist is judging you. They shouldn’t be suggesting that your ideas are bad or wrong, or that you shouldn’t be feeling a certain way. Your therapist should make you feel comfortable with being yourself and expressing your true thoughts and emotions.
- Be Aggressive
No therapist should be overly aggressive and make you feel small and insignificant. They can give suggestions and guide you in the right direction, but true change comes from within you. Your therapist shouldn’t be forcing you to change. You should feel inspired and empowered going into therapy. You want to find your goal, not be told exactly what to do.
- Doesn’t Pay Attention to What You’re Saying
Again, active listening is such a key part of being a good therapist. It is a major skill that everyone—especially therapists—should have. It keeps the conversation going and moves the session in a positive direction. They should be letting you take the lead and exploring topics that you bring up. This leads into the next thing good therapists shouldn’t do.
- Talk About Themselves
Therapists should leave themselves and their lives out of their sessions with you. They also shouldn’t draw from their experiences to help you. Everyone’s situation is unique. Again, the focus should be on you and what you’re going through. Unless you ask the therapist to disclose something about their life, they should not make relate situations back to them.
- Get Angry or Yell at You
There is a difference between pushing and challenging versus getting angry and yelling. Your therapist should never become angry at you or yell at you. Sure, there are situations where a little tough love is needed to help you change or grow, but there should never be any malice behind it. There is no excuse for a therapist to verbally or physically abuse a client out of anger.