Do you take this therapist to be your sounding board, your confidant, and a part of your support system? Before saying the big “I do”, reflect on what your needs are and how to determine if they’re being met by your therapist.
After all, you are putting a great deal of trust into this person and want to make sure the fit is right before entering into a committed relationship! Have you ever really considered that finding a therapist is like dating and ultimately taking the plunge? Let’s explore therapist fit.
In the “therapy world” we talk about building RAPPORT. What does this really mean and how do we achieve it? The answer will of course be different for everyone, but here are a few things to consider when deciding if your therapist is a good fit to support your mental health:
R = Relationship
Presumably, you want your RELATIONSHIP with your therapist to be based on a strong foundation of trust, safety and non-judgement. Without these elements, therapy, as with any relationship, simply cannot work. It is also important to ensure that the expectations you have of your therapist and the expectations they have of you are clearly communicated, understood, and agreed upon before moving forward.
Do you believe your therapist will fix your problems and tell you what to do or do you believe your therapist should facilitate/guide rather than “fix”? Have you identified and communicated your goals, sharing things like perhaps you are not yet ready to address your trauma in-depth but would like to begin working through your social anxiety?
In relationships, if one person is looking for something long-term and sees marriage in their future, while the other is looking for something more casual, the chances of making a good match aren’t great. Similarly, you need to know what your therapist can offer you and they need to know what your goals are and how committed you are to the process.
A = Availability
Scheduling and availability might not be the most romantic elements to consider when deciding if you have a future with someone, but the reality is that they can be barriers and logistics do need to be taken into account. If you’re in one time zone while your partner is in another, finding the time to connect might turn into a chore and/or obligation and become stressful, exhausting, and time consuming.
When embarking on a potential new relationship (be it romantic or professional) you want to set yourself up for success. Whatever brought you to therapy has most likely already impacted your day-to-day (mood, energy levels, quality of sleep, interpersonal difficulties) so you might want to think twice before committing to a therapist who can only offer you an appointment first thing in the morning if that’s the absolute worst time for you.
P = Practice
Think about your last relationship and why it ended…alright, maybe don’t go there…consider this instead: hypothetically, can a difference in lifestyle contribute to one’s relationship not working out? Perhaps you are a planner, and they were spontaneous; perhaps you are a homebody, and they were adventurous? Determining if your therapist is a good fit is no different.
Some therapists take a very structured approach. They tend to address specific goals at specific times, provide homework in the form of worksheets and exercises, and anticipate the direction they intend to take each session while still being in tune with their clients’ needs.
Others might choose to approach therapy from the opposite side of the spectrum and take an unstructured approach. This may mean little to no homework, more investigative/exploratory therapy (rather than skills-based) and the exchange of free information that guides discussion from one session to the next.
Other therapists might offer a little from column A and a little from column B. All approaches (as with lifestyles) have their advantages and disadvantages. You know yourself best and what approach you are most likely to respond to so do not compromise. Instead, find a therapist that best fits your “lifestyle” to increase the chances of a happily ever after.
P = Personality
Opposites attract as I’m sure many couples out there can attest to; however, it is also reasonable to believe that like-minded people have less difficulty connecting; at least initially. Since you may not want to invest the same amount of time/energy into finding a therapist as you might in finding a partner, first impressions do matter!
When searching for the “right” therapist with the right therapist style for you, you might want to consider how similar their traits and tendencies are to your own. An outgoing and extroverted therapist for someone who is timid and introverted might be overwhelming and intimidating.
O = Objectivity
Therapy is hard. If it’s easy, you’re doing it wrong! Although individual goals differ from client to client, the broad goal for most is self-improvement. For goals to be achieved, you will be required to step outside of your comfort zone, sit with uncomfortable or unpleasant emotions, and challenge your negative or distorted thinking.
A good therapist, like a good partner, will gently push you, allow you the space to process your discomfort, offer you alternative perspectives, and support you with arriving at a healthier place ultimately leading to self-growth. The ability to remain objective and not become emotionally invested is a skill that most partners struggle with because they love and care for you; therapists, on the other hand, want to see you improve and wish for your success while creating and maintaining healthy boundaries.
R = Relatability
Shared experiences can enhance a connection between two people. The familiarity and comfort one might feel when socializing with someone who: has had similar experiences, comes from the same culture, is the same age/gender, or is relatable in other ways is natural. This is all the more true for those pursuing therapy after feeling isolated, fearful, anxious, uncertain, and vulnerable.
We tend to find our romantic partners (at least before the age of the internet) in mutually-visited environments (work, places of worship, the gym, school), which already tells us that we have at the very least one thing in common. This, of course, does not mean that all who identify as a member of the LGBTQ2S+ community, for example, must have a therapist who also identifies as a member of the LGBTQ2S+ community, but if you feel this will strengthen your alliance, then consider it when finding a therapist.
T = Therapeutic Modalities
There is no one size fits all approach in therapy. Just like you cannot put two random strangers together and KNOW that they will hit it off, it is unreasonable to believe that ANY therapist can work with ANY client successfully. The approach a therapist uses (referred to as therapeutic modality) differs depending on their training, experience, and the client they are working with.
Dr. Gary Chapman, Ph.D., author of the 5 Love Languages, suggests that “different people with different personalities give and receive love in different ways". By learning to recognize these preferences in yourself and in your loved ones, you can learn to identify the root of your conflicts, connect more profoundly, and truly begin to grow closer.”
So how does this relate to improving the likelihood that you and your therapist are a good fit? Consider what “language” your therapist speaks: Emotion-Focussed, Trauma-Informed, Solution-focused? More importantly, what “language” might you speak or want to learn?
Your response to therapy can depend on the approach being taken by your therapist. Do your homework on the various modalities out there such as cognitive behavioural therapy or dialectical behavioural therapy and don’t be afraid to ask questions about their approach.
So, there you have it! When finding a therapist and deciding whether they’re a good fit, it might be helpful to consider RAPPORT: relationship, availability, practice, personality, objectivity, relatability, and therapeutic modalities. Like dating, the first one may not turn out to be your soulmate, but with patience and attentiveness to your needs, your happily ever after will be around the corner.
- Facing mental health challenges? Layla is here to help - Individuals, couples, and families use Layla for personalized, convenient therapy. Layla matches you to a suitable therapist and manage the therapy process in a warm, dependable manner, supporting you on your journey to better health. Learn more here
- New to therapy? Here's your beginner guide - Starting therapy can evoke feelings of vulnerability, but knowing what to expect can help. The journey is individualized, with no exact right or wrong way. During the first session, typically administrative matters are discussed, goals are set, and you and your therapist will get to know each other. Fit between you and you therapist is very important for your outcomes, and it's okay to switch if the fit isn't right. Therapy is adjusted to your timeline and constraints, and can range from weekly to monthly sessions. Reflecting on what you wish to accomplish can guide the process.
Disclaimer: The content on this blog is for informational purposes only and should not be considered healthcare or medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Consult with a healthcare professional for appropriate support.