The most important factor in therapy is therapeutic alliance. Therapeutic alliance refers to the relationship between the therapist and client, which is critical to the success of therapy.
What To Consider When Choosing A Therapist:
- Your Needs and Goals
What are you looking to get out of therapy? For example, do you want to work on emotional regulation, increase intimacy in your relationships, develop new coping skills, heal from old wounds, or something else?
To figure out what you want from therapy, try asking yourself:
What do I want to be different about my life? Asking yourself this question helps make it clear what you are wanting to get from therapy – try writing your thoughts down and coming up with as many ideas as possible.
Is there a specific modality I’m looking for? Consider what modality might be best suited for your goals. This might be hard to know since there are so many kinds of therapy out there to explore (CBT, Art Therapy, Gestalt Therapy, EMDR, IFS, and these are just a few!), but you can do a little research and see what resonates with you.
Knowing what you want out of therapy will empower you to make the best choice for yourself.
- Qualifications & Experience
Most therapists are trained to work with a wide variety of common issues (any therapist should be able to help with anxiety and depression), but sometimes more specialized experience is important.
If you’re struggling with Complex PTSD, an abusive relationship, chronic illness, an eating disorder, or a variety of other complex challenges, you may want to find a therapist who has specific training, expertise, or lived experience in that area.
You can usually find this information on their website, but if anything is unclear, you can ask them! Here are a few questions worth asking:
What school did your therapist attend? You can look up the school they attended to see if that style of therapy resonates with you. There are so many different types of training and styles of therapy out there, and you should feel free to ask your therapist about their approach. Just a few examples of therapist training programs you’ll find in Canada are: Gestalt Therapy, Psychoanalysis, Relational Therapy, Expressive Arts, Couples/Relationship, and more.
How many years have they been practicing? Your therapist should be open with you about their level of experience. In any therapist directory you will find a wide range of experience levels among therapists. Newer therapists often have more affordable rates and typically practice under supervision to ensure they are providing the best care possible.
Do they have experience with… (the specific issue you are hoping to work on)? No therapist will come with experience in every area, but this doesn’t mean they won’t be able to support you. However, in some cases you might feel more comfortable working with someone who is very familiar with the issue you are navigating. Lived experience as well as specialized training can sometimes make a big difference.
Do they belong to a Regulatory Body? In Canada, not all provinces require you to be regulated in order to practice therapy, however, regulation provides assurance that therapists have met certain standards of training. If your therapist isn’t registered, this doesn’t mean they don’t have solid expertise, but in these cases you should definitely ask them about their training and experience. If you’ll be submitting receipts to your insurance, this question might be especially important since usually only registered therapists are covered.
This is about whether the therapist can meed your basic needs. To avoid unnecessary complications down the road, ask about the following items in your initial email or consultation:
Schedule: Does the therapist have availability that works for you? Do you need evening, daytime, or weekend appointments?
Location: Do they offer in-person sessions, online therapy, or a combination of both?
Cost: Is their rate accessible to you? Do they offer a sliding scale? Does their fee allow you to see them consistently without impacting your financial well being?
Accessibility: Can they accommodate any other other needs you have?
- Therapeutic Alliance
Evidence has shown therapeutic alliance is critical to the success of therapy. But what exactly is “therapeutic alliance” and how will you know if you have it?
Here are some things to consider:
Personality: Does the therapist’s personality generally “match” with yours? Are they easy to talk to? Sometimes this is just a matter of chemistry. If it’s not there, it’s ok to try someone else.
Collaboration: Does the therapist work collaboratively with you? Do they ask you for input on what you think would be most helpful?
Person Centered: Do they ensure not to impose their own values on you? You should be in the drivers seat in therapy. A good therapist will ensure that your goals are the priority, and seek your input and feedback often.
Empathy: Does the therapist show empathy, compassion, and understanding towards your situation? Do you feel heard, validated, and supported? Feeling understood is essential to building a strong therapeutic relationship.
Communication Style: Does the therapist communicate in a way that works for you? Do they listen actively and provide feedback that you find helpful? When they respond to you do you feel validated, and seen? Are they open to you correcting them?
Trust: Do you trust your therapist to keep your sessions confidential and follow proper ethical guidelines? Do they show up reliably and on time? Trust is essential in building a strong therapeutic alliance and the little things matter.
- Trust Your Instincts
When it comes to finding the right therapist, trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, for whatever reason, it’s okay to move on and try someone new. It’s essential to feel comfortable and safe with your therapist, and sometimes that just comes down to chemistry. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or bring up concerns, either during the initial consultation, or at any point along your therapeutic journey. A good therapist should always be open to your concerns and have your best interests in mind (even if that means ending the therapeutic relationship and providing some referrals). They should encourage you to trust yourself and respect your decisions.
- Get Referrals and Recommendations
Getting referrals and recommendations from trusted sources can be a helpful way to find a therapist. Do you have friends who have done therapy before and had good experiences? Sometimes a therapist won’t be able to see if you they are seeing your friend, but they might be able to provide some referrals!
You can also ask your doctor or family members if they have any recommendations. You could even reach out to your local Facebook group and ask if anyone has had a particularly good experience with someone.
If you have insurance, you can check with your insurance company, sometimes they have a list of approved therapists in your area.
Choosing a therapist is an important decision and it’s essential to find someone you trust and feel good about working with.
Remember to trust your instincts, ask questions, and take advantage of initial consultations to make an informed decision.