Finding a therapist is hard. Finding a therapist that is the right fit for you is even harder.

You’re looking for someone to bare your soul to. They’ll be privy to your innermost thoughts and feelings with this person; you will likely reveal to them things that you may not ever share with anyone else.  

Of course, clicking with a clinician in this setting is a very individual thing. What works for one person may not work for another. However, there are some basic criteria that I believe all therapists should fulfil, for any client. Here are some essential things that you should be looking out for.

They have an official qualification.

To ensure that the individual has completed sufficient training and assessments, it’s important to check out their credentials. Unfortunately, there are many unlicensed individuals out there who will advertise phony qualifications, or no qualifications at all.

In order to complete these background checks, you can request a specific therapist to show or send you proof of their qualifications. Alternatively, find out what the official register of therapists is in your area, and search on the database. This will depend on where you live; different countries and regions have their own certifying boards. You can also ask your GP/doctor for recommendations or referrals, as they will only refer you to legitimate, qualified counsellors. By doing your research, you’ll be sure that the individuals you come across are licensed professionals.

Some would recommend seeking someone with significant experience, however I don’t think this is necessarily an indication of who will be the right fit for you. I say this from personal experience: one of the best therapists I’ve had was a trainee psychologist, and I clicked much better with her than the more seasoned professionals I had seen on other occasions. Therefore, I wouldn’t say that you need to rule someone out just because they don’t have a tonne of experience.

You feel relatively safe and comfortable talking to them.
Woman lying on couch in therapy session with therapist taking notes.

Trusting your clinician is a key element of psychotherapy. Of course, the prospect of being vulnerable with a complete stranger is intimidating, no matter how qualified and empathetic they are. However, an important aspect of the therapist’s job is to make you feel safe so that you can express yourself as freely and honestly as possible, without worrying about being judged.

I had a counsellor once who used to react to me in what I perceived as quite a patronising way, which was and still is a big trigger for me. While she didn’t know this at the time, it meant that I didn’t feel able to fully open up around her. While this doesn’t mean that she was a bad therapist overall, she certainly wasn’t the right one for me.

You feel that they are actively listening to you, and they understand what you’re saying.

Do they look like they’re engaged when you’re speaking? Are their responses relevant to what you’re saying or does it seem like they’re only waiting for a gap in the conversation to insert their point? Do they seem to interrupt you often?

Yes, a therapist must do a fair amount of the talking in order to guide you through your thoughts, emotions, and problems. Pay attention to how and when they are speaking to you, however. If you feel that you’re not receiving adequate attention, this could be a red flag.

They remember key points that you’ve told them, and you don’t keep having to remind them of basic facts.

Therapists are only human, with regular human memory capacities. Therefore, we don’t need to expect them to remember everything, particularly facts that aren’t relevant to your emotional health. However, if they keep needing to be reminded of fundamental aspects about your life, such as your relationship with your parents, or what your emotional triggers are, you should consider looking for someone else.

They push you to work through your problems and confront your issues, but only as much as you can handle.

This is a difficult one to navigate, because it’s hard to define the boundary between what’s just enough to make progress and what may have a negative impact on your wellbeing. You should be able to tell your counsellor that you don’t feel comfortable talking about something in-depth just yet. That being said, in order to heal you will need to work through these topics fully at some point.

The therapist should probe you in just the right ways: enough to get you to express and confront your issues but not enough to trigger you and send you into a downward spiral. A good therapist should know where the boundary is for the most part, but don’t be afraid to redefine it yourself if needed.

Young depressed male patient hiding face with hands sitting on couch at the psychotherapist, stressed and crying, having problems, debts, nervous breakdown, feeling bad and hopeless
They accept feedback, both positive and negative.

A responsible therapist should always be looking to improve and maintain a client-focused outlook. Part of this means accepting any feedback they receive without being defensive or personally offended. Just as you should feel comfortable speaking openly about your issues, you should feel comfortable critiquing the clinician’s methods at any time. Again, it can be hard to be confrontational in this way, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself. If the thought of bringing up a pain point in person intimidates you, consider sending them a text or an email with your concerns. Alternatively, prior to your session, plan what you would like to say, and begin the session by advising your therapist that you have some points to bring up.

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