What a long way we’ve come. Finally, the world over, many are beginning to give mental health the attention it deserves.
Challenges involving mental health have often been dismissed as problems for the weak or rich or bored. But now, more people are starting to recognise that just as a broken knee needs intervention, so does one’s struggling mental health.
Perhaps it could be a generational effect, with millennials stated to be the generation most willing to voluntarily seek therapy and counselling. Or maybe it could be coronavirus-related, with therapists having an almost impossible high-demand trying to cater to more people than usual—even virtually. With the worldwide pandemic upon us, many are turning to therapists to help them cope with the uncertainties and anxieties of life right now.
The lingering question for many, then, often becomes, ‘how do I know if I’ve found the right therapist for me?’
Here are 9 ways to know:
1. They prioritise confidentiality.
Confidentiality is paramount when it comes to professionals and your mental health.
Your first session with your therapist should be about you and the therapist vetting each other to see if you’re a good fit. In this session, the right therapist will mention that they will treat your sessions and what you tell them with the utmost confidentiality.
You both should ideally go as far as signing a confidentiality form to make this agreement official.
It is important to note, however, that there are a few exceptions to the oath of confidentiality. These can include matters involving suicide, abuse, or violence.
2. They treat you as an equal.
Although you go to see them as a patient, the right therapist will treat you as an equal. They recognise and respect that although you might not know much about therapy and its process, you are an equal individual who has your own voice, experiences, opinions, thoughts and beliefs.
The therapist should also be open to answering any questions you may have about them and how they work, especially when it comes to their professional experience in dealing with specific topics, such as: narcissism, abuse, dysfunction or drugs.
3. They articulate and implement boundaries.
The right therapist works with consistent boundaries.
For example, the right therapist should:
- Conduct your sessions in an office—and in the same office—whenever possible. If the sessions are virtual, they should guard your privacy, ensuring your conversations are not in anyone else’s earshot.
- Be punctual always. And the sessions should run for a consistent period. (Most therapists run their sessions for the classic 50-minute-per hour, weekly.)
- Establish clear physical boundaries to prevent confusion down the line. For example, for greetings, some therapists allow handshakes, but never hugs. If this is a rule for them, they should let you know early, and be consistent.
- Be clear about outside-therapy social interactions. An agreement should be formed on the kind of acknowledgment to be had between you and your therapist outside of your sessions. For instance, should you bump into each other at a mall or a wedding, what’s the protocol? Can you hug or shake hands? Or do you just nod and keep going?
- Never check their phones for calls or texts while you’re having a session, unless there’s an emergency and they’ve alerted you of this.
- Never talk about themselves during your sessions. Not about their troubles, their favourite colour, their dogs, nothing. The sessions should always be about you and getting your needs met.
- Never suggest you meet them at a café/restaurant/mall for your sessions. This is extremely unprofessional.
4. They are empathetic.
The right therapist not only listens to you, but also empathises with you and what you’re going through, no matter how small an issue it may seem.
They don’t doubt, dismiss, discount, gaslight, invalidate, undermine, victim-blame or shame you, your story, or your truth.
As soon as you feel like you have to over-explain or justify yourself for a therapist to ‘get it’, it’s time to get out. They’re not the right one for you.
5. They stretch you out of your comfort zone.
You don’t have to always agree with your therapist, and you probably won’t always agree with each other, and that’s okay.
The right therapist will be tough enough to stretch you out of your comfort zone, but they’ll do this with professionalism and tact. Never with carelessness, rudeness or malice.
6. They work with you, not against you.
The right therapist meets you where you’re at mentally and works with you on your journey towards healing. They would never force you to do anything you don’t want to do or are not ready to do yet. For example, they would never force you to forgive someone until you’re ready to.
Great therapists also want the best for you, root for you, cheer you on, encourage you and genuinely wish you well.
7. They equip you with all the tools you need.
The right therapist won’t merely give you advice or answers to your challenges. They’ll instead equip you with the right tools, so that you can find the answers you seek independently and are able to navigate life in the real world confidently.
8. They guide you towards clear goals.
The right therapist doesn’t entertain mere rants and vents but sees to it that the both of you work towards a particular goal. In that way, with every session you’re both able to gauge how much you’ve grown and how far you have to go.
And when the time comes for your sessions to end, you’ll be able to comfortably ascertain if you’ve gotten to where you needed and wanted to be.
9. They settle any lingering doubts.
Like other professions, there are unfortunately some bad apples in the world of mental health, and this can make it difficult for you to know if you’ve found the right therapist. The right therapist would be more than willing to settle any doubts, questions or concerns you may have about them as professionals, your sessions or the therapy process in general.
The tips outlined in this article can only act as an informative guide, but ultimately, the best way to know if you’ve found the right therapist is to listen to your gut. Your gut instincts are your protective internal marker—they will tell you exactly what you need to know about the therapist you’ve chosen, your sessions, and the journey you’re on.
The key is to pay attention to your gut and to keep searching until you find a therapist who is just the right fit for you.
Don’t settle for a therapist who is less-than. Your mental health deserves more than that.
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Longman M (21 May 2020) ‘What it’s like to be a therapist during Covid-19’, Refinery 29, accessed 13 April 2021.
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