Last night, I was watching yet another show where yet another person has a lousy experience with a subpar therapist. Apart from feeling confused and somewhat annoyed, it got me thinking, what’s with all the bad therapists portrayed on television? You know, the therapist that gives crappy advice, talks incessantly about themselves, charges extortionate prices or asks repetitively, “How does that make you feel?” Aside from revealing a cultural misunderstanding of psychotherapy and mental health recovery, these portrayals also prompt the question, is this stuff actually happening? Surely, there must be something behind the inspiration for these representations. Rest assured, however, that there are ways to identify a good therapist.
1)Help you feel accepted.
An effective therapist will make you feel accepted and that you can trust them with the things you choose to share. Empathy and acceptance are sort of a prerequisite to the job, so if you feel judged or like you need to censor yourself with your therapist, this is definitely a red flag.
Therapy is relational. This means that the crucial component of the therapy process is the therapeutic relationship between the client and therapist. Effective therapists are open and genuine about their experiences, both with themselves and with their clients. Therapist congruence helps the client to trust the therapist and also models to clients how to recognise, accept and communicate their own feelings.
3)Don’t give advice.
Effective therapists don’t give advice. They will not tell you what to do. This is because you are the expert of your own life. A therapist can help you to make informed decisions by exploring issues with you, but they are not in a position to make decisions about your life. Advice is different from suggestions. Most therapists will offer thoughtful suggestions (anything from exercises/activities to try to books to read) but it’s up to you to decide whether their suggestions feel relevant for you.
4)Listen more than they speak.
Good therapists listen more than they speak. Therapy gives clients the opportunity to process their own material and a therapist cannot do your processing work for you. For this reason, the client generally speaks a great deal more than the therapist. There are exceptions to this, for example, when your therapist is explaining an exercise or providing psychoeducation. Even then, the focus should remain on the client.
5)Won’t claim to have all the answers.
An effective therapist won’t claim to have the answers or “cure”. The human psyche is extremely complex and there are thousands of factors that can impact someone’s recovery journey. Most practitioners have come to view recovery as an ongoing journey rather than a destination. This is because setbacks and adversity are an inevitable component of the human experience. A good therapist will help you manage the ebbs and flows of your recovery journey and build emotional resilience for the challenges to come months or years down the line.
6)Admit their own limitations.
An effective therapist will admit their own limitations. They will not claim to have knowledge or experience that they don’t possess and will be upfront about their own competencies. They should also be able to explain their therapeutic approach and what you can expect from the therapy process in a way that you understand.
7)Maintain healthy boundaries.
Boundaries are essential to the therapeutic process. Professional boundaries help clients feel safe and protect them from poor or unethical practice. Your therapist will not relate to you as a friend, and for a very good reason. Therapy is an emotional process and exploring difficult experiences can make clients feel vulnerable. Therapists have a responsibility to protect their clients from psychological harm and must manage the power dynamics of therapy carefully and respectfully to keep clients safe. This is not to imply that therapists won’t share things about themselves with their clients from time to time. The purpose of therapist self-disclosure, however, should always be for the client’s benefit.
8)Educate their clients.
Effective therapists take time to provide psychoeducation to clients, where relevant. This may mean explaining to clients how a mental health condition effects their functioning or the therapeutic process. Information like this can help clients put things into perspective and better manage the therapy process for themselves.
Effective therapists are committed to ongoing professional development. The realm of psychology and psychotherapy is always developing and changing, and an effective therapist will engage with research and best practice throughout their careers.
10)Seek their own support.
Therapy is a challenging job and effective therapists are dedicated to their own self-care and personal development. Effective and ethical therapists seek supervision for their work to review their work with clients and their own personal and professional development. Many therapists also seek their own therapy. Regular supervision, personal therapy and self-care all help to prevent emotional fatigue and burnout and ensure that therapists are capable of providing the best care to their clients.
I hope this has provided some guidance on how to identify an effective and dedicated therapist. If you’re seeking to begin therapy, I strongly encourage you to visit BACP’s register for a therapist in your area. This ensures that the therapist has met certain standards of proficiency, professionalism and ethical practice. The link to their register is: https://www.bacp.co.uk/search/Therapists. If you’re hoping to begin therapy online, I highly recommend checking The Association for Counselling and Therapy Online (ACTO) registry. This ensures that the therapist has met minimum training requirements for conducting therapy online and managing associated challenges: https://acto-org.uk/therapists/. Many therapists offer an initial session to see whether the therapist and prospective client are a good fit for working together. This initial session also gives clients an opportunity to ask questions about the way the therapist works. It is also completely acceptable to meet with several therapists before committing to begin therapy with a specific therapist to ensure you’ve found the right therapist for you and your needs.