How will I know if my therapist and I are a good match?
Finding a therapist might well feel like trying to walk a tightrope whilst carrying an elephant. Searching the internet for therapists locally (or further away if that is more comfortable) struggling to understand the terminology, and trying to get a feel for how that person might be face-to-face from a picture and a few words. Trying to navigate all of this when enveloped by urgency, possibly a sense of overwhelming need and perhaps real fear can be tricky. And the choice can feel critical.
What makes a good fit? Well, I rather feel that depends. What works for one person might not feel right to another. The road to therapy is an individual one and, as every relationship is unique, so it is with the relationship between counsellor and client. This is why recommendations can be difficult- an approach or relationship that is supportive and helpful for one mightn’t be for another. It certainly isn’t a case of one size fitting all.
It could be helpful to think about what the goals for therapy might be; what outcomes are desired, what sort of change, if any, is hoped for? It might also be helpful to think about how “getting there” might feel. Would it feel more valuable to have a set of tools aimed at altering behaviour? Would a deeper, more searching and profound approach, a getting into origins and history, feel more beneficial? This can be discussed at an initial session with the prospective therapist. Perhaps the therapist works in a results or goal-oriented way with tools and techniques to offer. Perhaps the therapist works with more of an exploratory approach, journeying within a client’s internal landscape in depth. It might be that the therapist works creatively with art media. This contributes hugely to “fit”.
There is also how it feels with the counsellor. How did it feel reading the profile, how did it feel looking at the photograph or perhaps noticing that there wasn’t a photograph? How did it feel looking over the website? All of this informs how the relationship might start and evolve. Whether there is any discomfort or whether there is an immediate sense of safety both say something about how it might be to be in therapy with that person. How those feelings are held if and when they’re talked about with a counsellor at an initial session and how as a client it feels as they are responded to can say a lot and this is worth noticing.
It might be helpful to consider that how it feels initially may well alter as therapy develops. The therapeutic relationship can and often does evolve as the therapeutic journey progresses. Feelings towards your therapist might change, possibly quite radically. Where the relationship being a good fit comes into play would be around how it feels in the room within those changes. Do alterations in the relationship feel “held”, do they feel valued and empathised with? And if not then is that able to enter the room and be broached? Does it feel ok to feel what is being felt?
Having had that initial conversation or session, how might it be should it not feel “right”? How might it be, before entering into therapy, to explore other options: to speak with as many potential counsellors as feels appropriate should the first not feel quite right? How might it be, after entering therapy, to feel that it is uncomfortable? This discomfort might well be a part of the therapeutic process and possibly important to engage with. If it feels too uncomfortable to work through with the therapist being seen, how it might it be to want to say so, to explore what might be going on around it, and look at possible alternatives including ending. All of these could say something important about ‘fit’ and whether it’s a good one.
Therapy is a relationship. It can be immensely enlightening, supportive, and potentially transformative. It can be experienced as a container - holding what is brought into the room. Whether the match between client and counsellor is a good one is an individual sense: how does that container feel? Does it feel robust, does it feel secure, is there a feeling of being held and heard within it? When these are in place, when there is a good match, when it fits, then the therapeutic experience can be remarkable.
About the author
Merri Mayers, an MBACP registered counsellor, works near Cirencester, Gloucestershire. Merri is an integrative therapist employing the most effective aspects of person centred, gestalt, psychodynamic, systemic and TA models. She works relationally, understanding that how we engage with others can illuminate how we see and feel about ourselves.
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