How do I know my therapist is "the one"?
How to assess fit and progress in therapy.
by Maggie Jordan
It’s often easy to tell when a therapist is not the one for you -- sometimes all it takes is a few minutes to realize that it’s not the right fit. On the other hand, knowing if you’ve found a great therapist can be more nuanced and difficult to tease apart.
A good therapist-client fit can be pinned down by asking yourself two broad questions:
1. Do I feel a connection with this therapist?
2. Am I making progress?
Ultimately, trust your gut to answer these questions. If you’re unsure, look for these concrete signs of a great therapist-client fit in order to decide if you want to develop an ongoing relationship with your therapist. Don’t expect to check off all of these factors-- they’re just a few ideas to help you get started!
Do I feel a connection with this therapist?
I look forward to attending therapy sessions
I don’t feel nervous when I’m in the waiting room
I am committed to the therapy process; if my therapist assigns homework, I complete it. I don’t feel the need to cancel or reschedule appointments without reason.
If I were to picture spaces where I feel free to be myself, my therapist’s office might come to mind
If my therapist used a technique I didn’t like or find helpful, I would give honest feedback
I feel that I am being listened to; my therapist doesn’t frequently look at the clock or check their phone, they ask relevant questions, and remember a good amount of detail between sessions
My identity is validated and respected in therapy; my therapist uses the correct pronouns to describe me and my partner(s), and is understanding of my religious beliefs and cultural background
I feel that my therapy is a truly judgement-free space. No matter what I decide to share, my therapist reacts without judgement
I don’t feel pressured to share more than I am ready to; I am encouraged to open up at my own pace while still moving the therapy forward
I am happy with the balance of talking and listening I do in therapy
I feel there is the right combination of skill-building and self-exploration
I feel valued and respected as a whole person, rather than described in or reduced to symptoms
Working with my therapist is a professional experience; they are on time to appointments and are easy to get in touch with in-between sessions. They have clearly outlined their office policies and consistently apply them. They do not violate the confidentiality of other clients. We have discussed payment and I am comfortable with their rate and my insurance coverage
I can see that my therapist genuinely cares about me and my well-being and wants to help me make progress towards my goals; they always keep the focus on me and maintain appropriate boundaries
My overall therapy experience is warm, safe, and validating
I feel confident that my therapist has the skills and expertise to help me work towards my larger therapy goals
I am comfortable discussing how to measure if I am making progress and would be honest if I did not make progress at the pace I expected
Am I making progress?
After your first three therapy sessions, you should see some sort of progress. However, don’t expect to accomplish all of the milestones mentioned below overnight. Some may unfold throughout the course of therapy, but it depends on what you’re looking to get out of your therapy experience and the timeline you establish with your therapist. Some ways people measure therapy progress include:
I feel symptom relief not only when I’m in the therapist’s office, but also in between sessions
I have gained a tangible skill that I use in my daily life
I feel more at ease with myself and am more confident presenting my true self
I feel less guilty about mistakes I’ve made in the past, and am more able to forgive people for mistakes they have made
I am more hopeful about the future
Other people have noticed positive changes in my demeanor or behavior
I have gained insight into who I am and why my thoughts and behaviors work the way they do
I feel more capable of expressing myself to those around me; I have fewer misunderstandings and am better able to interpret other people’s intentions
I have a clearer picture of my future and what I want my life to look like. I know what I have to do to get there, and I feel capable of taking steps towards those goals.
I have reduced risky, unhealthy, or self-limiting behaviors
I feel less burdened by events of the past
I feel more in control of my thoughts, emotions, and behaviors
I feel less dependent on others to help me or make decisions for me
I am building stronger, healthier relationships. I can set appropriate boundaries that limit toxic people in my life and share myself more openly with people who influence me positively
I find myself being less reactive and more thoughtful with people around me
I am more capable of coping with triggers and stressful situations
I have a greater belief in the innate good in people and generally have a more positive outlook on life
I know myself better than I did before starting therapy
If after a few sessions you can’t say you’ve made any progress and you’re not sure you feel a connection with your therapist, it may be time to let them know it isn’t working. It’s very common to have try out a few therapists before you find the one that clicks, but don’t give up! When you do feel a strong connection, you’ll start making progress towards your therapy goals.
Maggie Jordan is Zencare's Therapist Success Manager. She is deeply committed to increasing access to care by streamlining the therapist search process, and particularly enjoys connecting LGBTQ+ folks with culturally competent therapists. She is a graduate of Brown University where she competed as a varsity swimmer.