It’s a Match: Is Your Therapist-Patient Relationship Working?
Anyone committed to their mental wellness journey needs to have the proper guide. Just like visiting a new city, not every guide can address your individual needs and desires. While one guide may be most knowledgeable about attractions and local events, if you are more interested in learning about history or the local environment you may find that the first guide you find will not be able to assist you in gaining the insight and activities you seek. Similarly, therapists and counselors are not one-size-fits-all, and it’s worth considering if your therapeutic relationship is truly working for you. Last week, we talked about how to find a new therapist and, as promised, this week we will be going over how to assess your connection with your therapist.
The easiest deal-breaker to assess whether or not your therapist is a good fit is to know if their specialization or areas of interest align with topics you hope to tackle. Many practices provide biographies on their websites that include a given practitioner’s focus areas, experience, and certifications. Websites like Psychology Today provide therapist databases that include this info, along with therapy techniques a given therapist provides (i.e. cognitive-behavioral therapy, art therapy, psychoanalysis, etc.). Just because your therapist is not listed as focusing in the treatment of a particular condition or situation does not mean that they cannot treat you. However, if your therapist’s strengths do not line up with your needs and it is impacting your growth, you might consider finding someone more equip to treat you.
Similarly, if you feel the type of therapy they provide is not helping, ask if they might try another style with you or refer you to someone who can. You might, for instance, really love your current sessions but also want to start couple’s counseling with someone other than your individual therapist. Or, perhaps you’d like to try out an alternative technique to talk therapy, such as art/music therapy, EMDR, mindfulness-based therapy, etc. You can always seek out a second therapist who can supplement (or replace) your current therapy regimen.
2. Interpersonal Compatibility
If you’ve been through a few therapists, you may have encountered one who just doesn’t feel quite right. Just like anyone you meet, you might not build a strong connection with your therapist. Sometimes it can be a matter of not feeling comfortable enough to open up to them. Other times, you may feel that your therapist is uninterested in your sessions or guides them away from what is important to you. Some amount of initial awkwardness or misunderstanding is expected when you first begin sessions with a new therapist, but you don’t need to hold on to your current provider if the connection shows no signs of improving.
Getting along is great, but your therapist should still be maintaining a healthy distance. While any good therapist should root for you, they also need to push you to do better. In some cases, you might notice that a well-intentioned therapist is not allowing you to address your mistakes or examine your actions. They might be trying to discourage harsh self-criticism, but a good therapist will allow you to explore your failures and self-criticism in a constructive way rather than foregoing it altogether.
As a medical provider, your therapist should be setting more boundaries than, say, a boss. While you might hang out with coworkers or managers outside of work, your therapist needs to maintain a strict objectivity to treat you properly, which means they cannot have any sort of personal relationship with you outside of sessions. Furthermore, in session, they should not be touching you, sitting uncomfortably close, asking for details about your sex life or disclosing their sex life, or making advances toward you in any way. This sort of behavior by a therapist is indicative of sexual harassment, and can be reported here and/or to local authorities.
If you’re still unsure about if your relationship with your therapist is working, take some time to catalogue everything you want to achieve in therapy. Consider what kinds of work you will need to do to accomplish your therapy goals. Will your current therapist help achieve these goals? Are you excited to work with them to achieve your goals? Are they working with you in a constructive way? And, are you comfortable enough to work with them for as long as it might take to achieve your goals?
Stay tuned for our next Wellness Wednesday installment!
Feldman, D. B. (2017, October 30). Five Questions to Decide If a Therapist Is Right for You. Retrieved from https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/supersurvivors/201710/five-questions-decide-if-therapist-is-right-you?amp.
Firestone, L. (2016, December 22). The Importance of the Relationship in Therapy. Retrieved from https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/compassion-matters/201612/the-importance-the-relationship-in-therapy?amp.
Key, K. (2017, October 17). If Your Therapist Harasses You: #MeToo. Retrieved from https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/counseling-keys/201710/if-your-therapist-harasses-you-metoo?amp.