Is Your Therapist Right for You? Understanding Therapist-Client Fit

A woman in a therapy session looking unhappy with her relationship with the therapist.

Once you’ve made the decision to come into therapy, now what? Finding a good therapist can be tricky. One of the most important things I tell folks who are looking for a therapist is to work with a therapist who feels like a good fit for you. Therapy works better when you feel comfortable, safe, and you can allow yourself to be influenced by someone you trust. If you don’t like your therapist and don’t trust their judgement, you’re not likely to follow through on their suggestions or accept their perspective. Therapists are specifically trained to find a balance between supporting you and empathically challenging you to help you meet your goals. If you don’t feel supported by your therapist, you probably won’t feel comfortable being challenged by them either. 

The Short Answer? Like all of us, therapists are human and come in all shapes and sizes.  If your therapist doesn’t feel like a good fit for you, it’s probably time to find someone else.

To help you figure this part out, we asked 5 therapists: How do I know if my therapist is a good fit?

1. A therapist should be someone that you feel safe and comfortable opening up to. Being in therapy can bring up some very raw and vulnerable thoughts and feelings at times. It is important to make sure that you feel that your therapist is providing you with a safe, empathetic, non-judgmental, and warm environment to be able to explore those thoughts and feelings in. If you do not feel comfortable, heard, and validated, your therapist is not a good fit for you.

Allison Alvarez-Lara, LMFT

Private Practice Therapist

2. When looking for a therapist that is a good fit there are several things to consider. I would inquire if your therapist has experience working with your age group (especially for child therapy) and their specializations or experiences with treating certain diagnosis, for example addiction or trauma. When interacting with your therapist it is important that your personalities are compatible and that you trust your therapist, these could be important for therapy to be effective. Also, if you know what type of psycho-therapeutic orientation works for you or that you would like to try out, it is important to ask your therapist because it is how they will be implementing treatment. This can have a big impact on your experience in therapy.

Patricia Madrigal, LMFT

Private Practice Therapist

3. The first thought that comes to mind is to find someone you feel comfortable with almost immediately.  While trust can take time to build, your initial response is often more helpful than struggling for a few months with someone you dread talking to, or you don't feel "gets" you.  My suggestion to everyone I meet is to do some basic therapist shopping, typically with at least 3 different people.  Most therapists will offer a 15-20 minute consultation call for free as a way to gauge this goodness of fit.  Ideally, this call should be informative and answer any questions you have.  Some things to ask are what populations they like working with, what their base of theories are (you don't have to know anything about the theories, but this is often a good way to get a sense of who the person is by getting them to do some of the talking!)  

I also suggest being up front about past therapeutic experiences and sharing with them what you liked or didn't like.  Alternatively, for those who have never been in therapy, let them know this and ask some questions about what you can expect when working with them. Looking for some sort of connection and ease during this initial call is a great way to know if you will want to work with them long term.  Also, if you have been working with someone for a few sessions and it doesn't seem to be getting easier or better, don't feel bad about switching to a better fit elsewhere!  Not all therapists are a good fit for everyone, and it is better to work with someone you like and trust early on if possible. 

Ben Friday, LMFT 

Private Practice Therapist

Best Day Of The Week Therapy

4. You will know that your therapist is a good fit when he or she can work with you to create a non-judgmental, safe space for healing. Your therapist is a good fit when you know you'll be heard and not criticized. You will be validated and supported through your journey of self-discovery. Choosing the right therapist is like going into a shoe store. Some shoes might look comfortable, but when you try them on, they might be a little big or too tight. It’s okay to try different pairs of shoes to see which one fits and feels comfortable. You need a good pair of comfortable shoes that provide you the support you need as you walk through the peaks and valleys of life.

Elena Wash, LCSW

Private Practice & Community Therapist

5. I know that it can be daunting to search for a therapist. Here are some tips on how to find one that feels right for you: first, look for therapists that specialize in the particular issue that you are seeking help for. For example, if you are struggling with depression, find someone who has experience treating that same issue. Then, check out how they describe their therapeutic style (also known as their "theoretical approach.") Does it sound like an approach that you can get on board with? Lastly, schedule a call with them to get a sense of their personality and energy. Most therapists will offer a free mini-consultation to make sure that it feels like a good fit before booking. Go with your gut - if you feel comfortable over the phone then book a session. Once you start working together, try to give it at least a few sessions before you switch to a different provider. It can be very scary to open up to a complete stranger so sometimes it takes a few sessions to really hit your stride with a therapist. If you are not feeling good about the experience, however, you can always switch to a new therapist! This process should feel safe and nurturing for you, so definitely listen to your instincts and find someone that helps you feel supported.

Charlotte Haigh, LMFT

Private Practice Therapist

Hands quickly typing on a computer, excited about a good fit with their therapist.
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January 17, 2021
December 17, 2023
 Published by: 
Shannon Williams