What to look for in a therapist?

Finding the right therapist can feel a little bit like navigating the world of dating. 

Much like someone trying out a new personal trainer or group class for the first time, whether or not someone comes back is not just based on how much they sweat. People base their decisions on whether or not to continue working with you by looking for signs of a good fit and match. 

Do you have a friendly and approachable personality that makes them feel comfortable showing up as they are? Do you share their values and idea of what “healthy” consists of? And a lot of times people are also looking to see if the instructor or trainer knows what it’s like to be in their shoes, if they share a similar lived experience. 

The things that make a great trainer and fitness instructor are also things to look for in a therapist. A good trainer AND a good therapist should be nonjudgemental. They are not there to pass judgement or tell you what’s “wrong.” They’re not even really there to provide advice. They’re there to help you grow. They should show you how to do something rather just tell you to do it. And last but most importantly, they need to earn your trust. A good trainer AND a good therapist should recognize all the facets to you as an individual and how they influence your life, and they do this through time, care, and taking a genuine interest in you.

Based on past experiences with mental health professionals (i.e., their own past interactions, what friends and family share, and what is portrayed in the media), the people you work with will have their own ideas about what it means to be a therapist or counselor. 

As a mental health advocate, you can help others who might feel discouraged based on their past experiences by sharing about the many different approaches to therapy and the many different types of therapists. 

When discussing mental health challenges, it’s important to highlight the possibility and potential for growth. Reassure the person you’re concerned about that the so many petiole are out there who want to help and they deserve a therapist they connect with. Someone they can trust and feel comfortable sharing the good and the not-so-good with. Just like they found you and trust in you to help them with their physical health, they can also find a therapist that’s the best fit for them.

In addition to considering the logistics (i.e., transportation, schedule availability, cost) there are a few things to consider when judging whether a therapist or counselor is a good fit. 

Remember, I have a FREE resource for fitness professionals who want to add to their resources. This guide links to a variety of national and community organizations, many of which allow you to search by zip code to find help closest to you.

Here’s what to look for in a therapist:

  • They listen to you without judgement. 
  • They help you think of solutions rather than just telling you what to do. 
  • They provide you with the tools needed to support your recovery. 
  • They admit when they don’t know something, take the time to educate themselves when possible or help connect you with someone who specializes in your concerns.
  • You feel comfortable opening up to them because they’ve earned your trust.

In addition, the following two questions are good to ask before your first session. Often this information can be found on the therapist’s website. 

What are their credentials? This could be evaluated by their educational background, their specializations, and reviews. You want to work with someone who’s going to use evidence-based and ethical practices, not just the latest fad circulating social media, to help you with your specific concerns. Each state has its own regulations about the education and licensing requirements needed to be considered a mental health professional.

What therapeutic approach guides their work? Knowing their therapeutic approach will help you better understand why they are so interested in your childhood experiences or why they are so focused on identifying your thought patterns. Their therapeutic approach will guide how they work with you and how they track your growth. There are about as many different approaches to therapy as there are different group fitness formats to get certified in, so you want to find one that resonates with you and your values. 

What else does it take to make a good fit? A Google search of “what makes a good therapist” can shed light on some additional questions you can ask yourself or discuss with a potential therapist to determine if they’re the right match.  Good Therapy has an article on “What is Good Therapy?” and Healthline has also identified the “Signs of a Good Therapist” 

If you’d like to learn more about the different types of professional and self-help resources available to those looking to work on their mental health, becoming a Mental Health First Aider is a great place to start. I have a few courses scheduled, click below to see when the next course is offered.

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