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Finding the Right Mental Health Therapist when You Need One

To achieve the best outcomes in therapy, it’s important to be open and vulnerable. However, before you can truly let go and do this, you must feel safe, secure and respected by your therapist. This is why finding the right fit, also referred to as a therapeutic alliance, is so critical to successful therapy. 

A misalignment with your therapist may cause you to feel uncomfortable fully sharing, leading to an incomplete picture of your health. This can cause frustration, misunderstanding and ineffective therapy. Fortunately, with the right personal and professional fit, therapy can be incredibly healing.  

Personal Fit 

While clients and therapists are not technically friends, a good rapport does require a level of mutual appreciation and respect. Although most people go into new dynamics with this hope, it doesn’t always happen for various reasons. Sometimes clients have a negative reaction to a therapist based on their voice, age, physical appearance or other characteristics. Perhaps the therapist’s demeanor reminds them of someone from their past who negatively impacted them. Like dating, forcing something that doesn’t feel right will not work out in the long run.  

Making progress on your goals and finding success is easier if people are working with those they respect and like. Some clients ‘tolerate’ therapy as they believe the therapist is skilled and educated and they should therefore  attend sessions in an effort for change. However, if it appears that the client-therapist relationship is missing mutual esteem and respect, it may be time to consider looking at other therapists that can offer a better connection.

While this may be uncomfortable, letting your therapist know that you don’t think it’s a good fit is common and expected. Therapists are well-aware that every client won’t be a match. Therapy is not about hurting feelings, offending or breaking up – it’s a service you are accessing to help improve your life, so if it isn’t working, it is wise to advocate for yourself and move on. 

Professional Fit 

Therapists design their practice with different approaches and methods to help clients address their issues. Clients can respond negatively or positively to the particular professional modalities being practiced. As a client, it is important that you feel that this professional fit to achieve therapeutic success. 

There are many different approaches to therapy such as:  

    • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) 
    • Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) 
    • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
    • Attachment-based therapy
    • Art therapy
    • Play therapy, and more.  

If the modalities of a therapist’s practice are not a good fit, there are always alternative options available through another therapist whose approach might work for you. 

Three ways to find the right therapist 

  1. You can, quite literally, shop around. It’s often a process of trial and error, followed by self-reflection on your experiences. This method can take a fair bit of time, effort, and money with no guarantee of a positive outcome.  
  2. Online searches for therapists in the area is another option. Most sites today are well designed to answer questions for those seeking information on theories and approaches, area of focus, location and fees. However, when you’re overwhelmed or unfamiliar with the available approaches, this online adventure can seem daunting and fruitless. 
  3. Mental Healthcare Navigators, available at Harrison Healthcare, can help do the heavy lifting. We connect with you for a brief assessment of your situation and what you are seeking care for. We discuss your therapy preferences such as remote versus in-person care, particular therapeutic modalities, and the age and gender of your therapist. We then produce a short list of options that can assist you to efficiently and appropriately find the right therapeutic fit.  

We then recommend scheduling therapist consultations (think of it as speed dating!) This typically involves brief phone or video chat interactions between you and the therapist to determine a fit. I suggest discussing what you are seeking therapy for, what outcome you’re hoping for, and what you expect of your therapist in general. Based on these consultations, you’ll have a good idea of who would work best for you, and you will therefore have significantly increased the chances of a good outcome.  

Three key qualities to look for in a therapist 

According to the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association there are three qualities to look for in a therapist during your search: empathy, genuineness, and respect. These important traits help create an open and safe environment where profound thoughts, beliefs, and feelings can be shared with ease. Empathy helps lay a foundation for connection; genuineness and sincerity create an environment of ease and openness; and respect establishes safety. Together these traits help you feel accepted for all your strengths and weaknesses so you can comfortably discuss your deepest concerns and start to heal.   

Research shows that therapeutic relationship factors are as important as the treatment method.

Finding the right fit or therapeutic alliance is crucial for successful therapy. It’s essential in helping you connect with your therapist, remain engaged with your progress, and ultimately get the most from your therapy. 

Feeling like your therapist truly understands you and that you’re in a healthy, safe space is something we all deserve. With the right guidance and support, you can find your match. Please connect with your Harrison Healthcare team to speak with one of our skilled Mental Healthcare Navigators.  


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