The Therapeutic Bond is Queen
The therapeutic bond, or the connection between therapist and client, is the greatest single predictor of successful therapy. In other words, if you and your therapist get along well, if you feel heard by them, if safety is built-in from the beginning, you are much more likely to experience improved mental health. More so than your therapist’s specific education, license, and training, that connection predicts success. More so than their gender, race, ethnicity, religion, age, marital or economic status. “A definite correlation exists in the psychotherapy literature between the therapeutic relationship and improved outcomes,” finds Howgego et al., 2003. Theirs is one of many studies that show the biggest slice of the successful therapy pie is the therapeutic bond.
Training Does Matter, Though
If you’re considering hiring a therapist, their governing board does a lot of this legwork for you: No one can claim to be a therapist or offer therapy services without meeting educational, legal, and ethical requirements. If you’re considering hiring a coach (who isn’t also a licensed therapist), know that the coaching field is totally unregulated. This puts the onus on you, the client, to ask for coaches’ credentials. Consider getting answers to the following: What program(s) have they completed to become a coach? Who specifically has mentored and trained them? What qualifies them, whether formally or informally, to offer you mental health support? One of the benefits of working with a licensed mental health professional is there are state boards that hold them accountable to being fully trained. There are also mechanisms for you to register complaints and ask for systemic support should something go wrong with your mental health treatment. Working with a coach (again, who is unregulated) means, if anything goes wrong or you have a complaint or question, your only option for reparation is through civil or criminal court.
It’s Okay – More than Okay – to Shop Around
Often, it takes some trial and error to find the right-fit therapist. Luckily, most of us offer free consultations calls. I often speak for 15 minutes or so with potential clients who are looking for their ideal therapist. This can be an incredibly useful first step in testing out that all-important therapeutic connection; plus, it’s financially risk-free. I love getting to talk with people and feel honored to even be considered as someone’s therapist. Please don’t hesitate to ask to speak with a potential therapist before committing to a full session. It’s a great way to flush out those pre-therapy jitters and get a feel for the potential therapeutic relationship.
Look for Someone with the Specialty You Need
As well-trained and highly-recommended a therapist may come, if they don’t specialize in treating your specific problem, they can’t help you. Think of it like this: If you tore your ACL, you wouldn’t go to a world-class neurosurgeon for treatment, right? Right. Because even though that doctor is clearly smart, highly-educated, and well-respected, the reality is they just can’t help you with your knee injury, at least not nearly as well as a great orthopedic doctor can. The same is true for your mental health; choose someone who really knows your specific problem and dedicates the majority of their career to getting better and better at treating it.
Look for Someone with a Specialty
In general: Be wary of therapists or coaches who claim to specialize in more than a handful of specific issues or populations. I saw an Instagram post recently that said “Good morning to everyone except therapists who list 72 specialties on their Psychology Today profile.” YEP. Be especially wary of any therapist who claims to specialize in pretty much everything and who also has an intern license. Interns (or associates, depending on the state) have months, not years, of experience seeing clients. Which is not a problem – we all need to start somewhere – but if they have a very short history of clinical experience and they say they specialize in everything from addiction to LGBTQIA+ issues to personality disorders to eating disorders to anxiety and depression…. They are lying. And no good therapist relies on deception to get clients in the door. No. Just no.
Fellow therapist, what would you add to this list?
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