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Qualities of a good therapist

Therapy is such a personal process, that it is crucial that you have the therapist who is a right fit for you and your family.  In most instances, there are lots of therapists in your area.   Selecting the right one can be daunting and somewhat intimidating.

The therapeutic relationship is more important than any skill a therapist possess.  If this relationship isn’t cloaked with positivity, nonjudgmental, lacking warmth and a genuine sense of concern, you don’t have the ‘right’ therapist.   This is a highly subjective process, so only you can determine if these qualities are there for you.

You must have a sense that your therapist understands and ‘gets’ you.   If not, you’ll feel frustrated and likely to end treatment before you’ve reached your goals.    Feel free to talk openly with your therapist about your concerns.  As a therapist, sometimes I feel it is difficult to get people to open up and share concerns because of a variety of issues.  If opening up is a struggle for you, tell your therapist.  That way, your therapist can try different means to make this process more comfortable for you.

Therapists have traditionally been trained not to discuss diagnoses with clients.  That’s passé and you should feel comfortable asking your therapist what your diagnosis it.  Your therapist can provide additional reading material on your diagnosis and the expected outcome.  It’s a bit more complicated with children when it comes to diagnosis.  Sometimes it’s very clear what the diagnosis is, but often a therapist has to determine if a child is presenting with typical developmental issues or if there is an underlying condition.  Your child’s diagnosis might change depending on several factors. For example, a child who initially presents with symptoms of ADHD, might really have an anxiety disorder.  It might take a few sessions for this to become evident.  I feel it’s important to note at this time, the importance of being involved in your child’s counseling.  Sometimes your involvement will depend on what the problem is, but at the very least, you should be included in some way.  Therapists need the input of parents.  Often times, children will tell us what they think we want to hear.  They will also omit important information that is critical to them making progress.   Progress does not happen in the therapist’s office.  It happens at home, school and the community.  The only way the therapist knows about this, is if the care-taker is part of the process.   When working with adolescents, therapists walk the thin line of trying to attain and maintain trust.   Therefore, it requires a great deal of judiciousness in talking to parents.  A good therapist will draw the line between what is important to keep confidential versus, what is potentially dangerous and necessary to share with parents.   This should be discussed at the initial session.

If your child is receiving therapy in the school setting, the therapist should attempt to contact you, at certain intervals.  Admittedly, it is difficult because many parents work making it difficult to talk during school hours.  However, it is crucial that you reach out to the therapist.   Make sure you have an email and or phone number for the therapist.   We love hearing from parents.

Therapists are human, with life experiences and challenges like anyone else.  Except, our issues should never be the focus of your therapy.  That said, a certain amount of self-disclosure is fine and sometimes can help the therapeutic alliance and create a deeper sense of connectedness.   Personally, if I’ve experienced a life changing personal event, such as death, move, and it is impacting my time, disposition or going to impact clients, I share it.  I’m careful to keep details to a minimum, but I feel it is important for clients to see me as human with vulnerabilities,  at the same time, model strength and resolve.  That said, my clients should never feel like my issues are the priority during their therapy.   That’s what we call healthy boundaries and it’s important that we maintain them.

Therapy time—I try very hard to start and end sessions on time.  Most sessions lengths are between 45-55 minutes, but they can be shorter.  Sometimes emergencies come up that cause a therapist to run late.   I will try to let my next client know in advance if at all possible and assure that person, they can still expect to have their full session and my attention.

When you schedule an appointment with a therapist, you are purchasing their time.  Not showing or late cancelations are difficult for therapists.  We make our living doing this and when you don’t show for whatever reason, it affects us in many ways.   Do you know that no show rates approach 50% for most therapy practices?   It really does threaten practices when this happens on a regular basis.  We want to be available to those in need, but if we’re not being paid, that jeopardizes our livelihood and ability to offer services to those in need.  We have to charge no show fees in order to set the expectation that if we set aside time, we expect it to be honored by the client showing up.

I’m a huge stickler about calling clients back within a reasonable time frame.  For routine calls, I try to call people back within 24 hours.  For emergency calls, I try to call back the same day.  For new clients, I really try hard to call back the same day.   That said, sometimes unexpected things arise causing delays in returning phone calls.  However, that should not be the norm.  You have the right to have your call returned in a reasonable time frame.  Most therapists are super busy, but making time to return calls is part of our job.  We cannot conduct full sessions over the phone and if a call takes longer than 15 minutes, we will bill you a prorated fee.

Make sure that you are working on goals with your therapist.   Sure it’s great to have someone to talk to, but ultimately, you should be goal oriented and using your therapist to provide tools and guidance for achieving your goals.

Therapists have different styles of working with clients.  Some therapists use specific techniques, some use a variety of techniques, some use homework assignments and still others have different interventions they use to help a client.  What’s most important is that you talk to your therapist about what you need.  One size does not fit all.

The therapy process is dependent on good communication.  If you find it difficult to communicate with your therapist, let them know.  If you find that your therapist doesn’t communicate with you in a manner that works for you, let them know.  There may be ways to work through this and if not, a good therapist will let you know and perhaps a referral to someone else is necessary.

No therapist is perfect, but a good one will be open to constructive feedback and conversation that helps the therapeutic process.

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Center for Child Development
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