Finding a therapist can be difficult - but even when you’ve found a practitioner and booked in some appointments, you’re not home yet. The single biggest predictor of effective therapeutic outcomes is the quality of the relationship between patient and therapist, so it’s worth finding a therapist that you feel you can click with.

Therapeutic alliance

A good therapeutic relationship is determined by three things: the bond (or relationship) between patient and practitioner, agreement on the goal of therapy, and a shared understanding of and commitment to the task/s required to move toward the goal. You may need to have some idea of a goal before you begin therapy, however, a good therapist will help you to determine a goal that fits you.

The task you share in working toward this goal is usually presented by your therapist, however, it is your job to collaborate with your therapist and to voice any concerns you may have about the task. A bond between a practitioner and patient is based on trust, unconditional positive regard and an ability to repair ruptures.

Being heard

It’s important that you feel seen and heard by your therapist. This means that they show that they listen to you, and work to provide insights and draw links between important parts of your experiences. If a therapist is not listening to you over the course of many sessions, they're not validating or acknowledging parts of your experience that you deem significant. Ensure that you feel heard by your clinician.

A therapist’s positive regard does not, however, mean that they unconditionally agree with you, your opinions or your behaviour. In fact, a therapist’s personal agreement is entirely irrelevant in the therapy space! A therapist’s job is to provide guidance and support for patients to view their own behaviour with clarity, and compassion, and to have the strength to take responsibility for parts of their behaviour that are harmful to themselves and others.

Professionalism and boundaries

Your therapist should be engaging you professionally, and making it clear that your relationship has clear boundaries. This usually means:

  • Limited self-disclosure from the therapist’s regarding their private life, personal belief system or opinions.

  • The therapist does not use their personal beliefs or ideologies to guide therapy.

  • Your therapist is bound to keep any information you share with them confidential and to avoid any conflicts of interest that may harm your relationship or therapeutic outcomes.

  • Your therapist will not judge you based on your age, sex, race, religion, sexuality or gender.

  • Your therapist will not engage with you in a personal capacity outside of sessions, via phone, text or on social media.

  • Your therapist should not accept gifts or personal favours from patients, especially as a means of payment.

  • No physical touch initiated by your therapist. No romantic or sexual relationship between a patient and therapist.

If you have any concerns about your psychologist or allied health clinician’s behaviour in therapy, you can raise them with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Authority (AHPRA).

Speak up!

If you have concerns, it’s important that you consider raising them with your therapist rather than simply terminating therapy. This gives you and your therapist an opportunity to repair, rather than giving you a negative experience of therapy with no opportunity for healing. Ruptures and repairs are important parts of building a strong therapeutic relationship, or indeed any relationship!

Give it time

Seeing a therapist can feel scary - you’re showing your most vulnerable parts to someone you’ve only just met! It’s extremely rare to find exactly the right ‘click’ with a therapist on the first or second session, though. Like any relationship, it often takes time to work toward comfort, trust and ease with each other. If you can, try four to six sessions with your therapist, with opportunities to repair any ruptures, before deciding if they’re right for you.

Don’t give up

Finally, if you have had a negative experience with therapy, try not to generalise this to mean that all therapy will be the same. Unfortunately, many people do have negative experiences in therapy. Thankfully, many more have had positive experiences. Don’t give up, it often takes a few tries to find the right therapist.

If you have any questions or need extra support, we're here to help you anytime in any language. Simply start a chat with us via the home screen of the Sonder app.

Article written by: Kate McLisky

Image credit: Alex Green at Pexels

All content is created and published for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health professional.

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