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Finding the right fit: how your therapist’s approach can impact your therapy experience


Talk therapy is a valuable experience for many people - and justifiably so. But the process of finding the right therapist for you can be daunting, whether you’re new to the experience or already attending therapy sessions and unsure if the process is working. Finding the right fit is a process as individual as you are; the therapist’s personality and therapeutic approach have just as much of an impact on your outcome as do your own preferences and needs.

Most therapy sessions last about 50 minutes to an hour. It’s your time - what do you want out of it? Some clients like the idea of spending those precious minutes simply talking freely, with a relaxed therapist who listens and allows you to get out your feelings without interruption. Other clients prefer more of a thought-partner role, one in which the therapist actively provides guidance, feedback, and suggestions. Both approaches are valid, but in order for your therapy outcome to be beneficial to you, it’s important that you feel out which one partners best with your comfort level. Let’s explore the subject a bit further.

Therapy is an active process - your earnest participation in it is essential to a good outcome. A trusted mental health care professional is highly motivated to make sure that your therapy sessions are beneficial for you. But we’re talking about a mixture of personalities and approaches that when matched well, work well together - and when it’s not quite right, you may feel like you’re wasting your time or not getting the benefits that you were hoping for. The last thing that you want to feel is frustration.

Many professionals agree that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to therapy, and the professional that works well for someone else might not work as well for you. Your neighbor might gush about how she loves the freedom of just unleashing her mind with her therapist. Or you may have heard someone else complain that their therapist wants to follow up on every point - making them feel like they’re being parented - when all they want to do is vent. Maybe you’ve heard someone worry that they’re wasting money on sessions because they haven’t really learned anything new, because their therapist doesn’t really offer any useful feedback or constructive tools.

Establishing your expectations before you even sit down with a therapist improves your outcome. You want to feel that your sessions are useful - you shouldn’t feel irritated, pressured, or frustrated that the session didn’t hit the mark.

Identify your therapy preferences

To get the most out of your therapy session, ask yourself this: what role do you want your therapist to have? It’s your hour. Does the idea of a quiet therapist, listening intently to you talking freely about your feelings make you feel uncomfortable and awkward, or supported and safe? Does an active thought-partner, offering guidance and structure, feel too authoritative and pressuring, or does it feel constructive and productive for you?

You might have a general feeling about that right off the bat. Identifying this general preference creates a good starting point when it comes to selecting a therapist. You’ll have a better idea of which questions to ask them during an intro call, and you’ll have a clear picture of what to expect. “What will my therapy session entail?” “What will you be doing during my therapy session?” “What is my role in my therapy?” are a few suggestions - you might think of several others.

Let’s get this out of the way: it might feel awkward at first. You’re essentially interviewing the person with whom you’ll be sharing some pretty personal aspects of yourself and your life - perhaps things that you don’t share with just anyone. It’s perfectly natural for those initial interactions to feel stilted or slightly awkward, and it’s okay to feel a bit vulnerable or unsure of what to say or how to say it. A good therapist is, ultimately, a good listener, and that quality should be pretty evident even during the consultation. So, if you feel rushed, dismissed, or minimized, that’s your cue that it might be best to move on.

Which role do you expect your therapist to take in your therapy sessions - active or passive? Both are valid, but which is right for you? Perhaps you find comfort and security in freely talking about whatever is on your mind for those 50-55 minutes of your session. It’s a safe space, and a strong therapeutic alliance can provide a trustworthy, supportive environment in which you can talk about whatever you feel. Some people find that refreshing, and some people find that uncomfortable or unhelpful. From a therapist’s standpoint, it’s the client’s opportunity to drive the session based on whichever issues are important to you, regardless of what might have been covered in a previous session. This is called Client-Centered Therapy, from the Humanistic/Rogerian therapeutic approach.

For some clients, that type of therapy session might feel a bit too much like you’re in the spotlight, awkwardly grasping for something to say to fill the time, feeling self-conscious or purposeless. If you’re expecting a thought-partner who will actively drive the session, the experience of talking freely without feedback might leave you feeling frustrated. A therapist who teaches coping skills and approaches your hour as something of a workshop to process and provide direct feedback might feel like a better fit. This falls under the category of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), so you might search for therapists who list that in their information.

During the intro call, you and your potential therapist should develop and agree on a treatment plan that will address your issues and help you get the most out of your sessions. Although the first interactions can be awkward, remember that this relationship is a valuable one and serves a purpose. Identifying your expectations as to the way in which your hourly session will be run is an important part of the process and will contribute to a positive outcome.

Research shows that most people who receive psychotherapy experience symptom relief and are better able to function in their lives. About 75 percent of people who enter psychotherapy show some benefit from it. Psychotherapy has been shown to improve emotions and behaviors and to be linked with positive changes in the brain and body. The benefits also include fewer sick days, less disability, fewer medical problems, and increased work satisfaction.

If you’re in the Bay Area and searching for a therapist, look to reflect to simplify the process. We understand that finding a therapist can be daunting, but we’re here to help. With the area’s largest self-pay network of quality therapists, we’re committed to connecting you to top mental health professionals that can help improve your quality of life. At reflect, we’ve streamlined the process by providing a data-driven algorithm within a survey to help you find the right fit for you based on your own unique and individual needs. Whichever style of therapy you feel most comfortable with, we’re passionate about lowering the barriers to care and getting you started on the journey to a better tomorrow. Let us help you today, click here to get matched with therapists near you.


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