Tips on how to Identify an Effective Therapist

Tips on how to Identify an Effective Therapist

Why am I so passionate about wanting to help patients find effective therapists?  For me, it is both personal and professional.  When I was a student I did about 20 sessions with a therapist who was not effective.  Nothing changed and I felt discouraged.  Later I worked with an effective therapist.  The difference was night and day.  With the second therapist I was making progress after a few sessions.  By the end of the treatment I had made important changes with some very entrenched problems.

It turns out that my experience is not unique.  Research confirms that who your therapist is makes a huge difference in how useful your therapy sessions will be.  Some therapists are consistently more effective than others and, if you need therapy, it’s worth taking some time to find an effective therapist.

These days, I want to find effective therapists so I can hire them to work with me at my Psychology Clinic, The Mindfulness Clinic, in Toronto.  I still remember what happened to me when I needed therapy.  I want to make sure that the patients who come to my Clinic will be meeting with an effective therapist.  So I did a lot of research to learn how to identify really effective therapists.  I am happy to share with you what I have learned.

Let’s start by asking what effective therapists are like and what do they typically do.

  • They are very good at helping you feel heard, understood, and respected.
    They show you that they really care about you.  They really “show up” each session to help you.
  • They convey to you a sense of hope and optimism, that things can be better for you regardless of how stuck or overwhelmed you feel.
  • They are good at explaining things.  They don’t use jargon or talk down at you.
  • They help you to understand how the therapy works.
  • They are not afraid and they don’t shut down emotionally if you show very strong feelings.
  • They can help you face difficult emotions, such as fear, guilt, or shame in a clear and gentle way so you can learn not to be afraid of your own feelings.
  • They make sure that the sessions focus on the problems and goals that matter to you.
  • They are committed to helping you make progress to achieve your goals.
  • They check in with you every session to find out from you if what they are doing is helpful.

How can this list be helpful to you if you are looking for a therapist?  Try this.  If someone you know recommends a therapist, go over the list with them to see how many ‘hits’ you get.  The more ‘hits’ the better the odds that the therapist is effective.  If your friend just says “I guess my therapist was okay”, keep looking.  You want a therapist who inspires some enthusiasm.  If you meet with a therapist yourself for a session or two, keep the list in mind.  If you are getting no ‘hits’ or only one or two weak ones, it may be wise to try another therapist.

Here is my last and best tip.  Some therapists have their patients fill out brief rating forms at every session.  These ratings give feedback so the therapists can tell if their patients are progressing or if the therapy is off track in some way.  Therapists who use this Feedback Informed Treatment approach can catch problems early so your therapy can get back on track.  I use this feedback approach at my Clinic because I want to make sure that our patients get to work with effective therapists. When you are talking to prospective therapists, ask them if they collect feedback with every session.  If you would like to know more about how feedback helps therapists to be more effective have a look at this recent article in The Atlantic magazine.

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