Choosing a Therapist: How Do You Know if You’ve Got a Good Fit?

There are a lot of good therapist out there.  And there are a lot of therapists out there who aren’t so good.  When you’re shopping for a therapist, how do you know who to choose?

The first thing you need to know is that the most important factor in determining successful outcome in treatment is the relationship between the client and counselor/therapist.  In the last analysis, this is the only factor that really matters.  It doesn’t matter what degree the counselor has or how much training they have, if you can’t feel them, you can’t heal with them.  

 Here’s a rough guide to assessing a good fit. 

  • How does it feel to sit with them? 
  • Do you feel like they “get you” when you’re talking? 
  • Do you feel comfortable? 
  • Do you feel safe? 

If you have a lot of anxiety or a lot of shame, it may take a while before you feel safe.  You may not even know what “safe” feels like.

Here are a few questions to help gauge safety. 

  • Do your words flow easily about your story or do hesitate to share even the most mundane details? 
  • Do you feel like this person shows interest in you or does he or she seem bored, distant, or somewhere else? 
  • Do you feel heard and seen – or at least have the sense that they are interested in your world? 
  • Can this person accept feedback? 
  • Do they graciously admit when they are wrong or when they make a mistake? 
  • If you tell them that they did or said something that hurt or offended you, how do they respond? 
  • Are they able to hear you or do they get defensive and become critical of you?
  •   Do you have a sense that they are there for you, in your corner, cheering you on even as they let you make your own choices? 
  • Do they create a safe enough container to allow you to explore your deepest pain? 
  • When you share your shame and pain, do you feel held in your vulnerability or rejected and shamed?  Do they talk too much about themselves? 
  • Do you trust that what you say in the room stays in the room?

 When you feel seen, heard and accepted, you can develop the trust you need to explore the issues that you bring to work on.  And when you feel safe enough to explore your issues, you know you’ve got a good fit.


About reginasewell

I am a counselor, psychodramatist, writer, healing practitioner and college professor. I have a monthly column, "InsightOut" in Outlook (, an essay, "Sliding Away" in "Knowing Pains" and a book out "We're Here! We're Here! We're Queer! Get Used to Us!" My goal, through my writing, counseling and teaching is to help people heal from the emotional wounds and limiting beliefs that keep them from living engaging and meaningful lives.
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2 Responses to Choosing a Therapist: How Do You Know if You’ve Got a Good Fit?

  1. While I understand the point or purpose of therapy to a certain extent, I think that in many circumstances, therapy can be a waste of time, especially when it does not involve improvement for marriages or trauma or situations where there is a clear and concise conflict. For those who just want to improve their lives, therapy sometimes seems like you are paying someone to listen to you talk about your thoughts, feelings etc. and I believe that is a waste of time for the patient because the therapist does not really have your best interest in mind…..especially when all he or she does is ask a bunch of questions.

    • reginasewell says:


      I agree that therapy can be a waste of time if all the therapist does is ask questions. However, even in situations where the client is not voluntary – that is, he or she was pushed to go to counseling by someone else such as a probation officer, employer, spouse, or parent, if the therapist is able to connect with the client, therapy can be very effective.

      While talking about feelings can sometimes be helpful, that’s really not what good counseling is about. All the research on the efficacy of counseling indicates that client/therapist relationship is the most healing aspect. More recent research in the field of interpersonal neurobiology supports this.

      Our approach is more holistic. Rather than having clients talk about things that happened in the past, we invite them to bring the “then and there” into the “here and now” so that they are able to see the roots of the issue, give them tools to change their deeply rooted beliefs that get them stuck in less than optimal patterns of thinking and acting, and help them practice doing things differently. This approach is very effective for working with trauma and couple conflict. And it is especially very helpful for working with couples that have a clear and concise conflict because it can help partners discover the roots of their reactions and feel heard and hear the other’s point of view. This can help couples feel empathy for their each other and also helps them form an alliance against the issue rather than attacking each other.

      However, couples counseling may not be effective in situations in which one or both partners is abusing drugs or alcohol or having an affair that they refuse to end. Couples counseling is not helpful if the relationship is an abusive one.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      Regina Sewell, M.Ed., PC/ Ph.D.

      and provide tools to

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