Does it really matter what therapist I see?

Over the years there have been numerous studies done on therapy outcomes. Know what they found? That the relationship is more important than technique. Specifically the relationship between the client and therapist is a large part of why a client gets better.

As therapists we spend a ton of time and money on education and so one could reasonably think that technique is the biggest thing to look for. For instance if my surgeon doesn’t have great bedside manner, I sort of don’t care. I need him to be a good surgeon considering that I’m going to be knocked out while he’s with me. I can deal with an awkward office conversation as long as he’s awesome at operating on people. With therapists, its nearly the opposite.

I learned this lesson personally. During graduate school, all the students were encouraged to be in therapy. After all, how could we be good therapists without knowing what it’s like to be in therapy? My health insurance wasn’t great and didn’t cover therapy. So I set out to find a therapist who had a sliding fee scale. I found a therapist who would see me for a low fee. I scheduled an appointment and off I went. From the moment I laid eyes on her I knew it wasn’t going to work.  Know how you can just tell when you meet someone? Yeah, it was like that.

Now, someone else wouldn’t have had that same thought. She didn’t have three heads or wear too much patchouli or have a weird voice. The reason it wasn’t going to work was part of my own history. In that walk from the waiting room to her office I decided “I’m going to grow. I’m going to stick this out.” I spent a year with that therapist and saw her nearly every week. Let me clarify some things here, she went to a good grad school, she was kind and thoughtful, she had all the makings of a good therapist. Just not for me. I switched therapists and immediately when I met him, I just knew it was a good fit. I ended up doing more work with him in 3 months than I did in an entire year with someone else. And the thing that had changed wasn’t just the therapist. It was the relationship between me and my therapist.

Finding a therapist can be hard. Insurance can be difficult, cost can be a barrier, not knowing what to look for can make it harder and the sheer number of therapists that pop up when you hit google complicate things further. Don’t let those things stop you from getting into therapy.

Here’s some advice when you decide to look for a therapist:

  • Ask friends or family who they would recommend. You’ll get information that is way more helpful than just picking a random person from the web. 
  • Check out websites and therapists bio’s. What a therapist chooses to put on their bio says a lot about them. 
  • Ask the intake person or receptionist who in the practice works with whatever your particular issue is
  • Don’t settle for a less-than-stellar relationship. Take a few sessions to see if this person is a fit for you. I usually ask people to try 3 sessions before making a decision if they aren’t sure right away

Technique does matter in some cases such as treating trauma, eating disorders, addiction, couples counseling (to name a few).

Just a couple studies to look at if you are curious

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/04/150410083508.htm

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3198542/

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