Therapists may be able to help people with mental health conditions or emotional difficulties. It is important that people choose a therapist whom they feel comfortable with and can trust. A good therapist should communicate well, be nonjudgmental, and have a license.

The American Psychiatric Association define psychotherapy, or talking therapy, as “a way to help people with a broad variety of mental illnesses and emotional difficulties.”

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly 1 in 5 adults in the United States were living with a mental illness in 2017. However, a person does not need to have a mental illness to benefit from therapy. It can be a helpful tool for anyone who is going through a bad time or dealing with any sort of emotional problem.

In this article, we discuss what to look for in a therapist and explain when it might be time to look for a new one.

A therapist providing practical feedback. There are many signs of a good therapist, such as being nonjudgmental, building rapport quickly, and having a license.Share on Pinterest
Image credit: SDI Productions/Getty Images

Therapists are licensed mental health professionals who can use their skills to help people with mental health conditions or emotional problems. They work with people to equip them with the tools they need to manage their symptoms.

A therapist should be able to meet any and all local or state guidelines for providing therapy and have a license to practice therapy. They should also register with a professional body that regulates them. This registration means that they must meet certain standards and are likely to participate in ongoing training.

Choosing a therapist is an important and personal decision. Prior to an appointment, a person can try talking to a therapist to see whether they are a good fit. A person can ask a therapist about their training, what they specialize in, and what experience they have with certain issues.

It is also important to be aware that just because a therapist is good, they might not necessarily be the most suitable therapist for a person.

The following are positive attributes that a person should look for in a therapist:

They develop a rapport

There needs to be some sort of relationship between the therapist and the client, which is known as rapport. A therapist needs to be able to make their client feel comfortable enough to open up to them. A good therapist will be able to do this easily.

A person must also be able to trust their therapist. If they feel as though they have to lie to their therapist or withhold important information, the therapy will not be beneficial. An effective therapist is able to work with the person and support them.

They are nonjudgmental

Therapy is not a place for judgment or opinions. It should be a safe space where a person can openly discuss their problems.

A good therapist will respect a person’s individuality and opinions. They will also remain impartial while guiding a person to make healthy decisions.

They use evidence-based therapy

Evidence changes regularly, meaning that experts may no longer consider certain methods and techniques to be effective or appropriate. A good therapist keeps up to date with current developments in their field and adjusts their therapy accordingly.

Clear communication and practical feedback

A good therapist will clearly communicate practical feedback to help their client make positive changes.

The therapist should be able to explain to the client new ways of thinking and assessing situations and relationships. They should also give the person tactics and techniques to help improve their mental health outside of therapy sessions.

Some negative signs that people should be aware of include:

They behave unethically or unprofessionally

If a therapist behaves unethically in any way, it is time to look for a new therapist. Examples of such behavior could include making sexual advances, violating trust, or trying to extort money. A therapist should maintain a strictly professional relationship at all times.

A good therapist will also not act in an unprofessional manner. For instance, they will not try to befriend a client outside of therapy, ignore what they say, give poor advice, or criticize their decision if they wish to change therapist or end therapy.

If a person feels uncomfortable with their therapist, they should cease seeing them. Additionally, if a therapist has done or said something harmful during therapy, a person should report it.

They frequently run late or reschedule

Although having to reschedule sometimes is unavoidable, regularly rescheduling or running late can be a cause for concern.

It can lead a person to feel as though their time is not valuable. The same is true if a therapist seems unable to focus during sessions. They should not be taking phone calls or using their cell phone during a session unless there is an emergency.

They need reminders every session

While it is unrealistic to expect a therapist to remember every single detail about each client’s life, they should not need constant reminders every session either.

They should be able to remember the key facts about a person, and anything else should be in their notes, which they can read to refresh themselves before each appointment.

They claim to be an expert in everything

Although it is true that some therapists have generalized skills, the chances are that if a person needs help with a specific issue, their therapist is going to need experience in that area.

A bad therapist may claim to be able to help a person even if the client’s problem is not within their area of expertise. A good therapist knows their limitations and will refer a person to a different therapist if necessary.

According to the American Psychological Association, the following are important steps to take when seeking a good therapist:

  • ensuring that the therapist has a license
  • calling the therapist and asking whether they use evidence-based treatment
  • asking what experience they have and whether it is relevant to the problem that requires therapy
  • discussing how much therapy will cost, the charge for missing sessions, and how long therapy may take
  • finding out where the therapist is located, their hours, whether they are available in an emergency, and the setting of the practice

Different people require different types of therapy. Therefore, when a person is looking for a therapist, they must take into consideration the type of therapy that each professional provides.

Popular types of therapy include:

Online therapy, or teletherapy, may provide a good alternative to in-person therapy for some people. Some research suggests that the quality of teletherapy care is as effective as in-person sessions for most people with most conditions, although it may not be right for everyone.

One of the most important things to consider is how much a therapist costs. Depending on a person’s insurance, there may not be many therapists whom they are able to visit, and they may still have to pay out of pocket. However, some people may be able to find free mental health services.

Learn more about finding an online therapist for free.

If a person notices any of the red flags above or even just has a “gut feeling” that their therapist is not right for them, it may be time to look for a new therapist. Other reasons to find a new therapist can include:

  • not making progress
  • moving to a different location
  • developing feelings for the therapist

A therapist may specialize in different areas and use different types of therapy to help clients. When choosing a therapist, a person should look for a licensed professional who has experience in the area with which they need help.

A good therapist will be nonjudgmental, provide practical feedback, and build a rapport quickly. Experiences with a bad therapist may negatively affect a person’s mental health, causing more harm.