Investing in therapy sessions is an important step for many to protect and improve their mental health. There are plenty of different methods and styles of therapy, but when choosing the right therapist for you, research shows that developing a strong therapeutic alliance is a more revealing predictor of therapeutic success in high-functioning people than the therapeutic approach being used.
What is a therapeutic alliance?
The therapeutic alliance is made up of the shared goals for treatment held by the therapist and the client, a mutual belief in each other’s ability to use therapy sessions to achieve these goals and the harmony or rapport between therapist and client.
The 3 ingredients needed to form a therapeutic alliance:
You and your therapist should agree that your therapy goals are healthy and desirable. For example, if you are seeking stress management skills so that you can learn to deal with the demands of graduate school and full-time work, it is important that your therapist agrees to partner with you to achieve these goals.
If instead, you find that rather than working with you to reach your goals, your therapist wants you to “learn to sit with failure,” or to “drop unreasonable expectations,” then perhaps it would be more beneficial for you to seek out a therapist who is willing to recognize your potential and will encourage you to strive toward it.
Mutual belief in each other’s ability to achieve these goals
Once you confirm with your therapist that you are both on board with the goals you set for yourself, it is important that you feel that your therapist believes in your capacity to accomplish these goals and that you trust in your therapist’s competence to nudge you in the right direction.
While selecting a therapist, remind yourself to assess potential therapists’ skills, grit, intelligence, self-awareness, and whatever other qualities you would appreciate in their practice.
Now, if you’ve determined that your therapist is able to adequately fulfill the first two requirements listed above, the last factor to assess is whether you feel a strong rapport, or compatibility, between the two of you (unless you know you may have issues forming rapport in general, even outside of the therapy room).
Not being able to form a natural rapport between client and therapist isn’t necessarily anyone’s fault, but it is important to acknowledge if you think that a different therapist may be a better fit for you. Of course, a new therapist should be given ample opportunity to develop this rapport as sessions are often more awkward initially. However, if you think that it may be time to start shopping around for another therapist, don’t be afraid to trust your gut.