Therapy Green Flags: How To Know Your Therapist Is A Good Fit For You

Apr 18, 20246 min
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We’re hearing a lot about red and green flags in relationships, but what are some ‘green flags’ in therapy? What are some qualities of a good therapist or signs that you and your therapist are a good fit? 

It can be quite hard to find the right therapist for you and it's unfortunately pretty rare for the first one you go to to be the perfect fit for you. We know it can be quite exhausting moving from therapist to therapist, not even knowing what the signs of a good therapist are. Many people even give up on therapy entirely because they’ve had a bad experience with a therapist. We thought it would help to know therapy ‘green flags’ so you can make informed decisions about your therapy journey.

1. You Feel Heard and Understood by Your Therapist

This seems pretty obvious, but it’s one of the most important signs of a good therapist. Feeling heard and understood is different from simply being listened to. This means that your therapist ‘gets’ you without you having to constantly explain yourself or justify your thoughts, feelings or behaviour. More than something tangible that can be explained, feeling understood is something you experience in the body - you may notice our shoulders relaxing, your body feeling at ease or simply feeling deeply ‘in tune’ with your therapist. This helps to build trust and strengthens the relationship you have with your therapist. 

2. You Don’t Feel Judged by Your Therapist

Your therapist accepts you as you are - with your flaws and imperfections. This means that your therapist is warm, understanding and compassionate with you, even when you’re telling them about something that you are not proud of. They should not be strict, admonish you or tell you off - they’re a mental health professional and not a teacher.

This doesn’t mean that your therapist always agrees with you or never questions your perspective - it means that your therapist is understanding and kind even when they are pointing out an unhelpful pattern, way of thinking or behaviour. 

If a therapist wants to draw your attention to a pattern of responding to feedback, they  might gently say, “I noticed you withdrawing when your manager gave you that feedback. It felt kind of similar to how you responded to your friend’s complaint that you didn’t make enough time for them... Do the two experiences feel similar to you?” 

3. Your Therapist Asks You For Feedback and You Feel Comfortable Sharing It 

The therapy relationship is just like any other relationship. Unfortunately, this means that no therapist is perfect and your therapist will likely disappoint you at some point, in some way or the other. What’s important is that you feel comfortable bringing up the disappointment with them. This is often easier to do with a therapist who regularly asks you for feedback on your conversations with them, so you can let them know what upset you or if something is working or not working for you in therapy.

Another good sign is that upon giving your therapist feedback, your therapist ideally works towards incorporating it in your sessions together. 

4. Your Therapist is Collaborative in Their Approach

Therapists will differ on the degree of collaborativeness, but ideally you should have a say in most aspects of your therapy journey. This includes deciding how often to meet your therapist, what it is that you’re working on and how you work in therapy as well. Sometimes your therapist may take the lead, but this too will happen while checking in or ensuring if you are comfortable with where the conversation is going or what is happening in therapy. 

It also means that you’re talking more often than your therapist is  during the sessions with them - at all points in therapy, the focus is on you because therapy is your space. Even if a therapist takes a less collaborative approach, you should never feel pushed or pressured into doing something you  don’t want to. 

5. Your Therapist Does More Than Listen

In the initial stages of therapy, your therapist is likely to hear you out and validate you. They’re building your relationship with them and taking time to earn your trust. Over time though, a good therapist would do more than listen. This means different things for different therapists. 

Some therapists may ask you questions to help you think more deeply or differently about your concerns, or they may do activities in sessions such as a breathing exercise or an art activity. Other things you might notice a therapist doing is helping you look at a concern or a thought or belief you have in a different way. They might provide you with a few suggestions of things you can try out in between sessions. Overall, going to therapy might result in gaining different perspectives about your concerns,  recognising strengths you didn't realise you had or having more tools to cope when you are feeling anxious or sad.  

An example of this is that a therapist might help you use the principles of nonviolent communication to learn how to express your disappointment or share your needs with your partner without it leading to a bigger conflict. 


6. They Have Boundaries And Respect Yours Too

Boundaries can be logistical ones - this means that you have a general sense of when you’re going to start and end a session, how a cancellation for a session will be handled and what kind of communication is going to happen in between sessions as well. This helps to create predictability, stability and a sense of safety as well. When these boundaries are maintained, you also experience the therapy space as one you can rely on.

There are also emotional boundaries or content-related boundaries - this of course, means your therapist does not share what you bring up in therapy in outside spaces. They also do not share too much about their personal lives. If they do share things about themselves, it still is for your benefit or to help you with your concerns and not because they’re using the space to vent or air their own concerns and feelings. 

For example, if a client enters a session frustrated with themselves for ‘overreacting’ about losing a friend, a therapist may briefly speak about their own grief over losing a close friendship and how isolating the experience was for them. The therapist’s disclosure is then quite relevant and may be helpful for the client as they may no longer feel alone or ashamed of their experience. 

We hope this goes without saying, but your therapist should have physical boundaries too! Touch (if any) should ideally be brief, professional and most importantly welcomed by you. This may be a pat on a shoulder after a tough session or a brief hug initiated by a client on the last day of your sessions together. 

7. They Understand Your Identity Locations

This means that your therapist understands how and why your identity locations may influence your mental health and acknowledges and supports your feelings about this. This can be called different things - a social justice lens or an intersectional approach. This means that your therapist is not only aware of how your identity is impacting your mental health, but may also help you see how the problem lies not within you, but in an unfair context. This is a delicate balance of acknowledging systemic issues but also bringing your attention to sites of agency where you can make changes in your life. 

An example of this is a therapist understanding how a student from an oppressed caste may experience more pressure to perform or prove themselves in college,  because their scholarship depends on their performance. This concern is definitely socio-political and it may be harmful to simply support a student with conventional breathing or anxiety management techniques without locating their distress in an unfair system. A balance of both may be necessary. 

We started this article talking about ‘green flags’. We’re going to pause to say that while these are characteristics of a good therapist, things are not always black and white (or green and red). These are generally indicators of a ‘good therapist’ but maybe your therapist doesn’t meet all of them and it still works for you. Maybe your therapist does chat a fair bit about their own life but you find that makes the space feel more equal and you enjoy hearing about them. That’s okay too!

Your therapist needn’t be perfect - we’re human too.  Your therapist doesn’t have to have all the green flags. It’s more important that you still feel comfortable and safe with your therapist and happy with your progress in therapy. As in therapy, it’s for you to decide what works for you. 

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Mave
Clinical Psychologist