Starting therapy or coaching can be a little scary. You meet a new person and all of a sudden you’re supposed to tell them your thoughts, fears, problems, and potentially all about your past or trauma. When trying to decide if your therapist or coach is a good match for you, going with your gut is important, but how are you even supposed to go with your gut when you’re not sure if fear and uncertainty are getting in the way?
While there are specific questions you can ask in your first phone consultation to begin to see if you and your therapist or coach are a good fit, here are some other helpful ways to tell if your therapist or coach is a good match for you.
First and foremost, you want to feel like your therapist or coach is really listening to you. You want to feel seen, heard, and understood.
If you are being listened to, as your sessions go by, you should feel like your therapist or coach has a cumulative understanding of what you’re sharing with them. So if you shared something about a conflict with a coworker last week and something new happened with that coworker in a subsequent week, you wouldn’t feel like you are starting from scratch and having to explain who that coworker is again.
Of course it’s okay for your therapist or coach to ask clarifying questions or double-check information—it takes time and effort to remember all of the details, especially if there are a lot of moving pieces!—but your therapist or coach should approach these conversations with interest and curiosity, build upon their knowledge of your experiences and what you’ve talked about before, and help you develop a sense of trust. And you should be able to sense that all of this is taking place.
Safety is an important factor in care and it’s important to feel safe sharing things with your provider. Sometimes, it takes time for this sense of safety to grow, but again, trust your gut: if you don’t feel safe sharing after a few sessions, it might not be the best match. In your first few sessions, ask yourself:
If you feel dismissed, judged, or shamed and, as sessions go by, it doesn’t seem like a safe space is being created for you, you and your therapist or coach might not be the best fit.
Developing this sense of comfort, chemistry, and rapport can take time and it’s hard to be truly vulnerable in front of someone else, so feeling uncomfortable, challenged, and stretched is totally normal and doesn’t mean your provider is necessarily a bad fit. But you do want to get to a place where you are comfortable enough to ask the questions you have to ask to get the support you need.
How your provider responds to your questions may vary widely according to their technique, style, personality, and background, but that is another way that you can tell if you and your therapist or coach are a good fit—if whatever their technique or background is meshes well with your personality and communication style, opening up the gates for you to be able to ask questions without feeling like you’re holding anything back or suffering from performance anxiety.
Right now, you might be looking for support to develop action items and clear next steps to reach your goals while later on, as you integrate the behaviors you’ve developed, you might want to go deeper and explore how your behavior patterns developed or what may have happened in your past to shape the way you approach hurdles in your life—or vice versa!
Just as there’s no one right way to experience therapy or coaching, there might not be one right way for you to get support as you navigate your life. It’s super important to be able to have an open and transparent conversation with your therapist or coach about your needs and how you are being supported, so finding a provider who is a good fit for you at one point in your life can help you establish the rapport you will be able to lean on if your needs start to change.
If you’re having doubts, concerns, or thinking of questions, see if you can challenge yourself to talk about them with your therapist or coach. Their response may be indicative of whether or not the relationship is still a good fit.
If a session goes by where you wonder what you even talked about during your time in-session, whether therapy or coaching is working for you, or whether or not you’re making progress, know that that is totally normal. The healing and growth that happen in therapy and coaching take time.
“I would encourage you to think about it more like an education than a pill or an immediate Band-Aid fix,” said MyWellbeing founder and CEO Alyssa Petersel in a recent SmallTalk on MyWellbeing’s Instagram. “You wouldn’t go to one advanced mathematics class and assume that you’ll then have a PhD in calculus. You would anticipate that it might take many months or years. It might take a combination of self-teaching, guidance from professors, office hours, and study groups with your friends to really gain the tools, tips, perspectives, and expertise in that material.”
“Similarly, especially if you’re in one of your first engagements in therapy, depending on what your experience has been and the types of things that you’re unpacking, if it’s taken you decades to build some of these patterns and tendencies and to have accumulated some of these experiences, it will take time to unpack those, develop chemistry, trust, and rapport with your therapist or coach, gain the insights from that relationship, and start to have the ‘aha’ moments and realizations or be able to notice that you are actually responding differently to different stressors in your day-to-day.”
If you’re still looking for a therapist or coach, doing some of the work ahead of time to ensure that you’ll be a good fit can help. For example, MyWellbeing’s matching process considers:
After you’ve been working with a therapist or coach for a while, tap into your sense of curiosity and practice mindfulness to gauge how you think you’ve progressed—it’s important to trust yourself! When you are faced with stressors that were barriers for you in the past, do you think you are reacting in a way that is more beneficial for you? Maybe you’ll notice that there is a little bit more space between the trigger and your reaction. Maybe you’ll find that you feel a little less irritable. Maybe your relationships are becoming stronger. Maybe your ability to focus or your sense of fulfillment have increased.
These changes might not feel dramatic or abrupt, but if you practice curiosity over time, you’ll be able to notice even subtle improvements in your life that you’ll be able to connect with your relationship with your therapist or coach and the work that you’re doing together.
And if you need some extra help, we’ve pulled together our ultimate guide to starting therapy and coaching, breaking down the process and giving you the resources you need to get the support you deserve. Additionally, if you're still deciding between doing therapy or coaching, you can take this short quiz to see which one may be better for you!
Caitlin is MyWellbeing's Content Lead, a writer, speaker, communication coach, and the founder of Commcoterie, a communication consultancy. She teaches teams how to use professional coaching communication techniques in their everyday conversations, helps leaders engage their teams with effective and inclusive communication, and partners with service providers to activate their programs and offerings with their own clients through inspiring communication strategies. Find out more, including how to work with her, at www.commcoterie.com.