In my last blog: “Does your psychologist truly get you? – What really makes therapy work – A psychologist’s reflection” I explored the power of the therapeutic relationship and what I have learned over the years as to what makes it so important for change. So if the quality of the therapeutic relationship is so critical, how do you know what to look out for in the early stages of therapy or when evaluating your current therapeutic process over time?
In a nutshell I have learned that therapy is more likely to work for you and create lasting change if the following qualities are present. A growing body of research has shown that these are some of the most important elements. So take a few moments to ask yourself these questions as you do need the right person to work collaboratively with you to achieve your goals.
10 questions to ask yourself about your psychologist and the therapeutic relationship
- Does your psychologist consistently demonstrate warmth, acceptance, empathy? Are they able to draw out your emotions, thoughts and behaviours and demonstrate an understanding of your feelings clearly?
- Is your psychologist flexible and truly attuned to your needs? The psychologist must be flexible, adaptable and able to establish credibility through demonstrating belief in their ability to help you make progress throughout the process. If you are convinced they are competent and they believe you will commit to therapy, this will give the psychologist the necessary influence to help support you through change.
- Does your psychologist use techniques and therapy models in a way that matches your needs, at a reasonable pace that you also believe in?
- Does your psychologist see the therapeutic relationship as a vehicle for learning – do they take notice of dynamics and patterns that show up within this relationship that may mirror other relationships?
- Do you feel confident in this relationship and in your psychologist and perceive the relationship as a positive one for you?
- Do you feel your psychologist really “gets you” i.e. understand you in ways that others don’t at a deep level? Are they able to make sense of your experience, believe that you are capable of change and explain what is needed for change to occur?
- Is your psychologist on your team? As time goes on do you feel a closer sense of communion, a sense that they are working collaboratively with you to address your goals?
- Does your psychologist maintain effective boundaries to keep you safe and protected, act consistently and reliably and therefore ensure that you feel secure in this relationship?
- Do you notice a strong bond/attachment developing distinguished by reciprocal positive feelings? Research has shown that this confidence and positive regard is healing in it’s own right but it is also the foundation on which any agreement on goals and tasks may be made. This allows for you to believe and continue hoping through adversity that the psychologist is able to help you and also believe you can help yourself with guidance.
- Is your psychologist capable of allowing the relationship to develop and grow and are they willing to take on feedback and repair any ruptures to preserve or transform the therapeutic relationship?
Navigating the therapeutic relationship
Like with many relationships, every relationship has a unique course and may have its’ ups and downs. Often if the therapeutic relationship starts well the entire course of the relationship may be smooth, but sometimes it takes time to build trust and to establish a good foundation to work with.
If a number of these critical elements are there it may be worth persisting and addressing the things that are getting in the way of the relationship becoming more comfortable and stronger. However at times it may be glaringly obvious that the fit is just not there. In these circumstances it may be better to move on from this relationship and start afresh with someone new as the likelihood of change if the relationship is very difficult is quite low.
The importance of being yourself in therapy – letting go of the masks
So, finally, make sure you choose the right psychologist for you. Notice if you feel comfortable to be vulnerable and to cry, comfortable to truly be yourself, comfortable to laugh and to let the protective layers go. Notice if you can truly take off the masks that you hide behind and let go of the need to please.
Yes, even in therapy it is common for people to present things more positively than they actually are. People often tell me how concerned they are that they may be judged and I notice how shame, embarrassment and the desire to not be vulnerable or to cry may often get in the way of the process. This is all a normal part of therapy and it takes time to let the walls come down but the benefits are huge if you are willing to take the risk and notice signs that trust is possible.
All of us spend a lot of our time in life presenting our best sides to others, but what would it mean for you to have that person who you can be truly real with no matter what? What would it mean to be able to say I’ve had a terrible week and I’m really struggling and to not hide behind the mask? How liberating could that be to have someone who would not judge, who would validate your feelings, make sense of them and help you with strategies to address the issues that are affecting you?
Find the right psychologist for you – the benefits will continue far beyond therapy ending
Never underestimate the importance a strong therapeutic relationship may have, whether it is short term or longer term depending on your needs and the style of therapy, the benefits will continue far beyond the therapeutic process.
Don’t settle for less – the change lies within the strength of that relationship. Without the strength in that relationship hope may be hard to hold on to sometimes, change may be harder to achieve and belief that someone is there to keep you safe when the world seems too overwhelming may not be sustainable.
Relationships are important. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a psychologist to support you nor to evaluate your current therapeutic relationship to ensure you are on the right path for you. Therapy is an incredibly rewarding but at times very uncomfortable journey – you have the right to choose the right person on your team so that you are more able to achieve your goals.
At Attuned Psychology we have a range of practitioners to maximize the chance of finding the right fit for you. If you are unsure who might be a good fit, let us guide you to assist in making that decision as we know that it is a very important one.
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