What to look out for when you’re first starting therapy.
Getting to your first therapy session can feel like a deep exhale when you didn’t even realize you were holding your breath. You feel so relieved that it’s not until you walk out of the first or seventeenth session that you ask, “Do I even like my therapist?” or “How do I know if a therapist is a good fit?”
Just like any relationship, it can be healthy to take stock early in the process and evaluate how things are going. Similar to those “what even” moments in relationships, your next step is to take the time to think about who you are, who they are, and all the ways you’ve felt supported or cared for since they walked into your life.
Below is a checklist to help you know if a therapist is a good fit.
The green flag of all green flags is having a therapeutic alliance with your therapist. A therapeutic alliance means you and your therapist have a healthy, positive relationship that is open about the goals you’re working towards or struggles you’re working through and committed to working on these together.
All relationships start in the same place, whether with your therapist or anyone else. If your therapist shows an interest in you and asks follow-up questions when it makes sense, that’s a big green flag. Don’t feel discouraged if your therapist keeps asking you to remind them of your cat’s name or that podcast you keep mentioning; this doesn’t make them a bad therapist, just someone who is getting to know you.
Going to therapy is like peeling back an onion over and over again. No one gets to the core (if there even is a core!) in the first session. Your therapist is a keeper if they’re encouraging you to take each session as it comes and move at your own pace.
You have a relationship with your therapist, but it’s not supposed to be like your relationship with a partner or friends. You book their time so they can help you work through a specific mental health concern or create better coping habits for everyday life. The context of the relationship means it’s a good thing when they set clear and healthy boundaries around their time and establish expectations up front - both their expectations of you and yours of them. Everyone wins when communication is clear and boundaries are in place!
Nothing is worse than showing up to a video meeting where the other person never shows up, or knocking on an office door only to realize someone went out on a coffee run. Life happens (even to therapists), but for the most part, you want your therapist to communicate any schedule changes clearly and ahead of time as much as possible. It’s a way that you can both show each other respect.
What happens in therapy stays in therapy, and the world works so much better this way. Your therapist should explicitly make a note of the confidentiality agreement during one of your first sessions. It’s legally required that every therapist practice informed consent. Knowing that you can legally trust your therapist will help you emotionally trust them more too.
It’s okay if you’re not comfortable with silence, but your therapist has likely mastered the art of sitting, staring, and not saying a word. This is a great thing. Sometimes therapy isn’t about all that’s said but what bubbles to the surface when nothing is being said. Embrace the quiet and a therapist who owns it like it’s their best friend.
Not on the list but as important — you want to feel comfortable and safe whenever you jump into your therapy session. This doesn’t mean you’ll be an open book from day 1, but it does mean that you feel like this is a relationship and a person you can grow with.
Calm Health is a mental health wellness product. Calm Health is not intended to diagnose or treat depression, anxiety, or any other disease or condition. Calm Health is not a substitute for care by a physician or other health care provider. Any questions that you may have regarding the diagnosis, care, or treatment of a medical condition should be directed to your physician or health care provider.