“Having green flags is fundamental to a safe relationship because it establishes, at least for yourself, that this person is someone that [you] think [you] can be vulnerable with,” says psychotherapist Meghan Watson, resident therapist for Alkeme Health and founder of Bloom Psychology Wellness. “Then [you] can be [your] authentic self to access the healing that [you] need.”
But knowing exactly what to look for in a therapist (especially if you're new to therapy) can be difficult to discern. So, read on to learn about seven therapist green flags, according to mental health experts.
7 therapist green flags that show your provider is a good fit for you
1. They strictly adhere to confidentiality
While this is an ethical requirement for all mental health experts, not all providers adhere, says psychologist and host of the Psych Talk podcast Jessica Leigh, PhD. “Therapy is based on trust, so you need to trust that your therapist is keeping the information confidential from other people,” she says.
To gauge how much a therapist values the privacy of their patients, Dr. Leigh suggests working with a provider who “explains the limits of confidentiality at the first session and continues to talk about the limits of confidentiality throughout the duration of the therapeutic relationship.”
2. They’re honest about their areas of expertise
It's a green flag if a therapist is clear about what they can and can’t do for you. If what you're hoping to work on is out of their scope of expertise, they'd ideally refer you to someone else.
“No single therapist can treat every disorder, use every modality, and treat every age.” —psychologist Jessica Leigh, PhD
“No single therapist can treat every disorder, use every modality, and treat every age,” says Dr. Leigh. “A green flag is someone who will be clear about what they treat [and] the evidence-based interventions they use.”
To establish whether or not the provider you’re considering might be a good fit for you in this sphere, Watson suggests asking a few questions:
- What is your experience working with [insert issue]?
- What are your pronouns?
- What work do you do surrounding antiracism?
- What is your knowledge of community resources and additional support?
3. They’re engaged with you in the moment
“You want to feel like the information this person is giving [you], the ways that they listen, and the ways that they show up in the space in terms of attentiveness and engagement feels like a good fit,” says Watson.
To figure this out for yourself, focus on observation. Do you feel like they're impatient or rushing you out of the session? If so, that’s probably not a green flag that the therapist is the best fit for you. “Therapy is a very vulnerable and intimate situation and relationship,” says Dr. Leigh. “As a client, you need to feel safe, validated, and heard so that you can continue to feel comfortable enough to share and, in turn, grow.”
4. They keep you accountable
One difference between a good friend and a fantastic therapist, says Watson, is that the latter will keep you accountable—especially during hard times. As much as friends help each other day to day, it’s not their responsibility to ensure that you’re doing what you said you would be doing. That’s where your therapist comes in. “Your therapist really has to be the person to say, ‘You sought my services out because you wanted help with [a given] issue,” Watson says.
Dr. Leigh agrees, adding that “a therapist needs to challenge you—within limits—to help you move forward and grow. Without being challenged, you will stay in the same place.”
5. They focus on impact, not details of your trauma
If the therapist seems like they’ll get caught up in the details, that’s not exactly a green flag, says Watson. “You won't always get the benefits that you're looking for from healing, because you'll just be recounting and going over the same things over and over again,” Watson says.
6. They establish clear boundaries
“A good therapist will have clear boundaries and model appropriate boundaries for the client within the session as well as with policies and procedures,” says Dr. Leigh.
A therapist who has poor boundaries, on the other hand—which might look like regularly running late, talking about themselves in session, or being available 24/7—is unideal, in part, because it has a negative effect on the client-provider relationship. “It also does not model appropriate boundaries for the client, which is something many people want to work on,” says Dr. Leigh.
7. You feel comfortable with them
Because we’re all so different as individuals, it’s hard to make a blanket statement about how to assess your comfort level with a given therapist, says Watson. That's why it's perhaps most important that you personally feel comfortable with your therapist. “You want to be able to feel like you can be humbled, take feedback, and that your therapist is ultimately a kind person that recognizes that you're doing your best,” says Watson.
And if you haven't found a therapist who is a great fit yet, not to worry. “If the therapist checks the boxes, the therapist is likely a good fit for you," Dr. Leigh says. "If they don't, it is okay to seek out someone else. Very few of us find a good therapeutic match on the first try.”
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