Lots of research has been done into what makes therapy “good” therapy or a therapist a “good” therapist. The research generally agrees that the single most important factor in determining whether or not an individual feels therapy has been useful, is not the therapist’s level of training or their theoretical model, but something about the therapist themselves; our experience of the therapeutic relationship.

This can be a hard thing to pin down. If I was to ask myself “what has made me feel good or feel better from being in therapy?”, here are some of the things that have helped me:

The Therapeutic Relationship

We talk a lot about the quality of the therapeutic relationship, but what does it actually mean?

One way of describing this is the quality of contact between the therapist and client – being with someone who enables you to feel safe and makes you feel a person of importance; that you are significant and what you are saying is important.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have you been heard and do you feel “met?”
  • Can you say what you need to or want to say?
  • Do you have enough trust in the therapist’s professional competence, even when you don’t agree with them?
  • Is your therapist reliable?
  • Does your therapist show a clear understanding of what problems/issues you are coming with and a clear understanding of what you want to change?
  • Is your therapist able to constructively challenge you?
  • Do you trust your therapist?
  • Do you feel you are working in partnership with your therapist?

While this, for me, helps form the bulk of my opinions around whether I’m receiving “good’ therapy, there are some other additional factors to consider as well. These include:

Is the timing right?

Sometimes it isn’t the right time to be in therapy, and perhaps other support would be more appropriate. You need to be open and honest about this and what is going on around you at the time. Do other life circumstances mean that starting therapy would increase stress or exacerbate the problems in some way? Are there lifestyle changes you can make that will improve your situation?

Is your therapy moving at the right pace?

The pace or focus of your therapy can really impact on whether you feel you are getting what you need. Is it “too much” and re-traumatising in some way? Or maybe it’s not challenging enough? If you feel things are not working for you from this respect, you need to address these issues with your therapist.

Are you making progress?

Some feeling (either concrete or a “sense”) that progress is being made is crucial. Does your life feel better or easier in some way as a result of therapy, or since you have been coming to therapy? Often you can’t prove whether or not these feelings are down to the therapy, but it is still important to feel you are achieving something.

Obviously, you may feel differently as to what makes “good” therapy. But if you are not getting any of the above I would wonder what you are getting out of the process? It’s also important to remember that with therapy, what we get out of it, is partly determined by what we put in. What could your therapist do or not do, that would have the outcome of you getting more out of the sessions and similarly what could you do differently too? Answering these questions may not be easy or comfortable, but they are important if you are to really benefit from therapy.