The Importance of the Therapeutic Relationship
The relationship between a therapist and a client can be one of the most significant predictors of successful therapy. So many people report feeling disappointed by their experiences in therapy because they felt the therapist didn’t get them. A therapist can have the right skills to treat a specific disorder, but if a client doesn’t feel comfortable talking to that therapist, therapy likely won’t be successful. Skills are obviously important when choosing a therapist but the relationship may actually be where a lot of the healing takes place. But what does that actually mean and how is that measured? It’s hard to pin down what makes a therapeutic relationship work but researchers have begun to find which factors consistently were aligned with positive outcomes in therapy (you can read more about that research here).
Race, Ethnicity, and Religion
The biggest impact on therapeutic relationship is race, ethnicity, and religion or spirituality. Those shared lived experiences tend to help clients feel understood more quickly and like they don’t have to explain everything. As a biracial woman, I prefer seeing therapists who are women of color and in particular, ones who have experience with racial identity work. I don’t have to explain to them why it’s frustrating when someone asks to touch my hair or says “I don’t see color.” They get it. It’s not that a white therapist couldn’t understand or hasn’t done the work to educate themselves, it’s just that I know when I sit on that couch, it is one less thing I have to explain and that makes me feel seen. Religion is similar in that it can be comforting to know that your therapist believes the same things you do or understands where you’re coming from.
Goals and Therapeutic Style
Another factor that affects success is how the therapist approaches therapy and works on goals with the client. In other words, some clients might prefer someone who is very directive and gives lots of skill-building homework, while another client prefers therapy to be a little more open-ended and process-oriented. Of course, therapists can offer both styles depending on the client’s needs at the time, but certain styles of therapy tend to be more directive than others. Some clients might prefer someone who uses movement or journaling or music, while others may just want a space to talk things through.
Something the research is still examining but likely affects success is personality matches between client and therapist. This might include things like sense of humor, similar book or TV interests, or whether or not cursing can happen in session. I get asked a lot if cursing is okay in sessions with me (it is) but some clients might feel uncomfortable with that which is totally fine. I tend to be a little more laid back in sessions, I wear jeans and always encourage clients to grab a snack if they need it. My husband on the other hand jokes that I could never be his therapist because he needs someone in a button-up shirt. Those little preferences can make a big difference in how comfortable a client feels in session and therefore, how likely they are to share their true selves.
How RightFit’s Directory Approaches The Therapeutic Relationship
Most therapist directories take into account race, ethnicity, and religion. Some are also starting to take into account gender and sexual orientation. But what most directories don’t take into account is a therapist’s personality and therapy style, going beyond just techniques. RightFit developed common therapist archetypes that show up on each therapist’s profile as one method of helping clients get a better sense of who a therapist is in the room. Therapists can choose up to two to give clients a better sense of who they are (I’m totally the dog and sometimes the lemur). The archetypes are meant to add a fun, relatable way to help therapists connect with clients.
You can check out the archetypes below and head over to our directory to find a therapist that’s right for you!
Anne Rice, LPC, has a practice, Firefly Wellness Counseling, in Avondale Estates, Georgia. She also runs a coworking space for therapists called Blue House Wellness and is an advisor for RightFit.