One of the biggest predictors of successful outcomes in counselling is the relationship between you and your counsellor. A lot of this comes down to being a “good fit.” What does that mean and how can you tell if it’s the case?
In the first post about how to go to counselling, I went over some ways to prepare and make space for counselling. One of the biggest predictors of successful outcomes in counselling is actually the relationship between you and your counsellor. A lot of this comes down to being a “good fit.” But what does that really mean and how can you tell if it’s the case?
What is a “good fit”?
A good fit means working with a counsellor who is on the same page as you. At its core, this means your goals align, your views on the world are at least a bit similar, and you see the role of counselling the same way. This kind of basic alignment seems simple but is pretty important – if you’re a hard-line evidence-based academic, walking into an office with a counsellor who talks about auras or hypnotherapy is just going to feel wrong. Similarly, walking into a setting that feels really clinical (think: sitting in the doctor’s office) isn’t going to feel safe enough for some people to talk about their emotions.
It can be helpful to give some time to thinking about what you want from your counsellor – do you want a blank slate, or someone who will share their thoughts with you? Are you hoping for someone who will be an empathic ear, or someone who will give you practical strategies (or, my favourite: both!)?
Some signs your counsellor is right for you
Okay, so you meet with a counsellor, and they seem alright so far. How do you know if it’s a “good fit” though?
You feel safe (enough)
There are few things worse than being vulnerable with someone and having them respond in a way that leaves you feeling unsafe – whether that’s feeling judged, or just not heard, or even alienated. It can be very helpful to discuss this explicitly when you first start working with your counsellor. It’s probably always going to feel a bit vulnerable, but what do you need to feel safe enough? What kind of conditions or agreements do you need in the room?
You can also tune in to how you feel with your counsellor: does it feel safe enough to talk about what’s going on? Do you always feel like you have to censor yourself? Sometimes it can be really helpful to bring this up with your counsellor and discuss what’s happening in the room.
Or, if it really doesn’t feel safe enough, it can be a sign that maybe they’re not the right fit for you.
You trust them (enough)
Another important piece of building safety is a sense of trust. As a counsellor, I don’t expect you to walk into the room and trust me right away. You don’t really know me so how could you? Trust is something that is built and earned over time. One sign that you’re working with a counsellor who is a good fit for you is that you feel like you can trust them (enough) – over time, they show that they’re predictable, they follow through on what they say, they’re transparent, and they’re honest.
It feels like they ‘get it’
This is a major one: if you feel like you and your counsellor are speaking different languages, it’s not going to work. When you describe what’s going on for you, do they respond in a way that makes you feel heard and understood? When they don’t get it, do they work to understand?
It feels useful
Useful is a pretty personal word and can vary a lot from one person to another. Sometimes useful is just having someone compassionate to talk to, and sometimes useful is seeing tangible shifts in your life. When you think back to the goals you discussed with your counsellor, do you feel like you’re working towards them together? Does counselling feel like a good use of your time and resources? If you’re not sure, it can be helpful to check in with your counsellor – how do they see you progressing towards these goals?
As you can see so far, a lot of “how to go to counselling” is about tuning in to what feels right and works for you. Stay tuned for the conclusion of the series, which will be all about how to get the most out of counselling.
Amanda Hamm is a registered clinical counsellor who works towards making counselling more relatable, approachable, and just a tiny bit more human.