“Fit” is an important aspect of any therapeutic relationship. While a therapist’s training and experience are important to consider, research has shown that factors such as the client’s expectations and the alliance between client and therapist are just as important in the outcome of therapy . You want a therapist who you can trust and with whom you and your family feel comfortable.
The following are some tips on how to choose the right family therapist:
- Review your expectations. Have you and your family been in therapy before? If so, what did you find helpful? If not, what do you imagine family therapy will be like? Do you already have some ideas of what might help your family in addressing the problems you are facing? Has your family discussed their expectations of therapy? This work will be part of the early stages of therapy, but it is also a good idea to begin exploring your shared ideas prior to starting therapy as it will help you to build a picture of what you are looking for.
- Do some research. Reading therapist’s profiles can give you an idea of their overall approach to therapy. Do particular statements in their profile resonate with you? Does it spark any ideas for you about how you and your family might overcome the challenges you are facing?
- Have an open mind. Like all relationships, first impressions are not always accurate. It is likely that many different therapists will be able to help you and your family on your path to wellbeing.
In the first few sessions of family therapy
- Consider the problems that your family is experiencing. Imagine what you hope to achieve by going to therapy, and communicate this to your therapist. Does it feel like you and your therapist are on the same page in terms of your family’s goals and how you might reach them?
- Feeling safe. It is important that your family feels safe to express themselves in therapy. Did the therapist facilitate this?
- Feeling heard. In order for therapy to be successful, every family member must feel heard and as though they are part of the family’s healing around whatever issues they are facing. Did the therapist attempt to connect with everyone in the family? Did the therapist attempt to understand the problem from everyone’s point of view?
- Therapeutic alliance. It takes time to develop a relationship with your therapist. If you are unsure of the fit with your therapist after a few meetings, do you feel this is something you can discuss with your therapist? Collaboration is an important element of therapy, and most therapists will welcome your feedback if you are questioning the direction of the therapy.
Remember that you are going to therapy because you want to create change. Perhaps your family has faced a crisis and needs a space in which to openly express feelings, or perhaps your family is unsure of how to respond to an individual member’s difficulties or how to manage family conflict in a healthy way. No matter what has brought your family to seek therapy, you want to work with your therapist to create positive change. A safe and trusting relationship with your therapist is a critical component of this therapeutic work.
Written by: Alexa Leon, MSW, MSc(A) Marital and Family Therapist, Montréal Therapy Centre
 Sprenkle, D. H., & Blow, A. J. (January 01, 2004). Common factors and our sacred models. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 30, 2, 113-29.