People seek psychotherapy for different reasons – because they have mental health concerns, because they need help managing or improving their overall functioning, because they’re having relationship problems, they’re going through transitions, have a history of trauma, or simply want to work on self-improvement.

They look to psychotherapy as a safe and supportive space in which they will be free to explore their thoughts and feelings, learn new skills, and/or work towards their goals. All this provided they found a therapist who is able to provide them with such a space, and offer the right amount of support. Naturally, this puts a lot of responsibility on the therapist who is seen as a guide and helper on the journey of self-discovery.

What is psychotherapy all about?

Psychotherapy is an effective way to treat many mental health conditions, and it can provide long term benefits that stretch beyond the end of the therapy process. However, in order for it to be effective, one of the key conditions it has to meet is the therapeutic alliance. This refers to the relationship between the client and the therapist, where a strong relationship can help clients feel understood, validated, and motivated to engage and work towards a positive change.

Research suggests that the outcome of a therapeutic process can be foreseen based on the first couple of sessions between a specific client-therapist pair. Not every therapist is going to be right for every client. Psychotherapy is a costly and time-demanding process, so it would make sense to “shop around” before settling on your preferred mental health professional. Different therapists suggest having a couple of try-out sessions with a few people, before we find the person we feel good about. 

How do we decide on a therapist? Is there a set list of criteria?

Research talks about different things to look for when choosing a therapist – it says we should obviously look for a licensed therapist, one who has had experience and training in the area we’d like to focus on, etc. We should also look to more specific factors, such as the approach and techniques the therapist uses – do they believe changing our thought patterns is key (as CBT therapists do), do they focus on early childhood events (as psychoanalists typically do), do they focus on the relationship, awareness and the present moment (as existential therapies do), and what is it that makes sense to us personally. It can also be useful to look into the question of which approach is most effective for what we want to work on. 

Research also suggest that, when choosing a therapist, we should consider the therapist’s demographics since we’re likely to feel more comfortable with a person who shares a similar background or identity as us – be it gender, ethnicity, sexual identity, or other. Psychotherapy has also been proven to be more effective when done in our mother tongue.

Finding the right match

Perhaps the most important thing to consider, and one that entails certain aspects of the aforementioned factors, is compatibility. Seeing as you’re turning to the therapist for support and guidance, it is crucial to find a person you can trust and can feel comfortable with. As said before, good therapeutic alliance is a key factor when talking about the effectiveness of therapy.

In order to figure out how compatible we are with a therapist, we need to pay attention to how the therapist presents themselves – do the things they’re talking about make sense to us, do we feel that they communicate in a clear and easy to understand way, do they give us a sense that they can help us work on a shared goal?

Listen to your gut

It’s also important to check in with ourselves and with our gut feelings when it comes to the sort of connection we feel – do I feel like I can trust this person, do they have my best interest in mind, do I feel like I can tell them anything, do they seem genuine in our interactions, do I feel comfortable, understood and validated? Some of these things may not be apparent, but you should feel free to inquire about them, and the therapist should make you feel like it’s okay to want to know a bit about them, seeing as you’re considering committing to working with them on a matter that is of great importance to you, and seeing as you will be trusting them with your time and effort.

In the end, it is crucial to choose a therapist with whom you feel at ease and have a good rapport as it can impact the success of therapy. Booking an initial session or consultation is recommended to assess whether the therapist is suitable for you. If you find that you do not feel comfortable or connected with the therapist, do not hesitate to seek someone else who may be a better match for you. 

If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.

Branka Mlinar is a psychologist and Gestalt therapist offering psychotherapy and counselling to adolescent and adult individuals. She’s mostly worked with problems of anxiety, interpersonal and relationship issues, procrastination, work-related stress, trauma, and grief.


Norcross, J. C., & Lambert, M. J. (2018). Psychotherapy relationships that work III. Psychotherapy, 55(4), 303-315. This paper summarizes research on the therapeutic relationship and offers guidance on how to choose a therapist who can develop a strong therapeutic alliance with you. The authors suggest that clients consider factors such as the therapist’s communication style, level of experience, and approach to therapy.

Wampold, B. E., & Imel, Z. E. (2015). The great psychotherapy debate: The evidence for what makes psychotherapy work. Routledge. This book provides an overview of the research on psychotherapy effectiveness and discusses factors that may influence the success of therapy, such as the therapeutic alliance and the therapist’s approach. The authors suggest that clients choose a therapist who is trained in evidence-based treatments and who can establish a strong therapeutic alliance with them.