7 Pitfalls to Avoid When Seeking the Right Therapist: Tips for a Successful Therapeutic Alliance

coaching counselling personaldevelopment therapist therapy May 02, 2023
mistakes to avoid when finding a therapist

When you face difficult situations or major life changes, receiving support from a coach or therapist can be helpful and reassuring.

Yet with so many types of support available, determining what constitutes meaningful support often involves a leap of faith.

It's like taking something precious for repair. Without specialist knowledge, you must trust the person responsible to perform a safe and competent job.

What’s more, navigating a confusing array of options is likely the last thing you feel like managing. Trusting your judgement and decision-making capacity without prior knowledge and experience in conducting a search can be difficult. Ultimately, all you want is professional, effective and reliable help.

Your mental and emotional well-being always deserves the utmost professional care, so it’s important to know what to look for (and what to avoid!)

This article provides practical tips on avoiding common pitfalls and mistakes when searching for a coach or therapist. It will help you make a well-informed decision leading to a positive and satisfying therapeutic and/or coaching alliance.

Pitfall 1: Ignoring your personal preferences and needs

When selecting a coach or therapist, it's crucial to consider your personal preferences and needs.

Factors such as gender, age, cultural background, and the therapist's training and orientation can significantly impact the therapeutic relationship. Ignoring these aspects may result in a less-than-ideal experience, hindering your progress.

Tip: Before starting your search, list your preferences and specific needs. Use this list as a guide to help you find someone that meets your criteria.

In an initial meeting, the professional should aim to help you feel comfortable, heard and understood. Building a strong rapport will be vital for your progress. This means that you can confide and explore your thinking with someone who seeks to understand your thoughts and ideas in a helpful and constructive manner. Generally, we‘re receptive to guidance and support from people we like and trust, so a positive alliance with your coach or therapist is a crucial first step.

Remember, trust your intuition and let this guide what feels right.   

Pitfall 2: Not verifying credentials and experience

It's important to verify a person's credentials and experience to avoid receiving inadequate treatment, which can result in wasted time, money, and emotional energy. To ensure the best possible care, it's crucial to confirm that your therapist is licensed and registered with an accredited organisation, that they have relevant experience, and are trained to deal with the issues you face,

Tip: Don’t hesitate to ask about your coach or therapist’s credentials and experience to help. In the main, a professional will have worked hard to obtain their credentials and happily share them with you. Consider this a standard piece of due diligence to ensure a successful partnership between you both.

Pitfall 3: Overlooking communication style and personality fit


Like in any relationship, communication style and personality fit are crucial factors in a supportive alliance. As humans, coaches and therapists will each have their own ways of doing things. Sometimes it will just work straight away between you. Other times their personality may differ slightly from what you expect, yet you still feel comfortable. One thing you don’t want is to find yourself making excuses for a coach or therapist’s behaviour. That may sound obvious, yet you’d be surprised at how often a caring and compassionate client can assume a role within a therapeutic relationship that might not serve them as well as it should.

Tip: Schedule an initial consultation to assess a fit between your communication style and personality. An initial meeting can often help you decide if a longer-term arrangement would suit you.

Pitfall 4: Not asking about fees and insurance coverage

Forgetting to inquire about fees, insurance coverage, and payment options can lead to unexpected financial stress and dissatisfaction.

Tip: Before committing to a therapist, ask about their fees, accepted insurance plans, and payment options. Make sure you fully understand the costs and can comfortably afford the services.

Pitfall 5: Neglecting to research the therapist's approach

If we include all the esoteric modes of therapy, they likely run into several hundred various types. That’s a lot of options and potential mistakes.

Different therapists use various approaches, and not all of them may be suitable for your needs. For instance, are you looking for short-term solution-focused approaches or longer-term emotional support? Are you seeking coaching, counselling, or a therapeutic combination of both?

Tip: Be mindful of a therapist who says that your work with them will last a specific length of time - for instance, one year or longer. While it’s reasonable (and even reassuring) for a therapist to offer a guiding roadmap, any pre-suppositions that your emotional support must necessarily last an extended period of time should raise an eyebrow. 

Here, coaching can be different. Coaches often develop programs that support clients through specific skills and competencies. In this instance, a coach will have developed an experience that may include working through practical skills and tasks.

Ultimately, a coach or therapist should be open and transparent with you about any length of commitment you may consider undertaking.

Pitfall 6: Relying solely on online reviews and recommendations

While online reviews and recommendations can be helpful, they shouldn't be the only factor when choosing support. Remember that each person's experience is subjective, and what works for one person may not work for you. Moreover, online reviews remain unverified, i.e. anyone can post them, from disgruntled ex-clients to adoring friends and family. This isn’t to say we can’t rely upon reviews (most of us race to read them before any significant purchase). Rather, remember to maintain a steady and objective attitude when referring to reviews in your decision-making progress.

Pitfall 7: Giving up after one session or not giving therapy enough time


One common mistake is giving up on receiving help after just one session or not giving it enough time. There may be various reasons for this. Sometimes, following a helpful insight and some inspiration to action, you might assume that, actually, you didn't need help, just a spring clean to dust off the cobwebs and get some clear thinking in the mix. Don't get me wrong - that can be the case sometimes. Occasionally, you need to have an event witnessed or an experience shared. Equally, you may have needed to hear something - expressed in a certain way - to provide some perspective and impetus to move things forward alone. However, humans are fickle. We can quickly forget what we've heard and understood. For this reason, committing to a degree of accountability can help to ensure developments become breakthroughs. 

Similarly, you might have hoped for a specific outcome from your initial meeting, which didn't materialise. This is why it helps to clarify the expectations for a successful meeting at the start. Setting expectations to ensure the client and coach/ therapist are moving towards a shared outcome will help to avoid unfocussed time and disappointment. 

Finding a compatible therapist is crucial for a successful therapeutic alliance. By avoiding these common pitfalls and following the tips provided, you can conduct a safe and assured search for a coach and therapist who can help you progress. 

Finally, here is a checklist that you can use to protect yourself or someone you know from ineffective or even harmful types of counselling and therapy. 

An effective therapist or counsellor:

  •  knows how to build rapport quickly with distressed people
  •  understands depression and how to lift it
  •  helps immediately with anxiety problems including trauma or fear related symptoms
  •  is prepared to offer advice if needed or asked for
  •  will not use jargon or 'psychobabble' or tell you that counselling or psychotherapy has to be 'painful'
  •  will not dwell unduly on the past
  •  will be supportive when complex feelings emerge but will not encourage people to get emotional beyond the normal need to 'let go’ of any bottled-up feelings
  •  may assist you in developing your social skills so that your needs for affection, friendship, pleasure, intimacy, connection to the broader community etc., can be better fulfilled
  •  will help you to draw and build on your resources (which may prove greater than you thought)
  •  will be considerate of the effects of counselling on the people close to you
  •  may teach you to relax deeply
  •  may help you think about your problems in new and more empowering ways
  •  uses a wide range of evidence-based techniques as appropriate
  •  may ask you to do things between sessions to consolidate progress
  •  will take as few sessions as necessary
  •  will increase your self-confidence and independence and ensure you feel better after every consultation.

There you go. Now you have a trustworthy roadmap to help you find the right person to support you. 

Avoid these mistakes and save yourself time, money, confusion and frustration. 

And remember, your mental and emotional health deserves the utmost care and professional support. 

This article is written by Dominic Decker - a coach, registered therapist and your support for a strong and confident life. Don't be afraid to ask questions that will put your mind at ease. A competent professional should be happy to answer your questions. 

What should you do next? 

Could you benefit from a 1:1 therapy and coaching partnership with Dominic?

Contact me if you want to find out if I can help you.

For bespoke 1:1 help and support, get in touch here.

To learn about an unrivalled coaching course for men, click Your Unshakeable Life


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