How to Recognize Good Therapy: Tips from an Expert

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How to Recognize Good Therapy: Tips from an Expert

Therapy is a great way to improve your anxiety, worry, depression, relationships, and overall happiness in life. But not all therapy is created equal—some methods are just more effective for making improvements in your life. How can you know that you’ll be getting the kind of quality, high-level therapy that will really help you make the long-lasting changes you’re looking for? This article will give you some inside tips on the elements of quality therapy, all from a therapist with over 15 years of practical experience.

Evidence-Based and Experience

Quality therapy doesn’t follow fads or whatever is popular at the moment. Instead, the best therapy uses tried-and-true methods that are evidence based, meaning there is lots of research proving they work. These methods include the gold-standard Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, and very specific interventions that are used with certain problems such as anxiety, panic, OCD, and depression. Therapy that is backed up by evidence is the surest way to get the most and fastest relief.

These evidence-based therapies are most effective when used by experienced therapists. You want someone who has helped lots of people in situations like yours, who can pull from their experience to offer you the very best methods. Experienced therapists don’t just talk about techniques in a theoretical way and haven’t just studied methods in a book; they have helped many others apply the methods in real-life situations, and they know how to adapt the techniques to work for you.

Having years of experience also means that a therapist has lots of practice at explaining the methods they use and the theories behind them. In the highest-quality therapy, you should completely understand how the process works, what the required steps are, and how to go about accomplishing the steps. What happens in your therapy meetings and why you are feeling better should not be a mystery. You should feel confident that the therapist is well grounded in the theory behind why they do certain things and that they’re not just going by the seat of their pants. They should thoroughly explain everything to you so you “get” it, because that will help you reach your goals and allow you to maintain your gains long after therapy is over.

Empathy and Structure

Often, the popular image of a therapist is of someone who is empathetic and likable, who takes the time to listen to you and communicates in a caring way that lets you know they’re “getting” you. Empathy is certainly an important part of quality therapy as it helps you form a relationship with your therapist, but therapy is much more than chit-chatting. Quality therapy has a beginning, an end, and an overall point, and you’ll look to your therapist to create a structure that will guide you toward significant improvement without being overly rigid. This means setting an agenda for each meeting with goals and specific topics to focus on, always with YOUR priorities in mind. Throughout the process, your therapist should teach you skills and tools that will serve you for years to come.

CBT & Self-Help Homework

Part of the structure of quality therapy involves homework designed to help you make progress toward your goals even outside of your weekly appointments. A good therapist will provide relevant, sometimes creative assignments that build on the skills you have discussed in therapy. Each assignment should be explained so you know why you’re doing it and how it will help you. The therapist also follows up with your progress on assignments and adapts them as needed.


Quality therapy also requires your honest feedback—in the best cases, after every session. You should have the opportunity to provide written comments, which often makes it easier to express any negative feedback. The best therapists are open and non-defensive toward your comments. They realize this is a crucial part of providing the best care, and research supports the feedback process as a way to keep the therapy relationship strong for positive change.

Monitoring Goals and Milestones

You go into therapy with a desired outcome, such as symptom relief or mood improvement, and part of quality therapy is establishing specific goals and monitoring your progress toward these goals. Although it can appear somewhat difficult to track mental health and emotions, skilled therapists have lots of ways of measuring your success and spotting trends. To do this they need two things: (1) specific, measurable goals and (2) your input. Expect to have in-depth discussions about your goals—a vital part of quality therapy. In the highest-level therapy, you’ll do brief weekly assessments to record how you are doing in various aspects of your life such as feelings, behaviors, satisfaction in relationships, and overall happiness. Your therapist will then review your assessments with you to evaluate success and progress and periodically discuss your goals and adjust them if needed as you make progress.

Therapy can be a great way to make improvements in many areas of your life, but only if the methods used are the best ones for you. Keep the above tips in mind to ensure you’re getting high-quality therapy that will help you achieve the best, longest-lasting results for an improved life.

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