Published on December 15th, 2013 | by Kristen Kansiewicz

How to Have A Good Relationship with Your Therapist

The therapeutic relationship between client and counselor is a fascinating and unique alliance. Therapy requires different boundaries than other relationships. You likely meet your therapist or counselor in the same place and perhaps even at the same day and time every week. Your session lasts for a set amount of time, usually 45-60 minutes. You or your insurance company pay for the relationship to continue. You share very deep and personal feelings in the therapy office, but you may want to run the other way if you see your therapist at the store. The relationship is intimate, yet has an expected end. Success in therapy often means ending the relationship, whereas in a typical relationship, its’ ending may signal some kind of failure.

So what makes a good therapeutic relationship? John C. Norcross (2011) and others have studied this very question and have concluded that across a variety of treatment methods, the quality of the relationship between client and counselor is a strong contributing factor to success in therapy.

There are a few specific things you might want to consider so that you can have a good relationship with your therapist:


Do you feel like you connect right away with your therapist? Does he or she share certain values that you hold? For example, many Christians find it helpful to have a counselor who is also a Christian as they share a common language and set of beliefs. Cultural and ethnic factors also come in to play here.


Do you get the feeling that your therapist truly cares about you, or do you feel rushed at the door the minute the session ends? Do you feel you can be genuine with your counselor? If there was something he or she did that made you uncomfortable, would you be able to be honest about it?


Transference is a phenomenon that your counselor has been trained to detect, and it is not unusual in a therapeutic relationship. It occurs when you have feelings or thoughts about your therapist that are not truly about him or her. Usually the intimate nature of the therapeutic relationship brings out feelings that may remind you of something or someone else.

For example, your counselor may inadvertently use a phrase or tone that reminds you of your mother. You may become hostile or defensive towards the counselor in that moment, but these feelings are not really about the counselor. Your feelings (transference) in that moment are ACTUALLY about your mother. Transference is a useful therapeutic tool, but sometimes it can get in the way. If the therapist strongly reminds you of someone negative in your life (an abuser, an ex, etc.), this transference may prevent you from being able to feel comfortable in therapy.


If you have been in counseling for a while, it is a good idea to ask yourself, “Is therapy helping me?” Think about the reasons you began counseling. Are these things being addressed? Do you feel better than you once did?

Some counselors tend toward a “listening ear” style which is helpful to someone with good insight who likes to talk. Other counselors may offer direct feedback which is useful to those who need advice or a new way of seeing the problem. If your therapist is not giving enough feedback or is giving too many suggestions when you just want her or him to listen, you may become frustrated in therapy.

What Should I Do If I Have A Bad Relationship with My Therapist?

If you find a problem in the therapeutic relationship, you should try to discuss it with the therapist. She or he is most likely wanting to help you and may simply have misread you or the situation. Being honest may improve the relationship and the quality of the work.

If you feel that you cannot be honest with your counselor or you are sure pretty quickly that this is not the right fit, don’t force it. Ask your counselor or your friends and family for other counselors in your area who may be a better match for you. Don’t give up! The right fit may be your key to success.

Picture by StarLight via Stock.Xchng

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