What affects whether your counsellor is right for you?
There are a lot of theories about what makes a therapist right for you, the client. As a therapist, I have been told in the past to watch out for older clients who have children that are about my age. The idea being, they might conflate me with their child and all the dynamics in their relationship could be replicated, from the client’s point of view, making the counsellor appear to have little authority. This new study (by Behn et al, March 2018) suggest this need not have been a worry for me.
In the study, they took over 500 clients and assigned them to 28 therapists and took measurements of the strength of the ‘therapeutic alliance’. The ‘therapeutic alliance’ is a technical term from mental health talking therapies, which means the relationship between a client and their counsellor, psychotherapist, or even their psychiatrist. It’s generally felt that the client’s healing is dependent on a strong therapeutic alliance.
They found that initially some similarities between the client and the therapist, like being of the same gender, lead to a better therapeutic relationship. However, those of opposite genders recovered from the initially lower strength therapeutic relationship. It's often assumed having a female therapist is beneficial, but his study did not support that.
Another surprising outcome of this study was that a counsellor from a similar background did not assist the therapeutic alliance. There was a benefit from having a therapist with a perceived higher class/wealth. This might imply a general higher social status was a factor, except that therapist of the same or younger age than their client had better therapeutic alliances.
I think it’s important to remember that although a good therapeutic relationship is important, it doesn’t need to be perfect for the process of therapy to work. You might want to look for a younger, wealthier therapist of the same sex to better your chances, but they still might not work for you. It’s important to trust your gut when finding a therapist and don’t be afraid of telling them that it’s not working. They shouldn’t take offence at that. It’s like finding a best friend. You wouldn’t choose the first one that came along, and you’d know when they’re the right one for you.