I came across this recent study by an existential therapist that sheds light on what effective therapists do in their first client sessions, and it got me reflecting on my own client-therapy approach.

There are two key research findings that deeply resonates with me:

  1. Effective therapists see the clients as experts on themselves.
  2. Effective therapists promote the expectations of the clients’ active involvement in the therapy process.

I recall the time when I was seeking out a paediatrician (Because I gave birth at home, I wasn’t automatically assigned one), and my doula had advised me to actively go out and speak with doctors to find out how they work and, more importantly, if their philosophy of care aligns with my own values.

As someone inclined toward a natural approach, I know I wouldn’t be comfortable with a doctor who would default to taking the most aggressive route, such as prescribing antibiotics for every common ailment. And knowing my expectations had allowed me to narrow down my options, leading me to making a paediatrician choice that I was very happy with.

This “paediatrician-shopping” experience reminds me what it is like to be empowered as a client.

Applying this empowerment to finding the right therapist, it is important for clients to know what their options are before they decide. Clients should have the capacity to interview therapists and ensure their approach aligns with their vision of healing. And it is equally important for therapists to be able to support that.

This is why I call my initial session with a client a “chemistry session” rather than a “consultation”—to introduce the idea that the therapist may not be the only expert in the room and that the clients are also experts themselves.

I hope you too will find these research insights useful. And to my fellow therapist colleagues, feel free to share what are you doing to help your clients feel empowered and actively work with you as a team.