5 Ways to Build “Therapeutic Fit” Before Intake

7 minutes Written by Mental Health Match

Successful therapy begins with strong therapeutic fit. As a therapist, you are trained to build that relationship starting with the first session, but Mental Health Match believes that trust building can start even before a prospective client contacts you.

“Fit” is about perception

You know that your clients can best be vulnerable and grow only once you have established a foundation of trust and rapport, also known as “fit or “alliance.” These are positive feelings the client has toward you and the therapeutic process, including:

  • Confidence in your skills and abilities.
  • Feeling seen and heard.
  • Sense of connection.
  • Trust in your professionalism.
  • Hope and optimism for positive outcomes.

During our years-long research process to develop a service that matches therapists to new clients based on the likelihood of fit, we heard many ways clients develop perceptions of fit before they even meet their therapist. Which is why we believe your profiles and website lay the foundation for fit – before your client even meets you.

Your list of specialties builds confidence in your expertise.

The feeling of “fit” begins with a client’s confidence in your skills and expertise. Prospective clients need to feel like they will be working with someone who is trained to guide them through the specific issues they are experiencing. Mental Health Match begins our matching process with these specialties, showing people only the therapists who match their needs.

In our research, we learned that a refined list of 6-8 specialties allows people to feel both reflected in your work and confident in your skills. Too many specialties cause prospective clients to doubt your expertise as a therapist, especially when the listed specialties are not related to each other.

To make the most of your list of specialties, it is important to speak in the language of the client. That’s why Mental Health Match allows therapists to use their own words when describing their specialties, instead of forcing you to choose from a list of clinical terms.

Clients should feel seen in the language you use – but not triggered.

Therapy-seekers who come to Mental Health Match usually feel isolated and alone. When people search for a therapist, they look for signals that the therapist “gets” them and can help them breakthrough their feelings of isolation. One of the best ways to do that is to use language that names what a client might be feeling.

This, however, requires nuance. It is important to name symptoms that your prospective clients might be feeling without putting them on the defensive. The words “you” or “yours” can sometimes trigger negative thoughts and feelings, as it does in a question like, “Are you tired of hating your body?” This immediately starts a pattern that can harm feelings of therapeutic fit.

Instead, it is important to use words of connection, such as “together,” “people,” and “work with.” For example, “I have most success working with people who are frustrated with how they feel about their body.” This allows people to feel reflected in your practice without risking the defensiveness and negative thoughts that could get in the way of future work.

From our research and experience, we created a profile prompt that helps therapists reflect their potential clients while staying positive: “I specialize in working with people who…” When potential clients read this, they will feel seen and connected, as well as confident in your expertise – feelings that lay the foundation for a strong therapeutic alliance.

Use your photo to create a sense of connection.

When people view your photo, they make an instantaneous judgment about how well they will connect with you as another human being. This is when they make initial assumptions about who you are, your warmth, and what it is like to work with you.  

Based on our review of successful online therapist profiles, Mental Health Match has identified the three most important ways you can create a sense of connection with just your photo:

  • Eye contact that looks right at the viewer
  • An inviting expression that feels warm
  • A professional background that builds trust (instead of a Spring Break selfie)

These aspects to your photo give prospective clients a sense of who you are, and create expectations of what it might be like to work with you. These assumptions spill over into therapy. Once established, they are hard to manage, even if your client consciously knows they are assumptions. On the other hand, if your photo makes people feel at ease, welcomed, and confident in your skills, these assumptions will help you and your client grow together.

To your photo, consider adding a short video. Especially in the current age of teletherapy, introductory videos are a great way to connect to people and help them feel comfortable with you even before your first meeting – which might be through a remote therapy software like doxy.

Through your photos and videos, you can help prospective clients feel a sense of connection with you, as well as confidence in your professional skills and abilities.

Build trust with your professional values.

One of the things that surprised us during our research is that people are often skeptical of therapy and therapists. Many people who come to Mental Health Match have not been to therapy before and are not sure what to expect or what to look for in a new therapist.

That’s why you can use your online profile and website to create a feeling of trust in your professionalism. To create that trust, tell prospective clients what motivates you and why you’ve chosen the specialties and modalities that you’ve pursued.

We invite therapists to include a prompt in their profile to do just that: “I became a therapist because…” Some therapists choose not to answer this, but others use this prompt to be transparent about their values, aspirations, and reasons for doing what they do.

Simon Sinek, author of “Start with Why,” knows the importance of values in building trust. When talking to business leaders, Simon said, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” The same is true when you are someone looking for a therapist. Your values and motivations as a therapist are just as important to building trust as your training and licensure.  

Use “words of hope” to nurture optimism.

For people to enter therapy in the best place possible, they need to believe that therapy will help them. If they come to a first session with you feeling hesitant or unsure, you’ll have more work to do to build a productive relationship.

Throughout your profile and website, you want to give prospective clients a glimpse of what life could look like if they work with you. Mental Health Match invites therapists to share this hope and optimism with two prompts: “Together we will explore…” and “Something unique about my approach…” These prompts allow therapists to tell prospective clients what can be accomplished by working together, and how you can help make those accomplishments happen.

These “words of hope” are action-oriented, and can include:

  • We will
  • Build
  • Create
  • Practice
  • Resolve

Use these words to set the stage for your client to come to their first session hopeful about your work together and committed to working with you in an effective and collaborative therapeutic relationship.

Mental Health Match is designed for fit.

Mental Health Match believes the therapeutic alliance, or “fit” begins to develop even before your first meeting with the client. We designed our matching tool and therapist profiles to help set the stage for a strong fit by:

  • Building confidence through our matching system.
  • Freeing therapists to use language that allow clients to be seen.
  • Making it easy for therapists to share photos and videos that create connection.
  • Sparking trust and optimism with specific profile prompts.

We invite you to experience for yourself the difference between a client who comes through Mental Health Match and one who starts a relationship with you without having a foundation of trust, hope, and connection. If you are a therapist with an active, valid state license, you can try Mental Health Match for free.

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Written by Mental Health Match

Mental Health Match is building the best place to find therapeutic care. Use our matching tool to instantly discover the therapists who meet your needs.