Should my Therapist be Like Me?

Is it necessary when choosing a medical care professional, such as a psychiatrist or therapist, to work with someone who has had a similar life experience as you, or are you able to work effectively with a professional who knows nothing about your specific situation? There are arguments for both sides. On the one hand, having a therapist with similar experiences may assist in quickly establishing the client-therapist relationship; conversely, having a therapist with no knowledge of your situation can be just as effective. 

For some people, it doesn’t matter whether the therapist has lived their situation or not, the only thing that is relevant is receiving effective tools from the therapist. Besides, no one has had the exact experiences as another person, this due to genetics, environment, and our upbringing, so it would be unlikely to find a therapist with specific requirements matching yours. A reason why someone would not want someone with a similar background is that they need someone to be objective and distanced. Perhaps having someone with similar experiences would hit too close to home and create distress.

Without bias or judgment, a therapist’s job is to assist the patient in finding effective coping and problem solving strategies. He or she guides the patient to finding his or her own solutions. If a therapist’s style works and the patient finds the treatment effective and useful, then whether the therapist has a similar background is irrelevant. This system works for many people, and because we don’t initially choose the therapist we work with, sometimes the first one we work with is just what we need, but not always.

Some find it useful to have a therapist with similar personal experiences. By nature, we tend to gravitate toward others with related interests, worldviews, and morals; so naturally, we might want that in a professional relationship.

Another idea to consider is trust. Individuals who have had traumatic experiences may feel more comfortable working with someone who intimately knows the situation. Those who aren’t very trusting in general, may have a need for a relationship in which they feel safe. For instance, individuals with addictions; sometimes it really helps patients to have a therapist who has had personal experience with addiction. Benefits to this include sharing of effective strategies and resources, a sense of trust that the therapist knows what they are going through, and the ability for the patient to see a recovering addict who has had successful treatment.

When working with someone with a similar background to you, what happens when the professional boundary is crossed? Does the relationship continue, does it change, or does it end? When crossing moral and ethical boundaries, this could harm the relationship, and ultimately, the client. It is the responsibility of the therapist to ensure the relationship remains professional. The Code of Ethics is a professional standard in which a therapist abides by. In simpler terms, the therapist must always have the patient’s best interest in mind. Unsettling feelings can occur when a client feels they are in a compromised situation. When that happens, a change needs to occur by discussing it with the therapist. Doing this is a great way to practice self-advocacy.

Choosing a different therapist if the relationship is not working out well is a perfectly legitimate option. Every therapist, just like anyone else, has his or her own way of communicating, their own history, and education in which to draw from, so it is likely that a patient won’t be able to work with every type of therapist.

When you work with a professional, do you prefer someone who has a similar background as you, or do you feel there are other qualities that supersede?

4 thoughts on “Should my Therapist be Like Me?”

  1. I find it rather confusing and possible disservice with same like of any Medical professional having experienced or had the same as the client. If they have I do believe that should be confidential and not brought between the DR and Client.
    Even though both have had or do have the same thing, variables are definately certain, and not for everyone with the same treatment, differences are evident on a per person not a blank coverage for all in treatment.

    Thus I steer clear of such and now only obtain a Board Certified Dr hightly trained in my specific issue and do my research thoroughly..

    Jym

  2. I’ve often thought about this, but on a wider scale including primary doctors and dentists and even other non-medical professionals. When we have the option to choose, we often ask friends and relatives for recommendations. But their reasons for liking a particular individual doesn’t guarantee we’ll have the same experience. And you’ll probably only know 1 or 2 people who even know the person you’re considering seeing or hiring.
    So I’ve come up with a different kind of “possible” solution to the problem which I’ve thought about, but haven’t really thought out. Maybe this concept already exists, but I’ve never seen it. Wouldn’t it be cool to have a variety of social/professional sites, kind of like dating sites, where professionals and their prospective customers could interact. For example, doctors and their prospective patients could just talk about things. They could discuss the various diseases, conditions, surgeries, and the pros, cons, and risks of various treatments without any professional liability (due to the Terms of Agreement everyone would have to accept to be on the site). Conversations can be very casual. Prospective patients can get to know a little about the doctors they are considering seeing and maybe build a repore with him or her beforehand. And they can ask other prospective patients their opinions and experiences with a particular doctor. I know, I know, it’s kind of an “out there” idea, but so was Facebook when it was 1st proposed.

  3. Great article!!! One I’m sure that many has tossed around in their head. I have many times. I think picking a therapist / Psychiatrist should be highly considered based on many things, not just if they been through the same things as the patient. The patient and therapist should have some sort of compatabiity so that way the patient will feel comfortable enough to open up completely and truthfully. Rather then going and spending an hour with the therapist and only saying half story and what you think the therpist wants to hear. You should feel like you can be open enough to share everything so you can start working through things and start healing. In many cases all the answers are all right there at the surface of the patient. The go and start talking and by the time they are done they have went all the way around and made a square. And the therapist just listened and pointed out that they started with A and finished with D and they had already figured it out. It’s just having someone to listen too.
    I think if your seeking help for drug and alcohol addiction it would be best to do so with someone who has done it and who’s been clean for YEARS. Going to someone that has never done it before, been down that road isn’t really going to understand. They may have the books but book smarts sometimes hurts a person in the ability to see a person when they are in pain and suffering or an addict trying to get clean.
    So I think each situation is different……

  4. I have found that having a therapist or any other care provider with a similar background to myself can work backwards for me. I’m very good at asking the right questions and having someone talk about themselves. A person who gets excited because I’m someone who understands them turns into a friend too quickly. They end up having a great session! So for me it is more about the personality than similarity. Someone who can maintain their professional position as outside observer is very important to me.

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