It’s natural to wonder whether your therapist actually likes you, but “getting your therapist to like you should never be the goal,” according to Sean Grover, a Manhattan-based author and psychotherapist who spoke with Lifehacker. “The goal is to form an authentic, honest working relationship.”
Grover hints at the prevailing wisdom on this topic, which is that it doesn’t really matter if a therapist likes you, because what ultimately matters most is if they’re able to help you. As the therapist Amy Morin wrote for Business Insider last year: “Your therapist is looking at you through a professional lens which means they’re focused more on how to help you be your best—not thinking about how much they like you.”
Plus, having too much of a soft spot for a client can complicate a therapeutic relationship. “Liking a patient too much can blind a therapist to a patient’s pathology,” Grover says. “The challenge for the therapist is to find the humanity in the patient, provide a growth inducing relationship, and maintain professional boundaries.”
What is YAVIS, and do therapists really prefer them?
There’s an entrenched idea—if not a holdover from a less conscientious era in psychotherapy—which maintains that counselors prefer clients who are young, attractive, verbal, intelligent and successful. The paradigm has an acronym—YAVIS—and it encompasses people who mental health professionals presumably prefer to work with. But while Grover notes that working with clients who are “highly motivated and intelligent” is always welcome, the YAVIS framework is ultimately “inconsequential.”
What to focus on instead of whether your therapist likes you
Your relationship with a therapist isn’t the same as with other people in your life. While it’s logical (and yes, even sometimes useful) to wonder if people you work with like you, with a therapist your goal is to prioritize the end result of treatment.
And if you’re constantly wondering whether your therapist likes you, it’s probably a good thing you’re in therapy, according to Grover. The psychologist says: “If someone is working hard to get their therapist to like them, this represents how they perform for approval in relationships, and is indicative of low self-esteem, social insecurity, and a weak sense of self.”
As much as you might be curious about it, the key is to understand that there are professional boundaries—and a professional goal—in your therapeutic journey, and that goal shouldn’t be served whether they like you or not.
“If you hire a lawyer, you want them to be effective,” says Grover. “If you hire them hoping they like you, is that really necessary? You want them to be effective, regardless if they like you or not.”