Fast Exit

December 5, 2023 Dec 05, 2023 5 min read

Checklist: What to Look for in a Trauma Therapist

The following checklist offers a complete overview of what to look for in a trauma therapist. Feel free to save, download, or print this checklist to use when interviewing potential therapists.

Training and Experience

Your therapist should be trained in relevant specialty areas and have experience actively working in their field. It’s not enough for someone to have a degree in psychology – they should be a seasoned professional with experience working with trauma survivors. Look for key words like “trauma,” “PTSD,” or “sexual abuse” on therapist listings and websites.


To ensure that these keywords are backed up by real-world experience, look for professional credentials and education details on therapist websites and related listings. If a therapist does not list their credentials, reach out and ask or search for a different therapist. If a therapist is not willing to share with you about their credentials and experience, take this as a red flag.


Empathy and Compassion

Beyond formal training and experience, your trauma therapist should also be empathetic and compassionate from the start. Give yourself permission to use first impressions to guide you in your decision-making process around this. If a therapist does not clearly communicate empathy and compassion for your situation from your first meeting or conversation, consider taking your search elsewhere.

Active Listening

Being a good listener is an essential skill of an effective therapist or counsellor. But active listening doesn’t just involve sitting there silently while a client talks. It also involves conveying sustained attention through eye contact (if this feels comfortable for the client), nodding, expressing compassion or mirrored emotions through facial expressions, and asking follow-up questions.

If you notice that your therapist seems preoccupied or is talking more than listening during an initial phone call or session, this may be a bad sign. 

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Survivor Focus

Having your experience and perspective believed and centered by your therapist is a critical aspect of healing. While all trauma therapists should believe and support survivors, this unfortunately isn’t always the case. If a potential therapist exhibits any “victim blaming” attitudes or behaviors, do not pursue a therapeutic relationship with them.


Working with therapists who are not wholly invested in believing and supporting survivors can easily lead to re-traumatization and significantly hinder and prolong the trauma healing process.

Collaboration and Mutual Respect

Similar to the previous point, it’s important to find a therapist who is invested in a survivor-led recovery process. Your therapist should not be trying to rescue you, impose rigid advice or expectations, or tell you how to live your life. Instead, a therapist should act as a compassionate guide and collaborator invested in helping the client find solutions that work for them. Therapy should feel empowering and collaborative, not prescriptive or imposing.

Payment Options and Accessibility

Depending on where you live, therapy might be available free of charge through government-funded healthcare or social services. In Canada, for example, it’s common for advocacy organizations to offer free mental health services to survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence.


If this is not the case where you live, however, it’s important to find a therapist who either accepts your health insurance or can work within your budget.



Accessibility is also an important factor to consider. If you’re interested in finding a therapist you can visit in person, limit your search to your local area. That said, most therapists now offer services via telehealth, which means you can expand your search to anyone licensed to practice in your state or province.


Survivors with communication-related accessibility needs should take these into consideration as well when choosing a therapist.

Healthy Boundaries

Healthy boundaries are an extremely important part of an effective and lasting therapeutic relationship. Your therapist should be skilled at limiting what (if anything) they share about their personal life, and they should also respect your boundaries and privacy outside of your therapy sessions.


If a therapist exhibits loose boundaries in an initial call or session (for example, if they ask you to divulge excessive details about your trauma history right away or if they divulge sensitive information about themselves or other clients), this could indicate they may not possess the maturity necessary to be an effective trauma therapist.

Humility, Honesty, and Adaptability

Look for these three characteristics in a therapist…


  • Humility: Are they willing and able to acknowledge their weaknesses or areas where they lack knowledge or experience? Are they willing and able to apologize when or if they cause harm, confusion, etc.?
  • Honesty: Are they willing and able to inform you when or if their skill sets fail to be a good fit for your needs? Are they willing to refer you to someone else who might be a better fit?
  • Adaptability: Are they open to constructive criticism? Are they willing to make reasonable adjustments to their approach to better fit your needs?

A responsible and mature trauma therapist should exhibit humility, honesty, and adaptability with ease.

Your Preferred Characteristics and Skills

Finally, make a list of the unique characteristics and skills you want in a therapist. While some people may prioritize gentleness and reassurance in a therapist, others might be more interested in being asked challenging questions or being held to firm (mutually agreed upon) expectations for growth.



You might also be interested in a trauma therapist trained in certain modalities or techniques, such as EMDR (eye movement desensitization reprocessing), Internal Family Systems (IFS), or Polyvagal Theory (PVT). Depending on your personality type and therapeutic goals, seek out your preferred traits and skills in a therapist.

Please note that while the term “therapist” is used throughout this checklist, the key features listed here should be present in any trauma-informed counsellor, coach, clinical social worker, or other mental health professional. For more help finding a therapist, check out “How to Find a Trauma Therapist” and “Essential Questions to Ask a New Therapist.”

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