What’s the first thing you do when you’re looking for a new hairdresser, plumber or builder? You’d ask a friend or put a message on the local Facebook page, right? Not only are people happy to share their experience of these professionals and their work but the results are often evident. Not so with a psychotherapist / counsellor. Firstly, people don’t always want to admit to having or needing support for their emotional wellbeing. Secondly, because much of the work is relational i.e. a connection between 2 people, what works for one person might not for another. So this begs the question: how do you find a suitable counsellor?
I’ve come up with 5 points to help you with your search:
1. What do you want help for?
The first step is to have a think about what it is you want to address. Many therapists specialize in specific areas that require particular knowledge and expertise, for example if you are suffering with anxiety or depression a cognitive behavioural therapist or a counsellor specializing in these areas might be your most appropriate source of help. If it’s an eating disorder then you will need to look for someone with knowledge and expertise in treating and working with this. If it’s a substance addiction then you most certainly need an addiction specialist.
2. Finding the best fit.
In addition to using a search engine there are a number of UK Counselling / psychotherapy directory websites that therapists can pay to be featured on and you can usually narrow down the search using keywords. Have a read through their profiles and you should get a feel for their approach. I don’t want to be prescriptive here because people are drawn to different things. Go with what looks right for you but keep in mind the following:
- Does the therapist have a membership and/or accreditation with a professional body? This means that they must adhere to certain guidelines to maintain their membership or accreditation such as regular training, supervision and maintaining ethical boundaries.
- Whilst cost may be an important factor in your decision, try not to base your choice on the cheapest option, in the long run you may end up paying more.
- Don’t base your decision solely on the number of letters someone has after their name. Whilst qualifications show the ability to pass exams they are not a prerequisite to being an effective therapist.
3. Take the plunge
Book an appointment to meet with the therapist (or therapists). Most therapists offer a no obligation reduced fee or free initial session to meet and have a relaxed chat about what you want help with. Think about what you want to ask, for example: How would you approach helping me with my difficulty? What will be expected of me? How much do you charge? Then go and have that first session.
4. Reflect on the experience.
Once you’ve had the initial meeting ask yourself the following questions:
- How did I feel in the session? Okay, you might have been a bit nervous but did you understand what was said? Did you come away feeling any different? Did you feel a sense of hope that this person could help you?
- Does the therapist invite feedback, both positive and negative? This is a sign that they use reflective practice to ensure they are working in a way that suits you.
- Did the therapist understand the particular issue I want to address? Have they worked with it before?
- Did the therapist leave plenty of time for me to talk and did I feel heard and understood?
- Did the therapist leave all the talking to me? Whilst it’s important you do get the time to talk, it’s just as important that the therapist has some input.
- Was I pressurised into booking further sessions? You should never be pressured into committing to further sessions there and then. It’s best to reflect on the experience and, if you decide to go ahead let the therapist know in your own time.
5. Decision time
Don’t be afraid to meet with a number of therapists before making your final decision. Taking your time to get it right will save you both money and time in the long run.
Finally, once you are seeing a counsellor on a regular basis it is likely that there may be times when you feel worse rather than better, that’s often part of the process, but it’s essential that you let your therapist know if it’s not working out or you’re not getting what you want from the sessions. Any good therapist will welcome this feedback and address it if need be.