Whether you've made the decision yourself to find a therapist or perhaps your GP has recommended it, the sheer weight of choice can be pretty daunting to many people. On the one hand you want to make an informed choice and on the other you may not even be capable of working things out right now...how exactly are you meant to pick someone - a stranger - to talk to week on week, without knowing a single thing about them? Where do you even start?
During a portion of my core training I too had to find and select a therapist to work with, so I can share in the bewilderment some of you may be feeling. It is a difficult task and unless you are recommended to somebody, the choice is quite unbelievable. Whilst the below tips are by no means a complete list, I hope some of the ideas may offer some food for thought and help some of you in your search.
1. HOW TO LOOK
If your GP can't recommend a private practitioner I can recommend the following links as a great place to start (click for direct link):
- Counselling Directory
- British Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapists (BACP)
- United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP)
It still frustrates me that in the UK there is no formal legal qualification base for a practicing therapist/counsellor/psychotherapist. Quite frankly, anyone can pick any one of these labels and begin seeing clients, which means from a client's point of view that you have little to go on. Using any of the above organisations ensures that you are working with a fully registered, competent therapist. It guarantees that they meet minimum guidelines in training, that they are insured and that they are working to an ethically sound level.
2. WHAT TO LOOK FOR!
You will have noticed that I often use the terms therapist or counsellor or psychotherapist interchangeably. I'm not trying to confuse you (honestly), but the point is that whilst the profession remains unregulated there are a number of umbrella terms that people use when they are referring to talking therapy.
There are in fact differences between all of the above terms (more than I can cover in one blog), so I will try and make this simple: THEY ALL DO BASICALLY THE SAME THING...they might just work a little differently and have slightly different training to each other. That means that you can search for any of the above terms on google and will probably end up with the same people.
The important part however is whether you feel you can work with them. You will make a lot of this decision unconsciously i.e. "I could only work with a woman" but the rest will fall into place once you start searching. Take your time to read through a therapist's profile and try and get a feel for who they are. If you're not sure and need to know more, why not email them to ask some questions first? Think about what is important to you (age/ gender/experience) and look for that in their description.
3. WHERE? WHEN?
You may not have considered this already but where you will meet with your chosen therapist may affect your choice. I'm not just talking location here either. Are you expecting an office? Someone's home? Where would you feel most comfortable? Don't forget geography either - if you want to see someone 'privately' then maybe consider seeing someone in the City as opposed to your home town. All of this information should be available on the therapist's profile, but if not just ask!
The second point is to think about when you will be able to make a regular commitment. Although some therapists can move appointments week to week, others will want you to agree to a specific time and day each week.
4. MEETING FOR THE FIRST TIME
So you've selected a therapist(s) and you've arranged to meet for an initial session. Quite often a new client may feel that they are obligated to work with someone following a first meeting, or maybe they feel obligated to make a decision there and then. In therapy terms this is absolutely not the case. The first meeting is so important, not just for you the client but for the therapist also. Essentially you are both trying to gauge whether you will be able to work together moving forward and I would really encourage anyone to take their time over making such an important decision. I know for my clients I always encourage them to think about things for a few days after our meeting to process how they're feeling and what they want to happen next. You could even use this opportunity to see a number of different therapists to see if there is anyone else you prefer.
5. WHAT TO EXPECT FROM THERAPY
It can be difficult to explain therapy to someone who hasn't tried it, not just because each therapist is different but moreover because each client is. By nature, the therapy relationship will be unique to each duo and will often change and move throughout the work. You may find therapy to be much harder than you anticipated. You may find doesn't quite 'do' what you thought it would. The truth is that a productive therapy will often be less about a therapists' tricks or training and more about mutual trust and honesty.
That said each therapist will have a unique way of working which will depend on their training and their orientation. There is often a strong assumption for first-time clients that the therapist will take the lead, or will have tips/cures for them to overcome whatever they are struggling with. This may happen of course - a CBT-based therapist would work to give you focus for example and may even give you homework, however for a more 'client-led' therapist therapy can often feel like you're doing all the work!
If you are concerned about choosing the wrong type of therapist or if you just want to know more then click here for more detailed information.
6. WHAT IF THINGS GO WRONG?
If you have tried meeting with a therapist and just don't feel things are 'right', stay true to that feeling. If you are comfortable, I would suggest that you discuss this directly with them (if you feel safe enough to do so), but if you have simply changed your mind then that's okay! It may be that the time isn't right for you and I would expect most therapists to honour and respect your autonomy in this.
If on the other hand you feel that the therapist is not working ethically, then you have every right to contact their regulating body (BACP or UKCP for example) who will offer further advice on what to do next.
As I said from the outset this is by no means an exhaustive list, however I do hope it addressed some queries or concerns.
Please free to add your own tips in the comments if I've missed anything, or if you have any questions please contact me directly!