Where to start when choosing a therapist?

Having recently been busy creating my own website, the primary thoughts in my mind were, “what are clients looking for from me?”, “what is it that clients want?”, and “what is it that will set me apart from the rest?”.

The truth is, there isn’t much that does set me apart from the rest. Sure, I have some qualifications; I have more qualifications than some, and less than others. But is that what ultimately matters? Of course, being trained and qualified should be the fundamental foundation for choosing your therapist, but how easy is it to do that? Currently, counselling is an unregulated industry; that means that there are a lot of people out there, working with clients, who have absolutely no training or qualifications to do so. Isn’t that a scary thought?

Qualifications and Experience

Luckily, it isn’t that difficult to check that your chosen therapist is qualified. In face-to-face therapy, you can ask to see certificates; a professional and appropriately qualified therapist should have no qualms in showing you and explaining to you what each certificate qualifies them to do, and at what level.

You can also check online: the major players in counselling and psychotherapy registration and governance all have registers that you can view online, for free. Ask who your therapist is registered with, and check it out for yourself. Or if you haven’t chosen your therapist yet, you can search for one using these registers. Good places to look are the BACP, BABCP, BPS and UKCP

When searching for the right therapist for you, it’s really important to consider their experience as well as their qualifications. Be wary of those who claim to be able to work with anything and everything: nobody is a master of everything. Ask about a therapist’s experience and specialist areas of expertise. Think about what it is you’ve got to bring to therapy, and don’t be afraid to ask if a therapist has worked with that before; a good therapist will not have a ‘give-it-a-go’ attitude, and they should be honest with you about their experience in a specific area.

It might be important for you to know whether or not a therapist has had therapy themselves; this is something that a lot of clients wonder, but are too afraid to ask. Just ask! A lot of therapists have had some personal therapy, and it can be important for a client to know that their therapist understands exactly what it is like, from both sides.

Type of Therapy

This can be a minefield for those entering therapy - there are so many different orientations when it comes to talking therapies and you’ve probably heard of some of them, but maybe aren’t sure what they mean: CBT, person-centred, dialectical, psychoanalytic, solution-focused… the list goes on, and on… and on.

So which is right for you? What do they all even mean? To save going through them all here, the BACP have a really handy A-Z list of therapeutic approaches, and it’s a really good idea to take some time to read through them, to find an approach that sounds like it would suit you best.

A lot of therapists (including myself!), will describe themselves as having a ‘integrative’ or ‘eclectic’ approach to their work; this simply means that they have been trained in several different styles/approaches, meaning that they can tailor their approach to suit you. Whilst this might sound perfect, always take this with a pinch of salt, and don’t be afraid to ask your therapist to explain exactly what approaches they have been trained to use.

So, you’ve found a therapist and you’ve checked that they’re trained, qualified, experienced and work from a perspective that suits you. Great! But what next? Just because you’ve found a person out there that has a couple of certificates to wave around, doesn’t mean you’re going to like them or feel able to open up to them.

The Human Being

Just like you, a therapist is a human being; they are an individual with their own distinct personality, likes and dislikes, sense of humour and unique life experience. Just like with any relationship between two people, sometimes they get along and sometimes they don’t - that’s just human nature. We are naturally drawn towards some people, and pushed away by others.

Over the last few decades, research has consistently shown that the relationship between a therapist and their client is the single most important factor in whether or not therapy is going to be successful. So finding one you get along with is important!

There really is only one way to figure out whether or not you get along with your therapist, and that’s by speaking with them. So pick up the phone, or send an e-mail. Get to know your therapist and get a sense as to how you feel about them. Try asking yourself the following questions:

  • Do I feel at ease talking to this person?
  • Do I feel like this person understands what I’m saying to them?
  • Are they answering my questions about therapy in a way that I understand easily?
  • Do I feel confident that this person is going to be able to help me?
  • Do I trust this person?
  • Are we on the same page?
Maybe you’ll get lucky, and you’ll find the perfect therapist for you straight away - someone who ticks all of your boxes. For many people though, finding the right therapist can be a process of trial-and-error; if this is you - don’t blame yourself, it isn’t your fault. Neither is it the therapist’s fault. It just shows that you are both human beings and that isn’t a bad thing, is it?

How to Support Your Teenager on GCSE Results Day

Results day is a stressful time for teenagers and for adults. For most young people, their GCSEs are the first time they have had a formal academic assessment, and the results of that assessment often dictate what path they can take next; it can be an overwhelming amount of pressure for young people. In fact, recent figures have shown that calls to Childline increased by 15% last year during exam results season, with 74% of those calls coming from girls. Receiving exam results is difficult for any child, and it can be just as difficult for their parent or carer. It can be hard to know how to support your child, whether they get the results they want or not.

Advice for Young People

  • “It is important to remember that things are out of your hands now," Childline service manager Wendy Robinson says, and that no matter what happens "there are a number of practical steps you can take to help you focus on what to do next".
  • Try to remember that it is normal to feel nervous or worried about your results, you are not alone with that.
  • If you don’t get the results that you wanted, don’t worry. There are lots of other options for you, including re-taking exams or choosing a different course at college.
  • If you are feeling really stressed out about getting your results, or are disappointed with the results you got, speak to someone that you trust about it.
  • Remind yourself that everybody is different; it isn’t helpful to compare yourself to your friends or other people at your school.

Advice for Parents and Carers

  • If you have noticed that your teenager has been more snappy, irritable, or moody in the run up to getting their results, try to respond to them calmly: this is a reaction to stress.
  • “It's not uncommon for young people to be anxious during the wait for exam results”, Jo Hardy, head of parent services at Young Minds says, “the best thing you can do is acknowledge that your child is feeling worried and reassure them that you will be proud of them, and be there for them, no matter what their results are”.
  • If you aren’t concerned about your child’s results and know that they will do well, try not to dismiss their feelings. Their feelings are very real. Instead, talk to your child about how they are feeling and try to reassure them.
  • Remind your child of their own individuality, and of all the little things that make them a great person to encourage them to not compare themselves to their peers.
  • Life is about more than exam results, so if your child doesn’t do as well as they hoped or expected then remind them of this, and remind them of all of their unique talents and skills.
  • Plan something nice. Even if your child doesn’t get the results they wanted, you need to praise them and reward them for all of the hard work that they put in. Celebrate their achievements, no matter the results.
  • Don’t be upset if your child doesn’t want to talk to you about their results. Give them time, and encourage them to open up either to you, or to a professional.
  • If your child didn’t do as well as they’d hoped, encourage and support them to speak to a careers advisor - but don’t pressure them to do this. Give them some time to absorb the news.
Children and young people can contact Childline for free, confidential support and advice, 24 hours a day on 0800 1111 or at

GDPR: The Basics

On May 25th 2018, the General Data Protection Registration (GDPR) replaced the Data Protection Act (DPA). Whilst getting my head around the new regulations has been frustrating (to put it lightly!), the introduction of GDPR is certainly a good thing; we’ve all read the stories in the media about how personal data has been misused, and I’m sure I’m not the only person who was getting a little tired of receiving unsolicited e-mails every single day. Knowing our data is being used correctly and with consideration is a positive move in the right direction.

So how does GDPR influence counsellors and psychotherapists in private practice?.

Firstly, it helps to understand exactly what has changed. If you are familiar with the DPA, you’ll see that not much has changed. The Act has simply been amended to account for the vast advances in technology, as well as legal changes over the last few decades.

GDPR is here: you’ll know that because of all the e-mails you’ll have had from everybody and his dog, begging for you to let them keep in touch with you. Ensuring that you are GDPR compliant is not something that you ‘get round to later’, unless you are happy to risk getting a hefty fine.

Ok, so what exactly do you need to do to become GDPR compliant? Reading through the GDPR is confusing, as they do not give any definitive answers, as each individual person/organisation/circumstance is different. As with the DPA, you need to use your own judgement, and be able to clearly and concisely justify your decision-making with regards to the personal data you store and/or process. Whilst reading up on the subject is certainly recommended, here are some of the very basics that you need to consider:

Does GDPR apply to me?

The simple answer is yes. GDPR concerns personal data, and so if you have ever had a client and have recorded any of their personal information - right down to their name - then you are storing data, and so GDPR does apply to you and you need to ensure that you are storing this data correctly.

Do I need to register with the ICO?

Unless you are keeping absolutely no electronic records that contain an individual’s personal data (e-mails, website contact forms, telephone/text contact) then you need to register with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). The fee is £40 for the year, and you can register here. When registering, you will be asked if you also need to assign a Data Protection Officer (DPO). Whilst you don’t necessarily need a DPO for private practice with no employees, there is no additional fee for registering yourself as a DPO and so there is no harm in doing so, and indeed it goes some way to showing how seriously you are taking people’s data privacy if you are registered.

What if I don’t/won’t keep any electronic records?

Perhaps you might consider not keeping any electronic records (though how you can avoid that, isn’t something I can envisage) as a way of avoiding the ICO fee, you also need to consider the data portability element of the GDPR. This requires that you can provide information held about individuals to them swiftly, using a commonly-used electronic format. So, if you are only using pen and paper, you need to think about making some changes.

So what do you need to do?

  • 1. Audit the data you already hold.

    You need to spend some time considering where you hold personal information about clients (or potential clients). This isn’t as simple as reaching for the box file on your shelf and shredding old client notes. Do you have phone numbers stored in your phone? Names written down in your diary? Names of clients within supervision notes? You need to think about whether or not you have a legitimate reason under a lawful basis for storing this data.

  • 2. Consider the lawful basis for storing data.

    You need to have a legitimate reason for storing personal data. For the purposes of consent is the reason that makes sense to me. When you start working with a client, you will typically ask them to sign a contract, within which you will make clear your confidentiality policy. Within this policy, your client needs to understand that if you are worried about them, you might need to contact somebody to voice your concerns. Let’s say you tell them you’ll contact their GP. To do that, you need their GP’s name, as well as your client's name - there’s your legitimate reason. In addition to this, when a client begins counselling, they will expect that you will contact them to arrange appointments and so of course you will need their contact information in order to do this. When a client signs their consent, they agree to this.

    Beyond personal information, you also need to consider your therapy notes, session summaries and any background information you have sought from your client. Whilst it makes sense for you to have this data in the interests of providing a good service, this information is more sensitive, special category data, and so you need to consider how and where you are going to store it. It is generally advisable that contact details and content notes are stored separately; if you are going to anonymise your content notes - even better.

  • 3. Delete what is not needed, and protect what is.

    Now you have sifted through all the personal data you can find, it’s time to put it where it should be under your new guidelines. You need to consider the following:

    • Data is up to date and you are justified in storing it
      It is your responsibility to ensure that the data you store is up to date. It is also your responsibility to ensure that you are not holding data for longer than is required. GDPR does not set out guidelines for how long you should retain data, but your insurance provider will; check with them for guidance on how long you need to retain data for to meet your obligations.
    • You are storing data correctly
      You need to make sure that you are storing data securely. Can you make sure that data you hold is only accessible by you? Have you put measures into place to protect against loss or destruction of data? It is your responsibility to minimise the risk of a data breach.
  • 4. Privacy Policy

    Now that you have considered your legal obligations for storing and processing data, and have made sure that all the data you already have is stored justifiably and securely, you need to consider writing a privacy policy to show your clients. GDPR states that we need to be totally transparent with clients (and potential clients), by making it clear to them exactly what personal information you will seek to obtain, what your legal basis for doing so is, how you will use their data, how you will store their data, and how you will destroy their data. Clients will need to consent to your GDPR policy, and state that they are happy for you to use their data in the ways you have described to them. It it better to have this as a separate document, rather than an addendum to your contract.

    Your privacy policy, as a minimum, needs to include:
  • The data controller’s name (your name or your business name)
  • What personal data are you seeking to collect?
  • Why are you seeking to collect this personal data?
  • What are you going to use personal data for?
  • In what circumstances will you share personal data?
  • Who can you share personal data with, and what is your legal justification for doing so?
  • How long are you going to store data for?
  • How are you going to store data?
  • How will you delete data when it is no longer needed?

  • A further essential part of your privacy policy is making clients and potential clients aware of what their rights are within GDPR. Their rights are as follows:

    • To be informed of what data about them is stored
    • To request to see information stored about them
    • To have incorrect or inaccurate information rectified
    • To withdraw consent for use of personal data
    • To request that personal data is erased
    Within your privacy policy, you also need to consider how your website collects and stores data. You need to provide details of whether or not your website uses:
    • Cookies
    • Website analytics
    • Google analytics
    • Plug-ins
    • Links to third-party sites
    You also need to consider what information you seek to obtain via your website. Do you have a ‘contact me’ form, If so, what information are you seeking to collect with that form? Is it necessarily, relevant, and adequate?

    This is just a brief (!) overview of the basics of GDPR and the aspects of it that you need to consider as a practitioner in private practice. I am not a legal professional, and nor am I a GDPR expert; the above is simply a summary of what I have learned from adjusting my own practice to comply with GDPR. For more information, have a look on the ICO’s website.