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?