How to choose a therapist?

How do I choose a therapist?

There are many therapists to choose from, where do you begin ? Initially ask around and go for those who have been recommended by others or choose someone who specialises in what you are looking for & check they are professionally qualified and experienced. Then go and meet them and see how you feel with them.

How to choose a therapist?

  1. What type of therapist are you looking for ?
  2. Are they suitably qualified and experienced?
  3. What do their fees cover?
  4. Do you feel comfortable with them?
  5. Is it practical?

1. What type of therapist are you looking for?

It can be helpful to crystallise what you really want. Would you prefer someone who is a female or a male ? Younger or older ? Of a particular race, nationality or background ? (or does it not matter?)

Are you looking for a quick fix to one distinct problem ? Or are there several interconnected issues that you wish to work on over the longer term ?

Are you looking for someone who will help you predominantly deal with the present and help you to move forward ? Or someone who will mainly help you to look at and deal with the past ? (or both?)

Do you just need to be heard and acknowledged or are you looking for someone to help you analyse the issues with you?

Are you seeking advice, suggestions, ideas and solutions? Or just a professional listening ear?

Counsellors: Traditional Counselling is based on active listening. This is ideal for people with every day issues who wish to offload or have a safe space to be heard by a neutral person who does not know them and is not going to judge. Generally counsellors do not offer any advice or guidance but they facilitate you coming to your own conclusions. Your G.P. can usually refer you to a counsellor on the NHS. There are sometimes waiting lists (a few weeks to a few months) and usually only a limited number of sessions (often 6 sessions) are offered. Private counsellors can offer more sessions and usually work with clients for months or up to a year, sometimes longer. A counsellor should have a professional diploma or degree & be a member of an accrediting body such as the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) or the Counselling Society (CS)

Psychotherapists: Traditional Psychotherapy is based on analysis. Sessions can be more structured and will usually involve looking at the past in some detail as well as the present situation. You may be offered some advice or guidance. Counselling and psychotherapy often overlap although typically psychotherapists are trained to deal with some of the more complex mental health issues (more severe and enduring types of depression and anxiety disorders, for example) and undergoing psychotherapy can be a longer journey (a few months to more than a year). Psychotherapists usually have a undertaken training which involves having their own personal therapy and qualifying at degree level. Their accrediting body is most likely to be the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP).

Counselling & Clinical Psychologists: Use a mixture of counselling and psychotherapy underpinned with psychological theory. The sessions are usually structured or semi structured and often involve some between session suggested work (this could be keeping a note of how you are feeling day to day or what you have been doing). Psychologists are usually trained in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (psychological therapy) as well as other other techniques and can work with general as well as clinical or more serious mental health issues. Therapy usually takes place over weeks or months rather than years, but can be longer. Psychologists will have a minimum of a Masters Degree and are Chartered by the British Psychological Society (BPS) as well as the Government regulated Health Care Professions Council (HCPC).

Hypnotherapists: Unfortunately this is an unregulated profession in the UK. Any one can call themselves a Hypnotherapist and set up in practice, even with no formal training. Hypnotherapy can be very helpful for one or two issues rather than a mix of more complex issues although it can be a useful adjunct in complex issues. Hypnotherapy is something that can either be a stand alone treatment or integrated with other types of therapy. Many psychotherapists, psychologists and dentists are also trained in the use of Hypnotherapy. If so or if they are also a counsellor, nurse, or doctor they will be a member of a regulated profession which may afford some safety.

Otherwise check how long it took the Hypnotherapist to train, how long they have been practising and how many clients they usually see. Are they in full time private practice or do they do it as a hobby or sideline? Ask to meet them, take a friend and ask as many questions as you can before you book.

Ask whether they belong to GHR (General Hypnotherapy Register) General Hypnotherapy Standards Council (GHSC) or the Hypnotherapy Association (HA) or Hypnotherapy Society (HS). These are some of the largest registers of hypnotherapy in the UK

Coaches: Coaching is also unregulated in the UK and any one can call themselves a coach.

Coaching is usually based on self development and progressing towards the goals you want to achieve; moving you forward into a more successful future. You are more likely to look forward as opposed to analysing the past in great detail, although sometimes this is necessary. Coaches work in specific areas such as Business & work (getting promoted, managing teams, presenting with confidence, being assertive, changing career, producing a great CV and coaching for important interviews);

Relationships (divorce recovery, finding a partner, working with individuals and couples to strengthen their relationships); confidence (for public speaking, in meetings, with the opposite sex, socialising, personal confidence building); weight loss coaching (support & motivation towards your goals).

2. Are they suitably qualified and experienced?
What you are paying for when you see a therapist is their time, qualifications, experience and knowledge of the techniques that are going to help you to get the results you want. You need to be aware that if you are shopping for therapy, you may not be comparing like with like

QUALIFICATIONS – There are different levels of qualification Certificate (often awarded after a short or weekend course, and skills may be limited), Diploma (usually involves more extensive study, students are required to pass an exam and/ or undertake case studies, which are assessed) Degree (Usually 3 years plus full time study or more offering a greater, wider depth of knowledge).

Masters Degree / or Doctoral Degree (PhD) higher qualifications – an extensive and thorough depth of knowledge. Once qualified, therapists may then decide to specialise in certain areas (for example: anxiety, sports improvement, etc.)

EXPERIENCE Some therapists work part time, some do it as a hobby or sideline, and some may only see a few clients a week. If a therapist has been qualified for 10 years, and only see 5 clients a week, they will be less experienced than a therapist who has been qualified for 5 years and sees 15-20 clients a week. Look for a combination of experience as well as education.

DEPTH OF KNOWLEDGE Is the therapist up to date with the latest techniques? If they qualified 10 years ago and have done no extra training since, you may not be getting the best therapy that is available today. Most therapists are required to continue their professional development by reading, attending conferences, having therapy themselves or undertaking further short courses each year. Are they qualified / experienced in several different therapeutic techniques? and can they adapt and combine techniques to suit you? Will your programme of treatment be individual and tailored to you? (this will not be possible if you are in a group or a having the therapy with a friend at the same time). Is the therapist used to working with the issue you want help with? If someone specialises in adults they may not be the best person to see your child. Have they any additional experience or training in the issue you are seeking help for?

AVAILABILITY A small word about availability. If you can book in immediately, the therapist may have just had a cancellation that day, and you may be lucky to get the time you want straight away. Or maybe they just have an empty diary. How busy are they? If they have an empty diary why is that? Bear in mind that good therapists (like good hairdressers, good builders, good plumbers or good examples from any other profession) will usually get booked up in advance and have a busy diary – usually with word of mouth referrals. Also the best therapists may not necessarily be the ones who advertise regularly (because they probably don’t need to).

PROFESSIONALISM & ETHICS Most suitably qualified therapists will belong to a professional register. This means the therapist will be bound by a code of conduct, confidentiality and ethics. That means you will have some recompense if you are unhappy or feel unfairly treated. Ask what professional bodies they belong to and if in doubt ring the professional body and check the membership.

3. What do their fees cover?
What are you getting for your money? Session time varies between therapists from 45 minutes to over an hour. How long will the sessions be? How many sessions will you need? And how much time are you paying for? Those charging low rates may only be partly qualified or looking to build their experience in a particular area although high fees are not necessarily an indicator of high competence. A good therapist will also spend time in preparation before you arrive for your session and additional time after your session writing some notes and thinking about what might be helpful for future sessions. So your session price should take that into account. Fees will also cover their professional liability / indemnity insurance which should offer a degree of safety if anything should go wrong. Generally, do your research and pick someone who is the best qualified and experienced for your budget.

4. Do you feel comfortable with the therapist?
This is the clincher. It is really important, as you will be working together. If the therapist offers a free consultation you can meet with them and find out more, and ask any questions that you may have. Do you feel like you could open up to this person? Do you feel judged? Do you feel comfortable, safe and secure with them and where they practise from? What are their terms and conditions? If in doubt listen to your instinct. Remember that you do not have to book with the first person you call or find. Shop around and speak to a few before you decide. Make a list and then short-list if necessary. Deciding to see someone is an important decision, it is worth taking some time even if it is to sleep on it overnight and decide the next day. Don’t make snap decisions that you may regret later even if you are feeling desperate.

5. Is it Practical?
In terms of travelling? Is it easy to find and get to at the time you want ? How about Parking ? Appointment times to suit you? Location? Is it in a well- lit neighbourhood if your appointment is when it is dark ? Are there nearby facilities or a waiting area ? Can you pay by credit card or will you have to carry extra cash around with you? If it is a long way away is there anyone nearer that could offer a similar service? Could you get there in bad weather ? Or could you work with them by phone or Skype ? And so on. For short term work it may be less important but how would you feel travelling to this place for a few months or more every week?

Melanie Phelps

Melanie Phelps Portrait

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