WHAT TO LOOK FOR WHEN CHOOSING A THERAPIST
Improving your mental wellbeing is a courageous and potentially life-changing journey. As you explore the support on offer, it's crucial to find a therapist who aligns with your unique needs and values. Therapy can vary wildly from therapist to therapist, and how much you benefit from it will depend on your relationship with the them and whether you like how they work. It is, therefore, vitally important to "click" with your therapist and to feel safe. So, what should you look for in a therapist, and what are the warning signs of a potentially unsuitable match?
WHAT TO LOOK FOR BEFORE YOU START THERAPY
Registration and Qualifications
Ensure your therapist has the appropriate qualifications and is registered with a regulatory body such as the BACP, NCPS or UKCP. As "counsellor" and "therapist" are not protected terms by law in the UK, anyone can call themselves a therapist and start offering services without any training. To counter this, the above organisations set clear standards, which usually include having qualifications of a certain level and completing a suitable amount of practice, that therapists must meet before they can join them. This information should be available on their website or through a quick call or email. I am a registered member of the BACP and hold a degree in counselling.
Experience in Your Concerns
Look for a therapist with experience in the specific areas you're seeking help for, whether it's anxiety, depression, relationship issues, or any other concern. If your chosen therapist does not have a lot of experience in the issue you would like to bring to counselling, during your contact or consultation they should at least demonstrate some base knowledge of your issue and a willingness to learn what is necessary to be able to help you.
Although not mandatory, therapists should offer a free consultation. This is usually 10 - 20 minutes where you can talk to them over the phone, via video, or in-person so you can get a feel for whether you may "click" before you have to commit to a paid session. It should state on their website or profile whether this is something they offer.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR AFTER YOU START THERAPY
Your Gut Feeling
Pay attention to how comfortable you feel during the initial session. Trust your instincts—building a close relationship with your therapist where you feel heard and understood is essential for a successful therapeutic relationship, and therapeutic progress. If you do not feel like your therapist is creating a safe or judgement-free space, then it may be a good idea to look for another one.
Is Their Approach a Good Fit?
Different therapists employ various approaches: person-centred, CBT, psychodynamic, DBT, etc. If your therapist is using a type of therapy that doesn't seem to be working for you, then ask if they can switch to something else, or you may need to look for another therapist who can. Some therapists are "purists", meaning that they specialise in one type of therapy and one type of therapy only. Integrative therapists, like myself however, have trained in multiple therapies to be able to be able to offer different types of counselling to suit you.
WARNING SIGNS OF A BAD MATCH OR THERAPIST
Lack of Professionalism
A competent therapist maintains professionalism. This doesn't mean that they may always seem "cold" or "clinical", but they should behave in a way that makes you feel safe and respected. If your therapist exhibits unprofessional behavior such as consistently arriving late, not respecting boundaries, or not paying attention, it may be cause for concern.
Effective communication is fundamental in therapy. If your therapist is dismissive, judgmental, or fails to convey empathy, it may hinder your progress and well-being.
Overemphasis on Personal Opinions
A good therapist helps you explore your own thoughts and feelings rather than imposing personal beliefs. Be cautious if your therapist consistently injects their personal beliefs and opinions into your sessions, especially if this is making you feel judged or unheard.
Lack of Progress
Therapy is an ongoing process, and feeling "stuck" can sometimes happen. However, if you notice a lack of progress after a reasonable period, it's essential to discuss your concerns with your therapist. A skilled therapist will listen and adjust their approach based on your needs if they are able.
A therapist should create a safe space where you feel secure discussing sensitive matters without fear of privacy violations or threat. If your therapist discloses the contents of your sessions to someone else without your consent, tries to be your friend, or displays otherwise unethical behaviour (such as being abusive or flirtatious), it may be time to make a complaint and find another therapist.