How to choose a therapist that suits you
Therapy involves a large commitment of time, money, and energy, so you may want to be very careful about the therapist you select. You may obtain names of therapists from family members or friends who have been in therapy, teachers at school, your GP or family doctor, and any other person whose opinion you value, or simply searching on internet. In any case, you probably should do a bit of research on your potential therapist to decide if this is the right one for you. You can either find information on their website or ask them directly through an initial email or phone call (which actually takes quite a lot courage if it's your first time, so thumbs up from me if you take the big step). Here are some aspects (not in a particular order) to think about when you want to find a therapist that is safe and suitable to you:
1. What kind of qualification this counsellor is holding? Best school doesn't guarantee the best counsellor, but maybe you want to make sure it is from an accredited program with minimum years of face-to-face training and hundreds hours of practice, not just a one-month online course certificate that doesn't really prepare a counsellor with sufficient theory background and proper field work.
2. Does this counsellor register with any professional body or has a license? Different countries require therapists to hold different licenses and certificates to practice, for example, in U.S., it is a legal requirement to have a license, in Germany, Switzerhland and Netherlands, the title "psychotherapist" is regulated while in U.K. and Spain, it is not. However, most counsellors/therapists in U.K. register with a professional body to ensure certain standard of service. For example, there is a minimum qualification requirement for all registered members of BACP, regular supervision to guide their work is a must and they have to engage in continuous learning in order to improve their knowledge and skills. More important, clients of counsellors that are registered with professional body have a place to make complaints when they suspect their counsellors are not working ethically, which is an extra layer of protection.
3. What kind of theoretical orientation/approach does this counsellor use? There are many theories in the counselling and psychology field and it is impossible to explain all of them in details here, however I would still like to write down a few points so you can have some basic ideas. Be aware that I have generalized a lot here:
A. Psychodynamic/psychoanalytic- Is one of the oldest theories of psychology. It normally involves long-term therapy, which can be distributed in sessions taking place several times a week during many months or even years. The unconsciousness, dreams, relationships and past influences will be examined in order to, hopefully, reach an understanding of one's desires, motives, drives and relationships dynamics. It is oriented to uncovering the cause of the problem and exploring the dynamics of your personality.
B.Cognitive/Behavior- It believes in the role of social learning in childhood development and is based on the ideas of modeling and reinforcement. People’s personalities come from the experiences in which they are involved and modeled by critical learning, identification of appropriate (and inappropriate) thoughts and feelings and imitation of behavior. If our thoughts and behaviors aren’t properly reinforced and developed through proper and healthy social interactions with others-such as parents or a significant person in childhood, we may learn unhealthy ways of coping with stress or life problems. CBT offers a way to re-structure your thoughts and develop more balanced ways of thinking and behaving in relation to your issues. It has been proved to be efficient therapy for anxiety and depression.
C. Humanistic&Existential- It views human beings as basically good and positive, with the freedom to choose all of their actions and behaviors in their lives. It emphasizes that ultimately everyone is seeking a fulfilling and meaningful way of living, therefore everyone has the potential to establish and realize their vision and grow. It often involves topics related to the fundamental concerns of existence as well, such as the meaning of life, the freedom of making choice, the anxiety towards death and loneliness.
Holistic/IntegrativeD. - Its approach uses techniques from different schools of therapy. Therapists under this category may have a favorite theory or therapeutic technique that they tend to use more, but they are willing to and often use all that are available to them. For example, I normally form a map of my client's worldview and the belief system, looking at experiences that might be reinforcing unhealthy behaviors (behaviorism), unbalanced thoughts (cognitive) and also the resources and strength that individual has (humanistic). I may adopt techniques from Solution Focus Therapy to address specific practical issue but more humanistic while you need more emotional support.
There are many other names that you may have heard of: Gestalt Therapy, DBT(Dialectical Behavior Therapy), Hypothesis, Solution Focused Therapy, Satire Transformational System Therapy, Narrative Therapy, Self Explanatory Family Therapy, Couple Therapy... Some of them fall under the big categories that I have listed above, some are completely independent. There is no "right" or "wrong“,”better" or"worst" approach, the key is that you are aware of the variety of different approaches and find the type that works best for you. If you have never had counselling before, then probably you will need to try out different ones before you find your favorite.
4. What is this counsellor's specialization? Although many counselling techniques can be used in issues of different nature, there is usually little chance for a counsellor to master all areas. If someone says he/she works with all kinds of issues, from young kids all the way to older adults, it may be a sign to raise some concern.
5. How much time/cost are you willing to spend at this moment? Find someone within your budget(money and time) matters, otherwise you may not be able to commit long enough to see the therapy working. If you have a really tight budget, NHS or charity organisations may be able to help. If you have a very busy schedule, think about how much time you would like to dedicate at the moment, once a week or maybe once every two weeks? Two months or no longer than six months? Meanwhile, thinking about specific and concrete goal that you would like to achieve may help the counselling process be more efficient too.
6. Chemistry! After all the potential counsellors pass the basic criteria you wrote down, all comes down to a final question: How is the chemistry between you and the counsellor? Does he/she make you feel at-ease enough to open up? You are always free to test a few before you decide.
Last but not least, even if you choose a counsellor, whenever you notice any "red flags", such as any ethical or boundary issues, you always have the autonomy to stop and change to another one.