Finding the right therapist… some tips from an insider
People often ask me for recommendations on therapists, so here are my top tips to hopefully make the whole process a little bit easier.
Tip 1 – use reputable directories
Did you know anyone can set up and call themselves a ‘counsellor’? so how do you know if someone is qualified and safe? And how do make sense of all the qualifications anyway?
Well, my top tip here is only to search on reputable directories. You need to look for therapists who are part of a governing body such as the BACP, UKCP or similar. This means that they work to a certain standard AND that there will be a formal complaints procedure should you need it. Beware any counsellors not willing to work within the protection of a professional association.
Click on the following to see my top directories:
Counsellors should have a counselling qualification, such as a Level 4 certificate (in counselling, obviously!), a diploma or degree (or higher) and you should be able to Google the awarding body to check it is legit.
Tip 2 – Be clear about what you want
Two good questions to ask yourself are: why counselling? And why now? It will help you if you can articulate your ideas on this, as a counsellor will probably ask you something along these lines when you first meet.
What you would like in a therapy set up? Is your preference for a particular gender of counsellor? Sexual orientation? Faith? Would you like them to be a certain age or have particular personal experience of an issue? Do you need an easy access location, somewhere you can bring your guide dog / support dog, or somewhere you can use a hearing loop or sign language?
Also, have a think about what topic you want to talk about, and whether the counsellor has experience and expertise in that area. For issues such as bereavement, sexuality, couples and family counselling, neuro-diversity, adoption, separation (to name but a few), your chosen counsellor should have relevant training, which they should be open about and willing to share with you. Some topics, such as adoption or under 18s work, requires specific training.
If you are looking for a therapist for someone else, such as a friend or child, then draw up a ‘wish list’ list together. If you will be dropping someone off for counselling then it might also be worth thinking about where you will wait / go during the session, or if the therapist has a waiting room should you, or the client, need to wait around before or after sessions.
Tip 3 – Shop around
Arrange an initial assessment session with at least two therapists before deciding who to stick with- don’t just go with the first counsellor you meet.
Time and time again it has been shown that the relationship between you and your therapist is the biggest factor in determining the success of the therapy. So, be sure you ask yourself: do I click with them? get on with them, respect them and feel understood, accepted and respected in return? If you don’t then find someone else.
Just to add a note here... I offer an initial assessment for a lower cost than other sessions because I believe in shopping around- and want to make this as easy and affordable as possible for you, the client. I don’t offer a discount to make you more likely to choose me as your therapist and to get your business… I offer a discount because I want to make it as affordable as possible for you to see more than one counsellor for an initial session so that you can chose the best fit for you. I am a really good counsellor and I don’t need to offer discounts, but I am not the best counsellor for everyone. I work just as hard in that initial session as I do in other sessions (you’re not getting a ‘discounted’ version of me!) but would still encourage you to meet with at least one other counsellor to make sure we will be a good fit working together. It can be a hassle to do all this- especially when you’re like ‘argh, just get me some help!’ but I promise it will pay off. Oh, and one thing… not all counsellors offer a discount for the assessment, so be prepared for that. Even so… shop around.
Tip 4 – Get practical
Counselling is all about your emotions, and isn’t quite the same as getting a mechanic round to fix a problem with your car … even so… don’t forget to use your head. Here are some good questions to ask yourself about the practical side of things:
What is my budget? Counselling is expensive, and a good counsellor can cost anything from £30 to £90. Generally the more qualified, experienced and well trained a counsellor is, the more expensive they are. It’s worth asking for a discount if you are a student or on a low income: most counsellors will give a reasonable discount if they can.
How many sessions do I want? It’s a good idea to budget for 6 sessions, and then see how you get on: you might want to set something up that’s weekly, or fortnightly, but I would recommend sticking to a regular rhythm of times / days, and if possible meet weekly at the start to build up a bit of momentum. It may also be worth thinking about what else you have going on- if you’re really busy or juggling lots of things, will counselling be supportive at this time? Or do you need to conserve your energy and come back to counselling when you have more capacity?
What is the counsellor offering? Get a copy of their therapeutic contract and make sure you are clear about what to expect from them. When will they be available beyond sessions? Will you still get charged if you cancel a session last minute? Is there free parking?
Do I want to meet in person or online? There is lots of evidence that therapy online has excellent outcomes and can be really effective. Could this be an option for you? There are positives and negatives to working online, so its worth thinking about what your preferences and options are. It’s worth noting here that generally you will need to be in the same country as an online counsellor, plus some online therapists may still prefer to see clients who are geographically not that far away, so it’s worth checking this. Read more here.
What time of day / day of the week could I do? How far am I willing to travel to sessions? What do I need to arrange to make therapy work in my life, and fit with my other commitments? Being clear about these things will mean you can find the right therapist more quickly.
Tip 5- If its not working, move on
A lot of clients come to counselling as they want to talk to an expert, and don’t really understand what’s going on inside themselves. And- lets be honest- counselling can be a little…. well, weird. It’s not like a normal conversation and this can be confusing – it can mean that you put up with therapy that isn’t quite working for you, as everything is a bit un-normal.
However,… if you are not clicking with the counsellor, or feel they are not really getting you, or that sessions are not really helping, then give yourself permission to STOP. You don’t owe anyone an explanation, least of all the therapist: if therapy is not working for you then try another counsellor, or maybe take a break and assess what it is you might need instead.
OK, I hope that helps- and good luck with your search!