Updated: Feb 21, 2021
Going ‘therapist shopping’, as I like to call it, can feel like an overwhelming task. After all you're trying to find someone you feel able to pour out your heart and soul to. No pressure, right? The truth is it can take meeting a few therapists to find the right one for you - but stick with it as it will be worth it. Scroll down to read my top tips for finding the right therapist for you.
Sometimes you can’t put your finger on why exactly you’re seeking therapy, and that’s completely valid. A good therapist will help you to suss all that out. You may also have a specific need in mind, and that’s okay too. If you're coming to therapy with a particular issue such as depression, anxiety or addiction, then it can be helpful to find a therapist who has previous experience in this area. Be wary of therapists who have a long list of about twenty areas they’re ‘experts' in: more isn’t better. Have they attended additional courses on that area? Perhaps they have conducted research or published papers on it? If you’re still unsure, ask them what makes them an expert in your area.
Accreditation/ Regulatory bodies
The main regulatory bodies for counselling in the UK are The National Counselling Society (NCS), British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) for the UK and COSCA (Counselling & Psychotherapy in Scotland) for Scotland. The Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) is the regulatory body for practitioner psychologists and art therapists.
Other regulatory bodies include, but are not limited to:
The UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP)
Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (IACP)
The Association of Cognitive Analytic Therapy (ACAT)
Association of Child Psychotherapists (ACP)
British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP)
British Association of Play Therapists (BAPT)
British Psychoanalytic Council (BPC)
British Psychodrama Association (BPA)
College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists (COSRT)
Association for Dance Movement Psychotherapy (ADMP)
UK Association of Humanistic Psychology Practitioners (UKAHPP)
These bodies ensure practitioner members abide by a stringent code of ethical guidelines. You can check out their individual websites for the specifics, but this usually includes guidelines on confidentiality, client’s complaint’s procedures and data protection. They also usually require members to keep up with 'Continuing Professional Development', meaning members will constantly be furthering their skills. If a counsellor does not belong to any of these organisations then it isn’t necessarily an immediate red flag - it isn’t a requirement by law for all therapists to be a member of a regulatory body. Having said that, it’s definitely worth asking why they aren’t a member - if they’re avoiding being answerable to a professional body then that is certainly questionable.
There are many different theoretical orientations out there. The most common ones at the moment are Psychodynamic Counselling, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Person-Centred Counselling, Gestalt Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) and Cognitive Analytical Therapy (CAT). If you have experience with a particular modality and have found it helpful (or unhelpful) then it may be useful to check out what modality a potential therapist uses. Therapists may specialise in a certain area, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, but many also integrate numerous theories into their practice.
Don’t feel overwhelmed though - evidence shows that the most important aspect is the therapeutic relationship itself, not the modality.
Supervision and their own therapy
Even therapists (should) have their own therapists. Most talking therapy training courses, either require or strongly recommend that trainees undertake their own therapy during their learning process. It is fundamental to the learning process that a therapist experiences how it feels to sit in the client’s chair. This encourages empathy, compassion and understanding. If your therapist doesn’t also see a therapist or hasn’t done so in the past, it would be a good idea to ask why. If they aren’t willing to work on themselves, it suggests they may still have something they need to work through, which in turn means they may not have the capacity to help you.
Regulatory bodies, such as the BACP and COSCA also require counsellors to maintain a certain level of supervision to keep their status as a member or registered practitioner. Think of it as two counsellors for the price of one!
Most therapists will offer a free or reduced rate call or initial appointment, as they’ll want to make sure they are the right fit for you too. Don’t be afraid to say if it doesn’t feel right - they may be able to point you in the right direction.
Before your first appointment, write down what characteristics you would want in your ideal therapist. It also might be an idea to write down any questions you wish to ask, for example if they offer short-term or long-term therapy (or both), weekly or fortnightly appointments and what their cancellation policy is.
Do you get a good feel for them from their website? What is their picture like?
If a therapist has their own website, they should provide information on what theoretical modality they work with (e.g. psychodynamic), their qualifications and some background information on their practice.
Therapists will often have a photo up next to their profile. We as humans instinctively make judgements when we first see someone. This is something therapists are (or should be) aware of, meaning they’ll have put thought into how they present themselves. We all have our own preferences when it comes to looking for someone we can trust. For me, I’m drawn to someone who seems warm and kind. I am also immediately wary if their photo seems too posed, or if it’s too casual. It’s okay to be picky, it’s important to put yourself first and find the therapist who is right to you.
What is their counselling space like?
Some therapists work from home and others in offices or larger practices. One setting is not necessarily better than another, but it is important that it’s a warm and inviting space for you. It’s difficult to open up to someone if you’re freezing cold in their office!
Do they make you feel at ease when you first make contact with them?
Finally, try to be aware of how you feel both during and after your initial appointment. Do you feel safe and comfortable in their presence? Do they seem like someone you could open up to?
I hope these tips have been of help, and good luck with finding yourself a therapist, whether that be here or elsewhere!