Updated: Aug 27, 2020
Choosing the right therapist can be a daunting process and quite a confusing one too. But there are a few things you can consider to make it a bit easier. Here is my how to choose a therapist 101.
To start with I with I will state the obvious: check their credentials! People have been known to write all sorts of things on their websites and profiles. It is OK to ask to see the confirmation of qualification and it is OK to check, if they belong to a society or association. I will write about that in another post.
1. Think about what is the difficulty you are facing. Sometimes writing it down helps to specify it better. If the problem seems complex, try to list a few ways you notice something is not right, these could be your thoughts, behaviours, mood, environment, choices etc.
2. Consider the style of therapy you would prefer. It can help to think about your personality and how you approach life in general- are you one of these people who like to think things through and understand them well, before you make any decisions, or are you one of these people who are more hands on, try things out and learn by practising? You will see many ‘therapy types’ listings, if you browse it. Many of them will only list the therapies wildly available (like CBT or humanistic/person centred) and often (in UK) make a distinction between psychotherapy and counselling. This can be both misleading and excluding of variety of options. Therapy can also be a ‘political field’, so you can find that some therapies are recommended for nearly all issues, others can go unmentioned at all, even, when they have great successes. When you read or hear of a type of therapy, try to feel, if what you hear is something you would be interested in engaging with. You will find a great number of therapists work in an integrative way these days. More about this in point 9.
3. Does gender/age/ethnicity of the therapist matter? And, if yes, stop for a minute and think why? Answering this question can give you a good insight into not only what you are looking for, but also about your own biases, which then in turn, could be affecting your life in general. When people call me for advise saying they would struggle with a female therapist, I sometimes suggest they go for a consultation with a female therapist. Some of them find that what they imagined was very different to what they experienced.
4. Consider the cost- think about it the same way you would think about buying a new car on a lease. Sometimes the temptation is to go for the cheaper option, but it may also be that for a £20 more a month you can get an offer that suits your needs much better. On the other hand, you may be offered a bigger, fancier, full of gadgets car for just a few pounds more. But, do you really need/want one of these? Would you be using all those gadgets? If the cost is an issue, speak to potential therapists, some will have a sliding fee scale, others will offer appointment every two weeks. Some will even ask lower fee, if you can attend ‘off pick’ hours. You will also find that city centre/hot areas clinics tend to be more expensive (partially because cost of running the clinic is higher there), but you will find excellent therapists outside of the fancy areas and they may charge less as their running cost will be less too.
5. Location, location. I hope you can find a perfect for you therapist near by your home or work place. But, if that's difficult or you are struggling to decide what's best to do, here’s how you may want to think about it. Let’s say you were to choose college or perhaps a university course. You do your research and find two options that are at a possible for you distance. One is nearer and more convenient for travelling and offers lectures in subjects that are ok. Second is further away and offers subjects that you would really like to learn about. Let’s say your course will take about 1.5 year to finish. Which one would you go for? There are no right or wrong answers here, all you need to do is to look at what your priorities are at this point in time.
6. Look up listings and do online research. Make sure you pay attention to the training the therapist finished. Although this is not always the most important thing, it can help you decide, if someone specialises in what you are struggling with. Equally, they may have years of experience working with an issue, but no specific diploma preparing them to do so. This would also make them highly qualified in the area. Read their listing carefully. Do you like how they talk about themselves, you and the world?
7. See, if you know anybody who could recommend a therapist or went to therapy themselves. Seek advise. But remember, different people will respond to therapy differently. What worked well for your friend may not be ideal for you.
8. The initial consultation is there for both the therapist to understand you and consider, if they can help you, and for you, to see, if you can work with this therapist. Do you feel you can trust them? Do they make you feel like a welcomed guest? Do they pay attention? Are they clear about the rules? Do you like them? Some of my clients came to therapy with me because they liked my face (true story) and then stayed because they liked the general vibe and my style of working (as much as they found it helpful). Remember, it is your process and you have to feel comfortable. Therapy is a relationship which you are entering potentially for quite a time, so... would you be happy to see this person weekly for next few months or years even?
9. Ask, ask, ask. You will find that many therapists claim to work in an integrative way and therefore will list themselves as working using variety of schools of therapy. Ask what does it mean and what is their dominant approach. If they claim to work in cognitive behavioural way, for example, check whether they are CBT therapist or only using some tools and ideas taken from CBT. If a therapist claims they can, for example, work with OCD, ask them how did they learn this, do they see many clients with this specific issue and what would their approach to the problem be. Ask about safety considerations. What would happen, if you had a complaint and who is supervising them.
10. Therapy is a big commitment. It is more like buying your wedding dress than buying just another night out outfit. You will invest time and money and it will cost you emotionally. You should think whether the time is right for you. You can benefit enormously from that investment, but make sure you can commit to it (even, if your commitment is limited in time- some of my clients come to therapy knowing they could only attend 10 sessions, but were prepared to work during that time to use it the best way they could). Sometimes committing to a big change can seem too much, but would you be more ready to try, if you were thinking about making small progress to start the process? You want to expect some shifts in your life, some of them may be very difficult. Therapy can be a complex process and you want to be in a position to give it a good shot. If you don’t feel the time is right, try to think what would have to happen for this to change.
And the final comment. Shop around! Like with everything else, you can try a few things out and decide what suits you best. Nobody gets offended, no harm has been done, no one's time has been wasted.