Updated: Oct 27, 2020
You wake up and decide to sort out 'that problem' once and for all. You've come to the conclusion that what you've tried in the past hasn't worked for you and you're out of ideas. It's time to get a therapist. Great - problem solved. Or is it...
This is the point where you discover that a 'quick Google' for a therapist isn't going to cut it. A search for a 'counsellor in Reading', for example, will provide you with over 18 million pages - change that to 'therapist in Reading' and you'll get 162 million! So how do you know who to pick?
The sad (and worrying) reality is that anyone can call themselves a therapist, counsellor or coach in the UK, as these titles aren't protected by any laws. So a well-meaning, but naïve, individual could do a short online course and genuinely believe that they're well-placed to help someone therapeutically, without having learnt in-depth, or even practiced, any of the necessary skills with an actual real-live human being!
Whilst they might not intend to cause anyone harm, their limits of knowledge and lack of any practical skills could be quite damaging.
Because of this, top-tip-number-one is to head for one of the voluntary membership
organisations (there are links to a few of the respected ones at the end of this blog). There are many reasons why this is a wise move. Firstly, membership organisations require that a minimum level of training has been completed successfully before they'll even consider an applicant's membership. To be considered 'fit to practice', it's usual for counsellors to have completed a minimum of one year's full time or two years part-time face-to-face classroom-based tuition at 'level 4' (the equivalent of the first year of a degree) alongside an integral, supervised placement of at least 100 client hours. This means that, not only will we have studied the theory in-depth (which involves researching/writing many thousands of words in the form of journals, essays and case studies), but we will have practiced (and been assessed on) the relevant skills with fellow students and also members of the public with 'real problems'.
To be accepted for membership, counsellors must also agree to abide by a strict 'code of ethics', to ensure that we work ethically, adhere to relevant laws, and, practice within agreed frameworks relating to issues such as confidentiality and boundaries. Not only that, but the terms of membership include that we'll pay for on-going personal supervision, on top of our annual membership fee, so you can be sure that members are committed to doing this work.
Once you've reached the membership directory for one of these societies and you've typed in your location, you're faced with another challenge - sifting through biographies! At this point you'll be greeted with an assortment of descriptions that might take some deciphering - words like humanistic, psychodynamic, person-centred, analytical, gestalt or integrative, along with a range of acronyms like CBT, ACT, DBT or TA. To help you navigate this challenge, Psychology Today have produced some well-written descriptions of the various types of therapy.
Armed with this information, my next tip would be to have a bit of a think generally about what sort of therapy is likely to work best for you. For example, if you have a phobia - hypnotherapy, NLP or CBT could work well - whereas person-centred counselling is likely to be more appropriate if you'd like to talk about difficult feelings or events.
One key element for the success of any therapy is the relationship formed between yourself and your therapist. So, my next tip would be to read carefully through some of the biographies, look at the photos and try to get a feel for who they might be as a person. It's also worth having a browse through their websites to see if they have any client testimonials that give an insight into how they've worked together.
The biggest and most important tip of all is this - once you have a short-list together, arrange a Zoom or telephone call with them all.
Most therapists offer a free get-to-know-you chat, where you can tell them top-line what you'd like to work on, and, they can confirm whether they believe they can help you (and answer any questions you have). This is where you can go beyond any technical mumbo-jumbo or important-sounding qualifications/titles and get to the real person. Ask yourself afterwards how comfortable you felt talking to them? Did they sound like they understood what you were talking about? Did they listen intently or were they more interested in giving you the 'big sell'?! Trust your instincts here - think about how you felt before, during, and after talking to each of them - can you imagine yourself talking to them every week?
My last tip is this - please, please, please remember you are in control of the process - it's 100% your choice who you work with, so don't allow yourself to be bombarded into signing up with the first person you speak to. Take your time and choose carefully. It's your wellbeing we're talking about here and, at the end of the day, that really is the most important thing...
Membership organisations for counsellors include:
Membership organisations for hypnotherapy include:
Membership organisations for NLP include: