How do you choose a therapist?
Updated: May 20, 2020
Many people, once they have made the first step of deciding to enter psychotherapy, may wonder what kind of therapist they should look for. There are dozens of types, specialities and styles of psychotherapy that can be extremely daunting for someone searching for their first therapist. I hope to provide here some guidance for those looking for their first therapist and some aspects of psychotherapy the new client should keep in mind.
Your relationship with the therapist is very important
Your therapist and you will be sharing the next few months to years together and it is important that they are someone that you feel you can work with. Immediately disliking your therapist may not mean you will not be able to work together, however. You may have a feeling you cannot identify when you meet a therapist; they may remind you of someone who you have a negative association with or you may feel too comfortable with them. These feelings are important and sharing them with your therapist can enlighten sessions and provide information about how you act in other relationships with family and friends. Ultimately you need to feel comfortable with your therapist and believe that they are someone you can complete this important work with.
Your gut instinct may be working against you
Therapy can be an uncomfortable and challenging experience. A good therapist will take their client out of their comfort zone and challenge them to be open to their own experience, something which may be unusual for many people. With the prevalence of positive psychology and "happiness tools" such as mindfulness many may find it difficult to express their "negative" feelings or feel that they have no place to express these feelings. When this individual enters the therapy room and is greeted by someone who (hopefully) allows and actively encourages all feelings, the experience may feel daunting and scary. It would be easy to change your mind at that point and decide against pursuing therapy because the experience is a challenge. It is at these times important to remember what brought you to therapy and to ask yourself whether the challenge of speaking about those parts of yourself you fear to explore is worse than continuing to experience and keep unexplored, the feelings that brought you to therapy in the first place.
Be open to exploration if you really want to change
Psychotherapy can be scary. But it can also be life changing. You will likely feel uncomfortable at points over the course of therapy but it is at these points that you are challenging yourself and the behaviours and thoughts you have learned throughout your life which are holding you back. It is natural to be scared of what you may find, but to truly change how you feel you will need to be open to discussing that which you do not want to discuss.
Don't feel obliged to open up too quickly
Psychotherapy can open up some difficult topics that you may have spent your life keeping locked away. You may go into your first session with a new psychotherapist and want to discuss all of these distressing aspects of your life and personality thinking that this is what you are there to do. You may also leave the session, having spoken to a new therapist, feeling embarrassed and fearing to return, however. Psychotherapy should go at your own pace and if you do not feel comfortable speaking about something straight away, you do not have to. Just keep what I have said above in mind; psychotherapy is about using a safe space to talk about unsafe topics.
The therapist's modality is not as important as the relationship
Clients will often ask me what type of therapy I provide and reel off modalities like integrative, person-centred or psychodynamic. For some potential clients this information may be very important and for some therapists this is very important, as well. What is of most importance is your relationship with your therapist, however. The way the therapist trained should not overshadow their relationship with their client. I believe theory's only relevance is in informing practice, rather than being a source of guidance for the therapist. It can be easy for a psychotherapist to take on an air of expertise, using "techniques" to "treat" their clients, though this, in many ways, can take away from the therapy itself and end up being a hindrance, blocking the potential relationship between client and therapist and what can be learned within it. The most important aspect of psychotherapy is the relationship between therapist and client, theory and everything else comes after.
Ultimately it is your decision
It is up to you to find your therapist and it may take a few sessions to find the best one for you. Try to choose a therapist who is registered with one of the big psychotherapy/counselling bodies, e.g. BACP or UKCP so you know they have completed an appropriate level of training - not everyoe who calls themselves a psychotherapist or counsellor is one, it is important to check that they are registered with the Professional Standards Authority and you can see my registration with a link at the bottom of the "Contact Me" section of my website. I hope the points above are helpful in your search for a therapist and hope you find one that works for you. If you would like to discuss how we can work together, you can find more information on the main page of my website.