2 June 2015
I remember reading Canadian educationalist Allen Tough’s pioneering thoughts in the area of self-directed growth in adults and being inspired at the way most adult learning occurred in informal settings and ways. You could say that adults learn on a need-to-know basis. When you need to get a new car you read magazines, check the Internet, ask around your friends and family for their views, and if you are lucky enough to know a professional in the area you are ‘researching’ then you tend to ask them.
I’m tempted to say that the above pretty much all holds true for finding a therapist as well. But if I think back 20 years or so when I needed therapeutic help myself, I can all too easily remember how difficult it was to talk to people about such issues. Back in the early 90s society was still too wary of therapeutic help. It was also the pre-Internet world when counsellors and psychotherapists were more difficult to find. So, should you just rely on the Internet? Is it good enough to simply look someone up on a website and then hand over your emotional wellbeing to them?
If I were looking for a therapist today here’s what would be on my checklist before I started any sessions with them:
Are they registered and accredited by a respected professional organisation such as the BACP, UKCP or BPS?
Will they talk to you on the phone, by Skype or email before you book a session?
Are they experienced in working with the issues you want to work with? (This is particularly important in areas like sexual difficulties, as few general trainings offer enough input in this area.)
Is the therapist used to working with people in short-, medium- and/or long-term encounters? This might be very helpful in matching your needs with the therapist’s skill set.
Has your prospective therapist had their own therapy? (It might seem odd but not all models of therapy require therapists to undertake their own therapy, while some will simply have done the minimum required by a training course. I’d find it odd to have therapy with someone who hadn’t been in the chair themselves.)
Above all, don’t be persuaded that someone is a good therapist because they have a lot of letters after their name. Studies show that once core requirements of education and training have been met, the effectiveness of the therapist is not dictated by their qualifications.
To my mind, all therapists should be looking to make a good match to the people they are going to work with. Again, studies support the view that it is the quality of the relationship that really helps therapy work. So, it follows that I always offer a no-obligation initial session.
Finally, go with your gut feeling and, if it doesn’t feel right in the room, shop around.