There may be many reasons why you have decided to seek therapy, however knowing how access the right type of support can be a challenging and anxiety-inducing experience. Whether you are seeking support for anxiety-related difficulties or relationship issues, this process can be one the most challenging tasks you can face, which is why getting this right is so important. By providing a step by step guide, it is hoped you will be equipped with the knowledge and insight to help you identify the right type of support on your journey to emotional well-being.
As a part of my doctoral training to become a psychologist, it was a requirement of the course to undertake personal therapy. This makes perfect sense; how can we expect our clients to go on a journey that we have not been on ourselves.
With this expectation, I too found myself in a position where I needed to find a therapist. Reflecting on this experience, I can understand how difficult this process was to find the right person to share aspects of my life with. Having spent time researching, talking with different therapists, I was able to find a personal therapist who supported my own personal development.
Barriers to accessing therapy
Unfortunately, unlike other health professions, the area of mental health still carries a social stigma. This means that you are more likely to have your friends or colleagues recommend their chiropractor or dentist than their therapist.
Other barriers such as time, financial commitment, motivation to change, and knowing what to look for all contribute to not seeking support. This all contribute to the maintenance of low emotional well-being.
Why is finding the right therapist important?
There are many reasons why finding the right therapist is of high priority. If you were deciding to spend money on a private medical procedure, you would not make this decision lightly. There would usually be a filtering process to ensure you have made the best-informed decision. Seeking therapeutic support should be no different.
Research has suggested that one of the greatest indicators of success within therapy is the relationship between the client and the therapist. This makes perfect sense. Let’s say you identify a person with an impressive list of experiences, however as you begin therapy, you struggle to develop a meaningful relationship, resulting in you feeling cautious and unsafe about sharing aspects of your life. It is likely this type of support will be less effective.
There is no magical formula that will guarantee you the ideal therapist, however, following some of the key steps below will provide you with some assurance that you have made informed decisions.
Key steps to finding your therapist
Below are a set of questions you should ask yourself as you embark on your filtering process:
Am I ready for therapy?
Understanding why you want to seek therapy is an important consideration given the emotional and financial commitment needed within this process. Exploring this question critically (or asking somebody close to you) may provide you with the answer you require.
Can I afford private therapy right now?
On average, therapy in the United Kingdom can range from £35 – £150 per session (and in some cases more). Depending on the frequency of your sessions, you will need to consider whether you can make a financial commitment to ongoing sessions.
Do I need a Psychologist, Counsellor, Psychotherapist: What is the difference?
You may have heard the terms psychologist, counsellors, psychotherapist and wonder what are the differences. There is no hard or fast rule to explain the differences (a future blog post will explore this question in further detail). Asking the right type of questions is a helpful way of identifying if the professional in question is adequately qualified and experienced to support you with your particular request.
Do you need to consider somebody with a particular skill or specialism?
- Are you looking for a therapist with experience within a particular area such as anxiety, depression, trauma, relationship difficulties, Autism Spectrum Condition, learning difficulties.
- Are you considering a therapist who practices from a particular model such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), etc?
- Do you need a specific service such as a psychological assessment, therapeutic intervention, coaching, consultations?
Is somebody from a similar background/identity important to you?
Some individuals chose to work with professionals from a particular background or cultural identity where similar characteristics are shared (e.g. native speaking language, ethnicity, age, religion) as it perceived to help with lost in translation moments. For example, a client who identifies as Black-Caribbean may want to see a Black Minority Ethnic (BME) psychologist, as they think they may share similarities and therefore understand a particular nuanced experience. It is important to note that this approach does not always guarantee compatibility within the therapeutic relationship.
Does the choice of gender matter to you?
You may have a preference for a particular gender which may be related to the issues you are bringing to therapy.
Hopefully, these questions have assisted you to decide whether accessing therapy at this time in your life is the right choice for you. There are a number of practical steps highlighted below to move you closer to identifying your therapist.
The selection process to finding your therapist
There are a number of referral routes to consider when identifying your therapist. Spending so time considering these options may help your search be less stressful.
Accessing support from your GP/Doctor
Some individuals consider discussing therapy with their GP as they can often refer you to a local counselling service, at no cost. The degree of difficulties will usually determine the number of sessions, and the type of service you can access. In some cases, there will be a waiting list and limited choice on the type of professional you will be assigned to.
Recommendations from family/friends
Do you know somebody who has worked with a therapist that has experience working with your specific difficulties? You could ask them about their experience and whether they would recommend them. Many therapists network with other therapists so asking them for a recommendation should also be considered.
Do you have a health insurance policy? If the answer is yes, it is worth checking whether your premium covers psychological therapy/counselling services and how many sessions you are entitled to under your policy.
Employee Assistance Programme (EAP)
Many employers offer employee benefit programmes that are intended to help individuals who experience difficulties that may affect their performance, health and well-being. They provide assessment of needs and may offer counselling support to those who require it. You should consider contacting your human resources department to explore whether they offer this service.
Therapy Websites and Online directories
Many therapists have their own websites, however, unless you know what you are looking for, it can be an overwhelming experience. This where online directories can be helpful. Directories such as Counselling Directory, Psychology Today, British Psychological Society, and British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy all provide a list of therapists. These websites also allow you to apply filters such as location and types of difficulties they work with to facilitate your selection process.
Exploring the therapist profile
Now that you have found a directory, you need to consider what type of therapist you would feel comfortable working with. Most profiles will have a section about themselves alongside their credentials. This section is helpful in gathering first impressions about the therapist and how they work with their clients.
Choosing a therapist that is qualified and regulated should be your first priority. It is important that the professional you are working with can demonstrate they have met the required standards of practise and have the experience to work with your particular issue.
Profile pictures are also a useful piece of information as they say a picture is worth a thousand words. We all make judgments or interpretations based on someone’s visual presentation. This is not always accurate, however, it may be useful in some cases. For example, if somebody’s profile picture appears unprofessional (or inappropriate) for the type of services they are promoting, it is probably a sign you should not ignore.
Can you afford their fees – on an ongoing basis? Calculating costs in line within your budget will help you work out affordability. Some therapist offer concessions for students or individuals on low incomes.
Initial consultation/conversation with your potential therapist
After gathering a selection of potential therapist to chose from. Arranging a time to speak with them will help you filter down this process further.
Most therapists offer a free initial telephone consultation. This is usually a brief conversation over the phone, which should provide you with enough time to share some of your concerns. This is also the opportunity to ask pertinent questions about the services they provide. This conversation will allow you to gain further information about their services and importantly, help you consider whether you can work with this person.
Questions to consider asking potential therapist
This is by no means an exhaustive list, however, some of the questions below may help gain greater insight and clarification. of the processes involved in deciding if the therapist you are talking to is the right person for you.
Qualifications, Skills, and Experience?
- What is your professional title?
- Are you part of any professional organisations and which ones?
- Have you worked with people with difficulties similar to what I have described?
- Do you use a specific orientation or model within your practice?
- How will you decide how many sessions I will need?
- Do you work independently or as part of a multi-disciplinary team?
Terms and conditions
- How much notice do you require for cancelling/rescheduling appointments?
- Is there a charge for missed sessions?
- What are your fees per session?
- Do you offer concessions for unemployed, students, etc?
- Do you accept medical insurance?
- How do you manage confidentiality/safeguarding issues?
- How do you manage my personal information?
- Does your therapy room have disabled access?
- Do you provide online therapy?
- Do you currently have available appointments? If not it may be worth asking if they have any recommendations?
- Do you have a website where I learn more about what you offer?
- Have you ever received personal therapy?
If you remain unsure after your initial consultation, here are some points of reflection worth considering:
- Did you feel comfortable in being yourself?
- Do you feel they understood your specific needs and share how they are able to help?
- Do they provide some level of optimism for you?
- Did you feel respected?
- Do you feel a potential to build a relationship?
- Can you afford their fees?
- Do they have suitable availability?
Don’t be put off if you can’t get hold of them straight away – it’s likely that they are busy or in a session with another client. If they don’t get back to you within a respectable time, then move on.
If it does not feel right for you, it’s probably best you move on. Therapists understand that not every enquiry they receive becomes a new client.
Are there any hints or tips that I have no included that may be worth mentioning? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section below.
Good luck on your journey!