It’s easy to find a therapist or a counsellor but perhaps it’s harder to know if you found the right one for you. Here are a number of questions you can ask yourself that will enable you to choose the right therapist or counsellor for you.
In my article today I outline 14 questions you might ask yourself after you have had an initial consultation with a therapist or counsellor, I use the word therapist and counsellor interchangeably.
1, Do you feel relaxed and safe? Is it easy to make small talk and is the person relatable to and down-to-earth or do they feel distant? Did they seem “stuck in their head,” and did you feel observed from a professional distance or were they overly empathic and emotional? Did the therapist seem like a “know it all“ who wanted to tell you all about yourself?
For certain, for many of us going to a counsellor for an initial consultation there is likely to be some anxiety around and it’s obviously important to try and think about what’s going on for you as you reflect on how the meeting went. However, if the therapist you met doesn’t feel like the right fit for you then that’s okay, continue the search. There is absolutely no rule that requires you to continue working with anybody if you do not click with them.
That being said it’s important for you to recognise if there is a part of you that wants to avoid talking and if you find yourself reacting negatively to every therapist you meet then the issue might be yours and it might be that if you stick it out with a therapist that is good enough you might be able to work through your fears of beginning therapy.
2, What is the therapist’s approach and philosophy to helping?
Does the counsellor that you met see human beings in optimistic, hopefully and compassionate ways and do they believe that humans born good with the capacity to change? Or do they believe in genetic disorders and deficiencies?
3, Can the therapist you meet with tell you clearly how they view whatever issue you bought to them and can they tell you clearly how they plan to help you and what theories they will be using?
4, Did the counsellor you met have regular supervision, ideally from a more experienced, more qualified therapist?
Supervision is essential for a number of reasons, including, but not limited to, reviewing cases, theory enhancement and it is a place that enables the therapist to think about how their own history may be getting in the way of supporting you.
Avoid therapy with anyone who cannot share with you the name of their supervisor, indeed, for most counselling organisations such as the BACP or the UKCP it’s mandatory for therapists to have a supervisor with whom they meet regularly in order for the therapist to be registered.
5, Can your therapist admit mistakes and receive critical feedback?
The right counsellor will be open to hearing that what they have said to you has upset you or distressed you. The best counsellors are pleased to look at themselves as individuals and as practitioners and they are openly and honestly able to admit their mistakes.
6, Did you feel you could become dependent on the therapist you met?
Therapy is not about you going to a counsellor to have them solve your problems, as tempting as that may be. Compassionate counselling is about you learning how to work through your own pain and dilemmas in newer, more helpful, ways so that you need spend no longer in therapy than is necessary.
A good therapist provides answers and wisdom and emotional support but if this happens without you being shown and supported how to access your own resources it is possible that you might become dependent on your therapist rather than you becoming free and self-loving.
7, Does your counsellor you saw receive ongoing therapy themselves?
As well as having professional supervision, I believe it is essential for all therapists to be in ongoing personal therapy. Most therapists are themselves wounded healers, I think it is a dangerous position for a therapist to take to think that, “I am cured and happy and able to be self-sustaining for the rest of my life.“ Particularly as they are supporting other people with their emotional lives.
8, How much experience did the counsellor you saw have in helping other people with the particular issue for which you were consulting them about?
Quite simply, the more expertise a therapist develops in terms of training and experience and good supervision the better you will be served.
9, Did the therapist you saw guarantee that they will help you?
Change is possible but a number of factors have to be in place in order for there be a good possibility that change will happen for you. Chief to the endeavour is the skill of the therapist you are seeing and your own readiness for change.
Sometimes, in spite my best efforts, I have not been in the right place to make the changes I wanted to make for myself.
Sometimes those changes only happened when I was at a different life-stage.
To sum up, change takes work, commitment and clarity of purpose, time. If these factors are in place and you have a skilled helper then things look good for the future!
10, What ethical guidelines and principles does your therapist adhere to?
There are a number of policies and principles that’s all good counselling organisations such as the BACP and UKCP require that the therapists who register with them follow.
This means for example their councillors are not permitted to enter into dual relationships such as counselling a friend or an employer or a family member or being someone’s teacher as well as being their therapist. The counsellor must be there only to meet your therapeutic needs and as such be able to provide you with empathy, guidance, curiosity, support, understanding and healing.
11, Is your therapist Accredited?
Accreditation with a respected counselling organisation is essential. If so then the therapist you saw has gained considerable experience and is regularly supervised. It also means that your therapist is required to undergo continuous professional development on a yearly basis.
I am required, in order for me to remain accredited with the BACP, to have nearly 40 hours of professional training every year.
In fact, because I like training, I have far more than this because I believe my practice benefits accordingly.
12, What level of training has your counsellor achieved? I believe it is essential for your therapist to be trained to degree level, or equivalent. I do not believe anybody can call themselves a counsellor if they have done a weekend seminar or, for example, a six month correspondence course.
I would like to say that the counselling and therapy I have trained in and believe in does not have religious intent or religious overtones.
Without the right qualifications your counsellor may lack the skills and training and personal development to provide you with a safe and therapeutic environment.
13. Has the counsellor you saw had any complaints made about their practice?
You may feel awkward asking this question however you will learn a lot about your therapist as they answer this question.
If they have not then there is no further need to enquire and if they have then how they describe what happened will be key to whether or not you will be safe with them.
If they are open and frank, empathic and compassionate about the person who made the complaint then you may be in safe hands.
If however, they are angry or indignant then it might be time to continue your search for the right therapist for you.
14. How long has the therapist you saw been practising?
There can be no doubt that an experienced therapist, accredited and registered with a respected organisation Is a safe bet. Whereas, the therapist who has just qualified may not be such a safe option for you.
Having said that, therapy is chiefly about relationships and if you feel comfortable and safe with a recently qualified counsellor then as long as you are clear about their abilities and training you stand a good chance of receiving some benefit.
Thank you for reading this article and if you would like any more information about counselling or the services I provide then by all means please contact me by email or phone.