If you’re reading this, you may have reached a point where you feel that it might be helpful to talk to someone who isn’t a family member or friend about what you are finding problematic in your life. You would like to find a counsellor who you can talk to and who will listen and support you.
You may have looked on the BACP’s Find a Therapist directory, or the Counselling Directory, and found that there are literally thousands of people to choose from. So how do you go about choosing the right therapist for you? Their qualifications and experience? How they look in their photo? What if there is no photo? Does location matter?
There is no right answer here, as you will have your own priorities and preferences as you do with many choices in life. And this is an intensely personal task. But, without doubt, the most important aspect which overrides everything else is the quality of the relationship between you and your therapist. Without a strong therapeutic alliance, you will not feel comfortable when revealing and exploring difficult things, and you won’t be able to hear or take in what your therapist is offering you. Everything else is secondary.
Let’s look at some of the things you might like to consider when making this important choice, in no particular order:
• Photo: It might be very important for you to see a photo of a potential counsellor, to imagine sitting with them and exploring your feelings and problems. What if they look like someone you know? This might be helpful or not. You might feel this is less important than some of the other aspects below.
• Qualifications and experience: You might wish to speak to someone who has many years of experience under their belt. Or you might like to choose someone who is more recently qualified who may have fresh ideas and enthusiasm. Think about whether it matters if they are older or younger than you. Being registered with a recognised body is important though, so look out for this on the counsellor’s profile.
• ‘Feel’ of the profile: Read through a number of counsellors’ profiles and narrow down your options by making a shortlist of those whose words and writing style resonant with you. You might like a warm and soft approach or a more challenging style of therapy. What do the profiles tell you about the personal style of the therapist?
• Gender: Think about whether you would be more comfortable working with a man or a woman. Don’t automatically go for a counsellor who is the same gender as you. If you have issues with your father, for example, it might be helpful to choose a male therapist who could represent your father at times in your sessions, and with whom you could work through your relationship issues.
• Location: Some people really do not wish to have counselling close to where they live as they want to keep the fact that they are having counselling private. On the other hand, you might wish to have counselling somewhere that is conveniently located to your home or where you work.
• Cost: If you are on a low income, perhaps it might be helpful to search for low-cost counselling which some counsellors offer. Low cost does not mean a low-quality service. Equally, high cost does not necessarily mean a higher quality of service. Think about your relationship with money at this point, and how much you value yourself and your wish to take action to help yourself.
• Ethnicity: Again, don’t automatically choose someone of the same ethnic background as yourself. It might be really helpful to sit with someone with a completely different background to you, so they have no preconceptions about you and your lifestyle. They will approach your culture with a fresh and open mind.
• Sexuality: Similar thoughts to ethnicity apply here. You might feel a gay or transgender counsellor might understand your issues more, or a completely different point of view might open up ideas that you hadn’t considered before.
• Type of therapy offered: There are many different types of therapy on offer and I cover the kind of therapy I offer, psychodynamic psychotherapy, my next blog post.
Most therapists offer one or two assessment sessions with no obligation to continue after that. The assessment is a two-way process. You are assessing them as much as they are assessing you. Do you wish to work with them? If not, try someone else. And continue until you find the right person for you. (But if you can’t find a single suitable therapist after months of looking, ask yourself what this might tell you about your true feelings about getting started.)
But don’t forget, it is the relationship between you and your counsellor that is most important, so keep this in mind as you undertake this potentially life-changing search.