Identifying the type of therapist you want can feel like hard work. Help is at hand.

Coming to the decision that you’d like to see a therapist is a huge step. But once you’ve made it finding the right therapist for you see can feel a bit daunting.

"Unlike CBT, psychotherapy works on an emotional and relational level rather than a thought-based level."

If you are not entering into therapy through the NHS or via a charity or organisation that chooses your therapist for you, sometimes the sheer number of options out there might leave you feeling a little out of your depth.

How to filter and choose? Here are the things to consider…

What you’d like to get from therapy

Most people want to try therapy for a reason and have certain ideas of what they’d like to gain from it.

Perhaps you’ve just been through a divorce and you need some support in processing what has happened, who you now are and what you might like from life. Maybe your obsessive compulsive behaviour is making it really hard to carry out your job and you’d like help getting it under control. Maybe you want help with panic attacks and social anxiety. Or maybe you want help in grieving for a lost loved one.

Thinking about what you might like to focus on in therapy will not only help you to find the right therapist but it could help you to explain what you’d like to look at when you do come to meet a potential therapist face-to-face.

Saying that, don’t be put off if your reasons for wanting to start therapy feel a bit vague. This in itself is a good indication of the type of therapy that might work for you.

Type of therapy

It can help to be aware of the different types of therapy out there like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or psychotherapy. And considering how much money you have or how long you’d like the therapy to last may help you to decide between the two.

If you only have enough funds for two months of weekly sessions, then in depth work with a psychoanalyst may not work. Saying that, a psychoanalyst could agree to short-term work but it’s good to be upfront and ask whether that’s possible at the beginning.

CBT is great if you want to work in the shorter term, if you have an ‘immediate’ behavioural problem that it feels like you need help with in order to get on with life right now. This could help with things like social anxiety that prevents you from speaking up at work or with mild depression. CBT can work really well with someone who wants to think about how thoughts are connected with feelings and behaviour in a logical process-driven manner.

If you’d like to look at things more in depth and perhaps link up what’s happening now with what might have happened for you in the past then psychoanalysis or psychodynamic psychotherapy can be a good bet. That, or if your reasons for going to therapy feel a bit hard to pin down. Psychotherapy tends to last for longer and looks for patterns and what they might mean. Unlike CBT, psychotherapy works on an emotional and relational level rather than a thought-based level.

When it comes to psychotherapy there are further descriptors too like humanistic (focuses on creating a healthy sense of self), integrative (uses a combination of different techniques) and psychodynamic (focuses on what is happening unconsciously).

But you could ignore these descriptions of a psychotherapist, and leave it up how you feel when you meet them face to face.

Therapist qualifications

Someone who has qualifications that are specific to counselling, like a postgradute diploma or masters in counselling, rather than in something more generic like ‘life coaching’ reflects well on their level of skill and experience.

You might also want a therapist who is part of a professional body like the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) or the United Kingdown Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP). This means that they have to adhere to a code of ethics, that they’ve trained to a high level and that if you’re unhappy with something they do you can make a formal complaint.

The BACP have their own directories where you can search for a therapist who is a registered member of either body.

Eleanor says of her journey towards her current therapist: “My preference was for relational therapy so it was really important to find the right therapist, someone with whom I felt I could along well with and trust.

“I did an initial search on the BACP website, considering therapist gender, location (close to work/home), style of therapy, cost and whether they had a photo and website with their profile. There are lots of therapists registered so I needed to narrow this down in some way.

“The photo allowed me to get an initial idea of what the therapist looked like and the website meant I could find out a bit more about them and email them rather than having to cold call. I made a list of five therapists and contacted them, explaining my situation and asking if we could meet for an initial appointment.”

Make it easy for yourself

When you’re choosing a therapist it’s also a good idea to think about convenience.

Do you really want to trek across town to a therapist who lives an hour away? Will this contribute to you sometimes cancelling sessions? Also what time of the day works best for you? Do you find it better to talk in the evening, when all you have to do afterwards is go home and watch television or would you prefer an appointment in the day or early in the morning?

These things might seem trivial but can contribute to your attendance and how much work you get done during the therapy sessions.

Challenging or going with your assumptions

You might have in your head certain ideas about what you want your therapist to look like or be.

You might want a woman, because you feel more comfortable talking to someone who’s the same gender as you. Or you might want someone who is black or young because you feel that someone who isn’t just wouldn’t get it.

While therapists that don’t fit your bill could surprise you, these often unconscious criteria are important if they feel like they might help you to open up and talk honestly. Coming to understand why these things are important to you could be part of your therapy journey if you decide to talk about them later on.

Vicky shows that what is important to you as a unique person is also very important when choosing a therapist. “I think I would have looked for a female therapist had I not chanced upon a male therapist who felt ‘right’,” she said.

“I thrive off praise and definitely need a bit of ‘building up’. I also like people who are funny and I know I couldn’t be comfortable with a therapist who was very serious and unable to enjoy a joke amongst what is obviously often a sensitive and serious activity.”

Trusting your instincts

Most therapists would agree that, whatever the type of therapy, the most important thing that makes therapy work is the relationship between the therapist and the client.

While you can’t completely tell from the beginning, if you meet your potential therapist and you feel comfortable and you like them, this is a really good sign that the therapy could be fruitful for you.

Rachael Murray talks about how this played out for her. "I knew straight away," she said.

“I’d made up my mind even before we sat down. She was wearing high stiletto heels and a full face of make up in her own home. For me it seemed so whole-heartedly wrong. I felt really uneasy.

“Whereas when I met my current therapist I liked him from the off. I felt comfortable. He seemed very sincere and down to earth and open. He seemed professional and true to himself, not like he was putting on a front. I found him very calming and for me, given the anxiety that I was coming to talk about, that was very important.”

Eleanor adds about her own experiences: "The therapist I ended up choosing to work with was the only one who when I met I just felt calm with," she said. “We talked through my situation and when I left I felt like a weight had lifted off my shoulders and I felt a sense of calm and that everything would be okay.

"By comparison all of the others I met, either I knew as soon as they said “Hello” that they weren’t the right therapist for me or when I left I felt on edge and panicky.”

Try before you buy

Finding the right therapist can feel like online shopping, and rightly so. Go ahead and have a nosy around their website and see what they say about themselves. Ask yourself if you feel like you could work with this person.

You are allowed to choose and pay for exactly what you would like. It can be a good idea once you’ve made first contact with a therapist, whether that was via an email or a phone call, to ask for an initial meeting before you agree to a set number of sessions.

In this 50 minutes or so you can find out how you feel about them and whether or not you could see yourself opening up with them. You might like to ask them some of these questions:

• How would you describe how you help people?
• How much do you charge per session?
• What happens if I cancel or miss a session?
• Do you usually agree an end date at the beginning?
• What could I realistically hope to gain from these sessions?

Keep in mind that you are the one with the money in your pocket and the power to say yes or no. You are the one making the choice.

Plenty of fish in the sea

One thing that the UK is not short of is therapists.

That means that if you’re finding that your current therapist doesn’t feel right, you can always try again with another.

However, discussing why you think your therapist doesn’t feel right for you – with them out loud – might elicit conversations that reveal key things about you and your relationships, perhaps crucial to the reasons that you came to therapy in the first place. So perhaps having this conversation, even if you do then decide to leave, is worth it.

Eleanor says, “I have had two therapists, my first was recommended by a close friend and I worked with her for a number of years until she retired. When I needed to find another therapist it was a bit daunting. It has certainly taken some time for me to feel completely happy with my new therapeutic relationship.

"I have stuck with my therapist because I feel she listens to what I have to say, without judgement and helps me see my situation in a different light. I can be very "all or nothing" and she just helps me realise this isn’t always the case."

The right time

Finally, another thing to keep in mind is that therapy sometimes makes you feel worse before it helps you to feel better.

Things that have rested dormant for a while may get stirred up and thought about, especially if you’re having psychotherapy. Considering whether this is the right time for you to start therapy is important.

Laura talks about how she felt at first. “I was leaving in tears quite a lot during the first six months but it still felt right, like I was purging or something. I stuck with it because it was the right time for me to deal with things.”

A choice of therapist doesn’t always work out the first time but hopefully with these tips you’ll feel empowered to decide what’s important for you, and what kind of therapist you might like.

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