- Grace McMahon
What to look for in a therapist
We’ve been making huge leaps to break down stigma around asking for help, seeking professional support and opting for therapy, to help us cope with our mental health. And therapy isn’t just for those with mental health conditions, many of us are considering therapy to help us cope with daily life! And why not? Life can be hard, stressful and worry-inducing, which we’re especially familiar with since the pandemic upheaved our lives as we knew them. Speaking to a professional about how we are, what we’re feeling, and how we can better cope will be unbelievably beneficial to so many of us.
But access to therapy isn’t quite where it should be. In an ideal world, therapy would be free and easily accessible for everyone - unfortunately, we’re all still working on this ideal world coming to fruition. You might have read, seen, heard ‘how to find a therapist’, we've even spoken about it before, but here’s the thing: you might know how to look for one, to go online or speak to a GP, but what are you looking for when you get there?
It ain’t as simple as a quick google search
We could do a quick google search, and if you’re happy to contact the first few you see then, grand. But what about those of us who see a sea of people with different expertise, pricing, and credentials? A google search isn’t the most helpful advice for those of us who feel a bit lost in it all. What else can we do to help us find a therapist if we’re looking?
Have a think about what you want from therapy, is it a safe space to talk about you and your feelings? Are there goals you’re trying to reach but are struggling? Perhaps you want to work through some childhood trauma (trauma isn’t just awful things, it’s anything that might have impacted your emotional wellbeing - like being told ‘you’re fine’ as an upset child). Maybe you’ve been through some challenging life events, bereavement, job loss or a break up, and need some support in coping with those. It’s personal to each of us, so before starting your search, consider what you want to get out of therapy.
Then consider who you would be comfortable talking with, someone older or younger, their gender, ethnicity, cultural backgrounds. We might feel more comfortable speaking with someone with similarities to us, who might have similar beliefs and values. Think about your needs and wants and make a note to keep handy while you’re looking.
And think about your available time and budget. Many of us work the usual Dolly Parton routine (9-5pm, not singing on stages), so it’s worth considering when you want to have sessions. Different therapists work different times and offer later or earlier appointments to fit with the schedules of busy people. It can help to avoid falling for the ‘perfect therapist’ only to find they don’t offer sessions when you might want them - although it’s always worth asking them to see if they can offer more suitable times. And consider how much money you’re willing and able to spend, therapists charge between £30-£80 (ish) for a session, depending on where you live.
Now you’ve had a think about what you want, we need to know what to look for to decide whether someone fits our needs.
What to look for in a therapist:
Credentials and experience
Therapist directories list the credentials - qualifications and accreditations - whichever one you look at, like the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy or the Complementary Therapists Accredited Association. Take a look at what qualifications they have and who they’ve been awarded by. Therapy isn’t governed like the medical world, there are a number of courses anyone can take and call themselves a therapist on passing, so make sure to check where their qualifications are from. It’ll also list their experience, how long they’ve been practising, client hours, how long they’ve trained for. It’s personal to you whether you’d prefer a more experienced person or someone newer to the field. Experience doesn’t determine how effective therapy will be for you, newbies are often cheaper options too so don’t blow them off straight away, they might be exactly what you need at a more affordable price!
Approach and expertise
There’s usually a little bio for each therapist, and some offer free consultation calls where you can find out if they're right for you - it’ll also mention some personal details like background and ethnicities. Look for keywords that resonate with you, like friendly and reliable, or honest and realistic. Get that list out and think about what approach would suit you - is it more structured or relaxed? You can also find out what topics or methods they use, their specialised areas - like bereavement, eating disorders, stress management or if they use cognitive behavioural therapy, person-centred, or solution-focused. You may have to do some extra research on they’re approach to understand if that’s for you, but that’s when a quick google search might actually be useful.
What type of sessions they offer
Be sure to check what they offer, therapy doesn’t have a set timeline or limit to sessions, but some offer a 6 or 8 week course, or a fixed price for a number of sessions. That doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t be able to carry on after the sessions are up but it’s important to check first. This is the time to look at when they are available, if that fits with your schedule - it might just say “willing to fit around you” - how long the sessions they offer are typically, and whether they’re in person or online. Some prefer to go to sessions to be sure they’re in a private and safe space, especially if there’s a few people in the house or working from home. Others prefer the comfort of their own home and online sessions - it’s really up to you.
Now, these are the things to consider and look out for when searching for professional support. But there’s a lot of information out there, different therapists, approaches, styles - some might work for you, some might not. It can be a patience-testing-process, so it can be helpful to ask a friend or someone you trust to help you look, or even take that list to the GP.
Don’t forget there are free routes to therapy via the NHS, insurance companies and employee benefits, so check there if paying isn’t really an option for you. Bear in mind that often the waiting lists for these are long, so be sure to speak to a healthcare professional about options in the meantime.
It can be helpful to ask a friend or someone you trust to help you look, or even take that list to the GP.
And remember, even with these things in mind, we might not pick the right person the first time round. On paper they might be your match, but in sessions you find you don’t get along with them or don’t feel comfortable with them. That’s totally fine, there needs to be trust and safety in sessions, so have another look - it might be annoying but don’t stick with someone for the sake of ease.
Should I be in therapy? We’ve all got tough stuff going on, some of us will really benefit from professional support, but it might not appeal to everyone. We can all benefit from therapy, whether we feel it’s necessary, we’re not doing ‘well’ or we’ve hit rock bottom. In fact, going to therapy before we need it can be hugely beneficial. But it’s a choice, and it’s time to seek professional support if things feel tough everyday, difficult thoughts and feelings become all consuming, or you’re struggling to cope. It’s important to get the help you need and take care of yourself.