Mental Health Week is drawing to a close and we are very happy. There is a real shift towards people truly understanding that it is OK to not always feel OK… and that asking for support is OK, too.
This change means that people around the world are beginning to not just think – but KNOW – that each of us has feelings, needs and fundamental worth, and that if we are struggling with these things, change is possible.
Shame-free, guilt-free change.
What to do?!
Where to go?!
Because we are learning to claim our right to feel better, many more of us are choosing therapy as part of a life-improvement process. But what seems to perplex a lot of people though is how to choose a therapist.
So, we’ve pulled together some helpful guidelines if you or a loved one has decided to see a therapist, psychologist or counsellor (there are some important differences).
So, you’ve chosen therapy – but where and with whom?
You are about to embark on an intimate journey of healing and self-discovery with someone you don’t know. Your safety is paramount. Hold that in your awareness and allow yourself to consciously put that first before you do anything.
And when you go to select a therapist to help you navigate these massive life changes, you need to ask yourself “Does this person tick my boxes?”
Wait…. What ARE my ‘boxes’?
What are the things I should be looking for in a therapist?
Your first step might be to ask your doctor (GP) for a referral. Most, although not all, therapists and counsellors will make themselves known to the doctors (GPs) in their local area. If you have a good relationship with your doctor they may be able to match you with a suitable person. Bear in mind that your doctor may not ever have met the therapist in question and so a referral from a doctor is not a guarantee of a fit (nothing is really, you can only decided that yourself).
Ask your friends and family if they can recommend someone to you. Psychologists, counsellors and therapists often get personal referrals – especially the good ones 😉 – from people who discuss their therapists with their friends. A friend’s recommendation is very useful because, well, they’re your friend. So they may have an idea of who and what will suit you. Of course, remember that individuals vary, and what worked for you friend may not work for you and vice versa. Think of it as a guide, a good one – but not a guarantee.
Shop around. You might get several referrals! If this is the case then please do feel OK about calling a few and seeing how you feel when you speak to them on the phone. It’s a big decision and your comfort is important. Therapists are accustomed to speaking with people who are nervous, so there is no judgement. Check out their profile on LinkedIn, their Twitter, website and so on. Bear in mind that not all therapists have an online presence. If they have a license to practice (psychologist, social worker, etc.) check out the licensing body’s website (more on that below).
Interview your therapist. We would recommend speaking to them on the phone first, and many will offer a *free* phonecall so you get a chance to connect and get a feel for the fit. We realize this might sound strange, but in essence you are about to employ this person. It is deeply personal work – the same as you might shop around for a new hairstylist, consider a therapist an EVEN MORE important decision. Here are some questions you might want to ask any therapist that you choose to contact:
- Where did this person train? Was it part-time? Full-time? Online? Was it a certificate? A degree? A postgrad? There are many different levels and types of training – the word qualified covers a multitude and can mean little.
- Is the person accredited with a reputable organisation? Are they listed on the websites of these organisations. It’s important to check. Some therapists will say they are working towards accreditation – make sure you are clear as to which it is. If they say they abide by the Ethics of ‘X’ association that does not mean they are a member of that association. Nor does being a member mean they are an accredited or working towards being licensed/accredited. It’s OK to ask, and important to clarify. If they are not willing to clarify or if you sense a hesitation, consider hanging up and moving onto the next number on your list.
- Is the person in supervision? It is not considered ethical or safe to work without supervision, but as yet it is not illegal as such. And so if the person doesn’t volunteer this information, it’s important to ask. Be careful of making assumptions – and know that we are more likely to do that when we are in a rush to make a decision.
- Has the person been in therapy? Most modern trainings will insist that the student be a client. It is crucial that your therapist is familiar with self-care and takes steps to look after their own mental health. While all of these questions might sound intrusive, a therapist with integrity will not mind you asking.
- Has the person worked with your particular issue before? What is their area of expertise? Are they comfortable doing professional witness work in court? What is their fee? Is that negotiable? What is their cancellation policy? These are questions that might apply to you and again, it’s OK to ask.
- What is the person’s professional orientation? For example – you may be looking for someone who does couples therapy, or family work. You can read about the various ‘styles’ of therapy online and the styles you will come across most often in Ireland will be Humanistic and Integrative, Psychodynamic, Psychoanalytical,EMDR, CBT, Gestalt, Reality Therapy to name just a few.
- What is the situation with insurance?
- Know that you can change your mind. Your new therapist may suggest a trial of 5 sessions to begin with, but this is your choice. If you feel pressured into attending more often or more frequently than is comfortable or affordable, perhaps go back to your list of phone numbers.
- Listen to your gut when you meet your therapist. You might be particularly vulnerable right now and may not trust your judgement. But ask yourself how often you’ve been wrong about people? Your new therapist is just a person too, and he/she may not be a fit for you. If you feel coerced, directed, pressured, manipulated, sexually compromised or that the boundaries just feel ‘off’, move on. It’s OK.
- If your therapist in engaged in a dual relationship with you, it is not advisable to continue. For example, if they are a relative, an old school friend, your beautician, and so on… Healthy boundaries are essential for the process to be safe and to work. In the same vein, if your therapist tries to sell you a product or directs you to a friend of theirs for extra ‘work’ that you haven’t expressed interest in beware. This is a red flag for boundary issues on the part of your therapist.
Therapists are people too. Even with years and years of training and/or experience, a therapist will bring their own personality to their work. If you find that despite a pile of education and experience you do not feel comfortable with your therapist for ANY reason (their sense of humor bothers you, the perfume they wear makes you feel nauseous) – instead of judging yourself or discounting your feelings listen to your own gut. Address minor issues with your therapist if you feel comfortable doing so, but major personality conflicts will just get in the way of making progress in therapy. It’s really okay to look for someone that feels like a better fit.
These are the things we have learned to look out for over the years. Past clients have asked us these questions, we have answered most of these (and possibly more) for our clients, and coached the people we care about to ask these questions, too.
Our hope is that they will help you come to as informed a decision as possible so that you can proceed knowing that you are safe. Have we left anything out?Please add your experience, comment or question in the comment section below.
Good luck on your journey toward self-care!