Look For The Right Qualifications
When picking a therapist, the first thing you should be looking for is whether they have the correct qualifications to be able to help you. “You can ask the therapist themselves – they should be able to provide you with evidence for their qualifications in the form of a certificate,” says Louise Watson, a chartered psychologist at Cardinal Clinic. As for the qualifications you should be looking out for, Niels Eék, psychologist and Co-Founder of the mental wellbeing app Remente, advises that they should be registered and accredited with one of the main UK governing bodies, including The British Psychological Society (BPS); The British Association of Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP); The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP); The United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP); and the Health Professions Council (HPC).
Decide Which Type Of Therapy Is Best For You
There are many different therapies that can help with a multitude of issues, and without knowing much about therapy, it will be near impossible to pick one for yourself. In your first few meetings with a therapist, they’ll be able to suggest and explain the different therapies and which one they believe will benefit you most.
“Apart from obvious cases where the cause of your problems is easily identifiable, such as grief therapy or trauma-focused therapy, you’re not going to know which branch of therapy will be beneficial,” explains Watson. “If you read descriptions of the types of therapy, you may feel drawn to a particular one depending on the nature of the issues you want to deal with. However, this is why many people prefer to choose a therapist who has an integrative approach: they have trained in a number of different therapeutic approaches and are able to combine elements of them to suit your individual needs.”
Should you choose to stick with your therapist, Eék says they’ll then help to create a personal treatment plan with you.
Know The Different Types Of Therapy
Each type of therapy will be beneficial to a different personal issue. Below, Watson and Eék give a brief overview of the most common types of therapy and what they’re most generally used for:
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): Focuses on what a patient feels and does. It’s a mix of two therapeutic forms – cognitive therapy and behavioral therapy. The therapist will examine a patient’s thoughts and beliefs as well as their actions, aiming to change both a person’s thinking and their unhealthy behavior patterns. Cognitive behavioral therapy can be used to treat many mental disorders. Treatments are often during a set period of time and follows an evidence-based treatment plan designed to treat your symptoms. The aim is that you will be able to use techniques learned in the sessions in the end of the treatment plan.
Interpersonal therapy: A structured form of psychotherapy that focuses on how human relationships might lead to psychological issues. The goal is to change the way a patient interacts with people by teaching them to adapt to roles and situations. It was developed during the 80s to treat depression, but has now been adopted and used to treat depression, eating disorders, PTSD and anxiety.
Dialectical behavior therapy: A type of cognitive behavioral therapy developed to treat people who had suicidal thoughts or suicidal actions. It’s often used to treat borderline personality disorder, an illness frequently characterised by suicidal thoughts and actions. This form of therapy could also include group therapy.
Family-focused therapy: Not a new therapy form in itself, but based on CBT or PDT (psychodynamic psychotherapy). The sessions are most often conducted with the family or the couple to address issues together and improve those relationships, which may produce more effective treatment results.
Psychoanalysis: The aim of psychoanalysis is to release emotions and experiences that have been repressed into the unconscious. Patients attend more frequent sessions than in other talking therapies, often four to five times per week, and the approach is again indicated for longer term problems stemming from childhood.
EMDR: A trauma-specific treatment that can be used to treat symptoms from discrete traumas such as a car accident or complex trauma such as childhood abuse or phobias.
Find A Format That Suits You
Once you’ve worked out what type of therapy is for you, it’s then time to decide what kind of sessions you want to try. There are a number of ways you can attend therapy sessions: one-to-one sessions, group sessions or even Skype sessions.
“Meeting-face-to-face is usually better than online therapy, because factors such as the quality of the client-therapist relationship and awareness of body language can be lost through online therapy,” says Watson, but admits that online therapy does have its benefits. “It does have the advantage of greater flexibility, increased access to clinicians who are situations too far away for one-to-ones. Some people may also prefer the anonymity of an online session. Having said that, online treatment is generally less suited to more severe forms of mental illness.”
While there’s a certain safety in one-to-one therapy, group therapy can also prove valuable for some. “They help you realise you’re not alone, facilitate the giving and receiving of support, help you relate to others in healthier ways and provide an ongoing safety net,” Watson adds. Plus, they are often cheaper than individual sessions. However, the drawbacks of group therapy are obvious: many people would find it too difficult to be that open in front of a group of people and there could be issues with flexibility and clashing personalities. “People in crisis are not usually suitable for group therapy,” she warns.
Choose The Length Of Your Treatment
Therapy can be expensive, and although looking after your mental health shouldn’t be a luxury, paying for counselling can sometimes feel that way. If you’re keen to try it out but not sure how long you can afford to keep it up, Watson says there are several forms of short, intensive therapy such as intensive short-term dynamic psychotherapy, solution-focused therapy and CBT.
Eék advises that, although not cheap, the key to these shorter treatment plans is consistency: “Fully committing will save you money in the long run,” he says. “If you immerse yourself, follow the plan and do the homework given to you, you might not need as many sessions. It’s also worth knowing that you can also get free psychological therapies on the NHS, and you don't need to be referred by your GP.”
Ensure You Feel Comfortable
The next thing to tackle is the therapist themselves. Picking a therapist that suits you is crucial to the process – After all, studies show that a good relationship with your therapist is the most important determining factor when it comes to the success of therapy.
In order to find a good match, all therapists should offer an initial consultation or assessment. “This is in order to find out the issues you’d like to address and need help with, what you can expect from the first sessions and how you can work together,” Eék explains. Watson concurs, adding: “They’re to find out whether there are the beginnings of a good rapport, a sense that the therapist understands what you’re bringing and whether they have the right training and experience to help you. Depending on the terms of the contact that you agree with your therapist, you can change to another if you don’t feel the fit is right.”
Eék says it’s important to ask yourself several questions when you come out of your first session: “Do I feel comfortable and safe? Is it easy to talk to the therapist and can I be honest and open with them? Is the therapist knowledgeable?” You can also choose whether you’d rather your therapist be male or female. This is important, as women attempting to get over abuse caused by men likely won’t want to be partnered with a male therapist.
Know Which Qualities To Look For
So how can you tell whether you’ve got a good therapist on your hands if you’ve never attended therapy before? Besides your gut instinct, there are several qualities to look out for: “It’s important that a therapist has empathy and listens to and value what you have to say. They should also keep checking that you feel you are getting something out from the therapy sessions,” says Eék.
Watson adds: “Non-judgment, good interpersonal skills, active listening skills, the beginnings of a good sense of rapport with the therapist or ‘therapeutic alliance’, an ability to provide an explanation of your symptoms and development of a treatment plan are all critical.”
And If You're Still Unsure...
Award-winning mental health journalist Louise Chunn started her website Welldoing.org in 2014 after she was offered a range of therapists based on her postcode only. The site acts an online therapist directory, and is devoted to helping match therapists to would-be patients using a comprehensive and tailored questionnaire that covers everything from language and gender to culture and experience.
“People’s needs can be very specific: their anxiety may have been triggered by a clash over religion, or cultural difficulties around rearing children” Chunn told the Telegraph. “Bereavement and loss can be particularly hard to deal with alone. So I wanted to put people in touch with therapists who would be apt for their situations.” Questions include the nature of the problems you want to tackle, the kind of therapeutic approach that might work best for you and the duration of therapy you would like.