Updated: Mar 11, 2020
Our own experiences from infancy through to adulthood generally contribute towards what we understand and make of the world. This can shape good mental health and positive well-being. As people, our behaviours and reasoning are heavily influenced by emotions and mental health. Whether great or small, biological, social, cultural and circumstantial factors will influence the way we behave and feel. Sometimes changes in these factors can cause emotional distress prompting therapeutic support.
Seeking therapy can sometimes be a daunting process. This 10-point guide to finding your perfect therapist is helpful for individuals contemplating therapeutic support for the first time.
1. There is no perfect therapist.
I liken finding a suitable therapist to a pair of shoes that fit well, it might take some time to mould to our feet and some might look good but rarely feel comfortable. One of therapy's success resides with both therapist and client both working comfortably together within a non-judgemental, empathic and supportive space. For this reason, my guide veers from the idea of a perfect therapist because therapy may not be smooth riding or perfect. I believe that therapy’s purpose is not to be too-good or too comfortable but a ‘good-enough’ relational fit for effective work to take place.
2. Is faith and culturally sensitive therapy important to you?
Being understood supports a connection and in turn can develop the therapist-client alliance. Carrying a wider identity means that needs can be distinct. Despite being well-trained and armed with practical and theoretical knowledge, unfortunately many therapists who do not share the same identities as their clients or who do not have an understanding of their clients lived experiences, may just sometimes not be able to provide what the client needs. On the contrary, opting for a therapist who shares a completely different background may be a novel and liberating experience for many.
3. What are the differences between the titles counsellor, therapist and psychotherapist?
According to the British Association for Counsellors and Psychotherapists (BACP), which is the largest professional body representing counselling and psychotherapy in the UK, the use of title is entirely subjective and can be dependent on the length of therapy. Therapists who work with clients long-term can refer to themselves as psychotherapists whereas in short-term work, the titles counsellor or therapist may be used.
Unfortunately anyone can call themself a therapist or a counsellor and so it is vital that you do your research. Is the therapist fully qualified, not be be mistaken with certified, and a registered member with a recognised body such as the BACP or the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP)? Often therapists will state their membership number upon request or have this publically available on a recognised register/ directory.
5. More research.
Training to become a therapist is rigourous and ardous which makes sense considering the work focuses on helping people with emotional distress and/ or mental illness. Often individuals seeking therapy may be in a vulnerable state. Therefore it is imperative that a therapist is fully qualified to offer a professional, reliable and safe therapeutic space.
Find out about the therapist’s type and level of qualification. An online course is not a valid qualification nor is a short three-seven-day course in counselling. Many Level 4 counselling courses are recognised as sufficient as well as training that takes one to two years if not longer.
6. Judge a therapist based on their photo.
Yes, you read that correctly. Does the therapist appear professional and approachable? Therapy is a dyadic relationship therefore can you see yourself working with them? This one relies on your gut instinct. You can always arrange a face-to-face initial consultation which will provide you an opportunity to get a feel of a therapist.
7. A therapist in personal therapy.
Many training institutions require trainee therapists to be in personal therapy during the course of their training. Upon completion of studies, continuing personal therapy is entirely at the discretion of the qualified therapist. When selecting a therapist enquire about the efforts a therapist is making to continue professional development, how often they receive clinical supervision and the code of ethics they abide by.
I prefer to work with therapists who are also in personal therapy as this demonstrates a continued effort to develop self-exploration; an aspect which is useful in professional therapeutic work. I am not suggesting that therapists not in personal therapy are in any way ineffective, incompetent or not good-enough than those who are. It could be that they have completed sufficient work on themselves.
8. Experience and recommendation.
Recommendations and referrals are incredibly helpful, always be sure to ask what makes this therapist good [enough]? Experience is also vital however avoid dismissing newly qualified therapists. A therapist who has been practicing for many years may lack the new found theory and practical skills that a newly qualified therapist has acquired in recent training. Similarly a newly qualified therapist may have to harness their skill-set and experience in working with various or complex issues that bit more.
A good-enough therapist whether experienced or recently qualified, should demonstrate an active effort to reflect and enhance their practice. Some therapists record therapy sessions with the permission of the client to evaluate and improve their way of working. Striving to exercise self-reflection and self-exploration is important when working therapeutically and so I refer again to point seven.
9. Modality and Specialism.
A good-enough therapist may have experience working with a broad range of issues however cannot claim to specialise in everything unless they have undertaken appropriate training. For example, some therapists may have developed specific skills during training that make them ideally qualified to specialise in working with children and young people. Modaility is also important. Do you know what is meant by Person Centred, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Psychodynamic, Psychoanalytic and Attachment Theories? What about Integrative Theory? Would you like therapy that is solution focused or are you willing to explore how earlier experiences may have shapened your conscious and unconscious behaviours and patterns of thinking?
A therapist’s theoretical modality will influence how the therapy manifests and their engaging with you. Your needs may change and grow over time - will your therapist be flexible enough to respond to this? Importantly, selecting a therapist who is good-enough also rests much upon what you want to achieve in therapy. This brings me onto my final point.
10. Are you willing to undergo the emotional work?
A lot of emphasis can be placed on a therapist without acknowledging that another crucial factor of therapy’s success rests much upon the client’s willingness to engage with the therapeutic process and do the work. Therapy can be hard, confusing and complex. A good-enough therapist will help to facilitate an alliance where it is safe to work through these difficult elements.
At times a client may find reflections unhelpful and/ or totally off-point. Interestingly these ‘ruptures’ are important in therapy. As long as a therapist is not unethical or unprofessional in their approach, feeling safe and comfortable enough to address these ruptures can build towards ‘repair’ and in turn create a richer therapist-client relationship as well as taking the therapeutic work to a new level.
Having 45-50 minutes of undivided presence and attention from an other is something we rarely experience in the modern world and thus can trigger anxious and awkward feelings during the initial stages of therapy. If things feel uncomfortable at first, my suggestion is to give it a little time.
Ultimately you are the best person to decide what is best for you. Samia Quddus is a fully qualified Integrative Therapist (MBACP) and is in private practice. She has a background in primary education and is a Specialist practitioner in the Special Educational Needs area of Social, Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH). She is creator of Taqdeer, a faith inspired Islamic gratitude journal that cultivates spiritual health and positive emotional well-being practices. She is also author of the children’s picture book story Freya’s Funny Feeling, which explores anxiety via the butterflies in the tummy idiom.
1. Winnicott, D.W. (2004) The maturational processes and the facilitating environment. London: Karnac 2. Quddus, S. (2019) ‘Learning from BME Voices’ in BACP Children, Young People and Families Magazine (Editorial 03). London: BACP, p. 39. 3. BACP (2018) Ethical framework for good practice in counselling and psychotherapy. Lutterworth: BACP. 4. Dunbar, J. (2020) Interviewed by John Dunbar for BBC, 28th January.Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-51273607/can-anyone-call-themself-a-therapist-or-a-counsellor (Accessed: 29th January 2020). 5. Mearns, D and Thorne, B. (2007) ‘The person centred approach: a contemporary review and basic theory’, in Person-centred counselling in action(3rdedition). London: SAGE, pp. 7-18. 6. Rogers, C. R. (1980) A Way of Being. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 7. Stern, D. (1985) The interpersonal world of the infant.New York: Basic Books.