How do I choose a counsellor/psychotherapist?

There are hundreds of different types of therapy, so it can be daunting to know where to start.

You might consider if you want to work short or longer term. As few as six sessions can prove very beneficial for some clients, whereas others may be looking for something ongoing, for many months or even years. Shorter term work often uses Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which helps to change our ways of thinking and behaving, while longer term work may be more psychodynamic or humanistic, looking more deeply into the root causes of our feelings and behaviours and our early lived experiences. There are, however, absolutely no rules, and the key to successful psychotherapy is very often based on the quality of the relationship you have with the therapist.

Some counsellors specialise in particular issues, while others work more generally. Quite often the reason we seek therapy is not the underlying cause of our problems. However, if you are looking for help with something very specific, examples might be extreme eating disorders, or some types of addiction, it can be helpful to look for an individual therapist or organisation that specialises in treating those issues.

If you are seeking help for a child or adolescent, look for a counsellor or organisation that is specially trained to work with that age group. Couples therapy and family therapy also requires specialist training.

Talking of training, this is a very important point. Despite much debate over recent years, counselling and psychotherapy is still an unregulated profession. As such, anyone can set up and start practicing. This is not just unethical, but also potentially dangerous. It is therefore vital to check that the therapist you plan to see has suitable counselling qualifications.

An easy way to be sure of this is to check that they are members of a reputable professional body, with the BACP (British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy) and UKCP (United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy) being the largest and most well known, although there are others. Both of these organisations have strict ethical guidelines and will only admit and approve members who have acquired a specific level of training, have regular supervision and keep their knowledge and skills up to date with regular Continuing Professional Development (CPD).

While it is best not to choose your therapist just by location, it is sensible to find someone who you can travel to easily. By looking online, at The Counselling Directory, the BACP’s Find a Therapist, or more locally, The Suffolk Association for Counselling websites, you can find therapists by locality, specialist area of expertise, and any particular client base they might work with. These websites clearly list therapists’ membership of professional bodies as well as their qualifications.

Lastly, but very importantly, personal recommendation can be a particularly helpful place to start, as knowing a friend or family member who has really benefitted from working with a counsellor/psychotherapist can be very reassuring. Care needs to be taken, as counsellors cannot work with close friends or family members of existing clients as this may produce a conflict of interests in terms of confidentiality. However, a known and trusted therapist will no doubt be very happy to recommend or refer you to someone else who they trust would be suitable for your needs.

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