I did a post around what approach you might want to consider, however now I feel it's time to address the actual person sitting with you as the therapist. The process I've detailed below is mostly related to searching for a therapist in private practice, generally, going through the NHS or charities may mean you don't have as much choice with who you're lined up with - though you always have the right to ask for someone else if you're uncomfortable in any way!
I've had this talk often with people from different areas of my life, around how to choose your therapist, and I don't think there's an easy answer, however there are a few things that you can take into consideration when looking for a therapist/counsellor/psychotherapist.
The searching process
Searching for a therapist is difficult within itself when you're feeling in a vulnerable or overwhelmed state especially when there are so many places you could look and when it isn't a regulated profession.
Counsellors Together UK have put together this useful document explaining how best to find a therapist who is qualified, trained, and being held to standards according to the Professional Standards Authority to keep yourself as safe as possible.
The main thing to look for is that your counsellor is qualified and has done training. It is not a requirement to be part of a professional body, however if a therapist is a member of one this means they have had to complete a certain amount of training and gain experience to be part of the body.
From here most research has found that the relationship with your therapist is the most important thing for a positive outcome in therapy, so finding someone who you feel comfortable with, able to disclose your vulnerabilities, and someone you trust is important, but this does mean that the search for a therapist can be tricky!
It can be worth having a few people you want to contact as you may not always get in with your 'first choice' due to availability, finances, their preferences/experiences for working, and other reasons. If you don't manage to start working with your initial choice please don't take this as a personal knock - there will be someone out there that you can find to work with you and fit; it is difficult and it can feel overwhelming, but you are not alone in this and many therapists will offer details of colleagues they think might be suitable or have availability (don't be afraid to ask on this either!).
My advice would be to think about what you want from a therapist before your search to make it a little easier i.e., are you looking for a friendly face? does age matter? does gender matter to you? is the language someone uses/ the way someone talks important? Then ask yourself why these things matter to you and are you willing to push out of your comfort zones or are they a need? From here you can get a sense of what some keywords you want to filter your search out with might be whether this is how the therapist works or what you're looking to work on e.g. anxiety, depression, PTSD, LGBTQ, ENM etc.
The assessment/consultation/initial talk:
As I explain in my FAQ's - "The consultation gives us chance to talk through what it is you would want from counselling and look at our expectations. We will go through our contract with each other and look at if we feel comfortable to work with each other going forward.
The relationship within counselling is important for effective counselling to take place. The consultation is an opportunity to get a sense of if I am someone you feel you will be able to trust and work alongside you in your journey."
When someone contacts myself, I will book in a consultation (described below) and outline what's involved in that. I also send over my contract in advance so that prospective clients get a better understanding of what my expectations are going forward. I also go through this contract in the consultation to make sure any questions or concerns are addressed.
However, this is how I do my consultations and other therapists might have a different approach; the main thing to be aware of is that we are wanting to gain an understanding of what it is you're looking for from us as well as what you're wanting to explore.
Saying all of this - consultations/assessments/initial contact is also for you, you are the
one looking for a therapist that you want to connect to and so this is your time to check out things you have in mind such as:
What's their experience? - Maybe you're wanting to look at a complex disorder that you feel needs experience behind it, maybe you're happy with someone newly qualified for general support in life, maybe it's somewhere in the middle. This question is useful to gauge how comfortable you might feel down the line with your counsellor.
How do they work? what's their process and approach? - I outline my approach here, but you may not have this information readily available so it is always a good idea to ask how your therapist might work with you in general terms and even how they might work with you in relation to what you're bringing. It can also be useful to then look at how sessions might work i.e., how long are they, are they the same time each week or is there flexibility, how much do they charge and is there any negotiating around that, is there a certain structure to the sessions, what would ending sessions look like etc.
Anything in the contracting you're unsure of? - do you have any questions about what is expected of you or your therapist. Have they covered what they'd do in a safeguarding situation? Have they talked about confidentiality and cancellations?
Any concerns you may have about therapy in general or that's come up in the session? - If you've had therapy before maybe you have an idea of what you don't want from the therapist now this is a chance to talk about this and check this out. Maybe you've not had therapy before and so you have concerns around what it might be like in terms of emotions, feelings, talking things through... this is also a good chance to voice this and look at how your therapist might support you through the difficult emotions.
Their experience of personal therapy - this is often a course requirement when training but not always, so it may be important to you that your therapist understands what it's like to be sat in the client’s chair and experience the vulnerability that comes with it.
and whatever else may come to mind for you....
These posts also outline things to think about when talking to your therapist initially:
So how do you know who's 'right' for you?
Back to the question at hand, how do you know who's right for you?.... well, unfortunately that's only really something that you'll be able to notice for yourself, but I will leave you with some closing points that might be helpful in your search.
Some people might look for someone who has the same experiences as themselves as they feel this will be more relatable and comfortable, whilst this can be true, therapist try not to assume what your lived experience is i.e. you've been through bullying and so want a counsellor who has also been through bullying to feel comfortable, although you've been through the same situation your experience of the situation may be completely different.
Maybe you didn't have any other support around you, you were depressed, maybe you harmed yourself, amongst other things leading to an overwhelmingly negative experience.
But then your counsellor was able to find support in the situation and work through the trauma at the time resolving a lot of the negative experience allowing them to cope in a more manageable way. Relatability is amazing, it can help with empathy and understanding, but too much similarity can bring on assumed experience that may be harmful down the line as it's not your lived experience.
Take some time after your initial meeting to reflect on the situation and assess how you're left feeling. Try noting it down by freewriting your thoughts and feelings, come back to this in a few hours/the next day, and see if those thoughts and feelings still sit the same. This can be a great indicator into how you might feel after your sessions. Listen to your body!
Knowing about how sessions would end is a good thing to know. Personally, I ask for 2 weeks’ notice (2 sessions) to round off the work and experience a managed ending in a way that might not have always been possible in life before which is great for mid-long-term work. Alternatively, if someone isn't too sure on therapy being for them, I do suggest that 6 sessions be the minimum to allow for some of the process to take place.
My point? if you don't feel comfortable in the first few sessions listen to what is going on for you, what is it that feels uncomfortable? If possible, it's good to talk to the therapist about this in the next session as sometimes working through that can be an amazing piece of work too. If you're still feeling uncomfortable and nothing is resolved, then it is worth reassessing if this therapist is 'right for you'.
Finally, if you're comfortable with your therapist but still unsure if they're 'right for you' after everything, could it be that someone is right 'for now'? Maybe they have the experience, qualifications, general demeanour you're looking for and you feel you can get on with them for what you're bringing to therapy - it could be that they're the right person for that specific thing, but then you can move onto someone else further down the line.
I have had clients who I've worked with for a few months where I have held them where they are, looking at day to day management which they found helpful, however they then wanted to investigate a diagnosis and ongoing specific treatment that they felt would be better found elsewhere or through a service - this is absolutely your right to do!
I hope you've found this article useful and do get in touch if you have questions or want to look into sessions.
Directories that may be useful in your search:
Free/low cost therapists - https://freepsychotherapynetwork.com/find-an-therapist/
GSRD Therapists - http://www.pinktherapy.com/en-gb/findatherapist.aspx
Gendered Intelligence directory - https://genderedintelligence.co.uk/professionals/therapists-and-counsellors/directory.html
National Counselling Society - https://nationalcounsellingsociety.org/counselling-directory
Counselling Directory - https://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/
Psychology Today - https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/counselling