There are hundreds of different styles of therapy and counselling; how on earth are you supposed to know which one is right for you? Is it the one where you go back into your childhood and family relations trying to understand how they may impact on you today? Or what about cognitive behavioural therapy where you deal with negative thought patterns and sometimes even get homework? And what on earth does ‘eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing’ even mean?
It was questions like this that rang around my head when I first went looking for a therapist eight years ago. I did a Google search and found that there were 500 therapists within five miles of my London postcode. But which one to choose?
I spent night after night reading through the profiles of the possible therapists. I didn’t even notice what type of therapy they offered and in the end I went with someone whose face I liked and whose website wasn’t over-decorated with seashells and sunsets. We actually worked pretty well together - I saw her for nine months – but I did often wonder if I could have found someone better suited to me.
Out of this confusion, I decided to create a better way of finding a therapist, by matching them, as you might on a dating site. If you’re looking for a therapist, you’re probably in anguish of some kind and need all the help you can get. At welldoing.org , you fill in a questionnaire and your answers are matched with the therapists’ various credentials such as areas of expertise, type of therapy, availability and so on. If you think you know the style of therapy you prefer, you can also search using that term.
When it comes to finding a therapist, there is no one right answer. As psychotherapist Philippa Perry points out:
“The most important factor when choosing a therapist or an analyst is not the model of therapy so much as the practitioner him or herself. Therapy’s effectiveness is in the common factors that all the talking therapies have, a safe space to talk and be, and your relationship with your therapist."
In the biz, they call this the “therapeutic alliance” and research shows it’s key to success in therapy.
The experience of Sally (not her real name), sums up how life changing therapy can be when you find the right match.
“There are times in your life when you know things are not quite right, when friends can't comfort you, where nothing that has helped you before seems to work. The best therapy means having someone to walk beside you for that part of the journey; an arm to lean on if you need it; someone to help you find the right way. But you have to want the help; you have to be committed to accepting it.
My two good experiences of therapy were cringe-making, emotionally exhausting, time, money and energy-sapping as well as creative, fascinating and life-changing. Both helped me cope with a difficult time in my life; they made me feel better about myself; challenged me to see things differently. Both gave me a much-needed space in which to think, feel and despair, safe in the knowledge that they were there only for me and were firmly on my side.”
I’d like to let you in on what I’ve learned since setting up welldoing.org about finding a therapist who can help you with the problems you might encounter.
1. Don’t leave it too long
It’s better to find someone to talk to before you become too desperate, rather than let your problems impact. For example, say you want to speak to someone about your relationship; where is it going, are you actually committed, do you even love this person? Then imagine that a close relative dies or your boss starts a disciplinary action against you. Many people find that their ability to deal with any additional problems that life throws at them - and it does for all of us, at some stage - is greatly helped by already having a therapist to talk to, and by having some of the coping strategies in place.
2. Find someone quite close to you
I’m talking geographically. Not in the next road perhaps, but somewhere you can get to without too much trouble, when it’s raining and cold and you’re feeling down. There may be times that you don’t much like therapy - it is quite common to go through bad patches as you deal with difficult subjects - and you don’t want excuses for not turning up (most therapists will charge you anyway, unless you give them lots of notice).
3. Listen to your instinct
When you email, phone or have a first session with a therapist, try to keep your options open. Many people decide to see more than one therapist for an initial session, and some therapists offer a free or discounted first session. If you’ve never seen a therapist before, you may not know what to expect, but you might want to watch out for things that don’t feel right. Does this person ask questions or make comments that feel comfortable to you? Do you feel fine in their presence? Is their voice pleasant, or at least not unpleasant? You are going to spend quite a lot of time together - usually weekly sessions for some months - so, from the start, you want to feel relaxed around them. It’s not a friendship, but you should not feel judged or constantly challenged. Support is part of what therapy is all about.
4. Aim for an ending
Therapists know you don’t want to stay forever, and many are happy to talk about short-term therapy, or aim for six or 12 sessions. If it is open-ended, don’t be squeamish about saying you think it’s time to end. Therapists like to have a couple of sessions once notice has been given, and those sessions are a little different to the previous ones to help you on your way.
Try the ‘find a therapist’ questionnaire on the Welldoing wesbite to find a psychotherapist or counsellor throughout the UK. You can search under separate sections for adults, adolescents, children and online. Many are also bookable via the site.