How to Choose a Therapist

Choose a therapist

Words by Jen Woodward

When starting out in therapy, whether you’ve been in it before or this is your first time, choosing the right therapist for you is a huge part of the work you’ll be doing on yourself. With the right person you can open up, have conversations about what’s working for you and what isn’t and trust them with the things you haven’t told any other person. Jen Woodward gives you some pointers on how to get started, and about what to look for when choosing a counsellor.

Being in therapy is a relationship and choosing someone you can open up to and trust, from a pool of complete strangers, may feel overwhelming initially.

However, it’s an important choice, the relationship between you and your therapist has been found to be a good indicator of the outcomes of therapy so it’s essential you pick someone you feel at ease with. Picking the right person for you is very personal, but here are some tips to help point you in the right direction.

Hearing about counsellors or therapists through word of mouth is quite common, and a great way to find someone that others rate. However, I wouldn’t recommend seeing someone a close friend or family currently sees, you may feel that the counsellor knows another’s perspective - therapy should be transparent, yours, and between just you two. 

Many therapists are online, there are directories such as Counselling Directory and Psychology Today. Searching based on location is ideal, somewhere close to your home or work so it’s convenient. We can tell a huge amount from first impressions, even photos. Trusting your instinct is valuable, are there any photos you’re particularly drawn to? Does what they have written align with your values and goals?

At this point you may come across different training and perspectives, the counsellor might mention:

  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

  • Intergrative

  • Psychodynamic

  • Gestalt

  • Person-centred

…or something else.

These can feel confusing. Once you’ve found a few people you like you can do some research or even phone them to ask them more about the way you’ll work together.

Psychodynamic therapy tends to go a bit deeper and be more long-term. It aims to help you determine what’s really behind your thoughts and feelings, hopefully getting to a root cause. Whilst it isn’t an instant fix, the effects have been found to be more long lasting than some others. CBT explores your thoughts and focuses on ways to change them. In turn, your feelings and behaviours may change too. Through accepting and understanding, Person-centred therapy encourages your natural tendency to grow and develop. Intergrative counsellors practice a little bit of everything, they are trained in a broader number of therapies, rather than specialising in just one. It’s not necessary to know everything about a type of therapy. Most counsellors are trained in, or utilise, a number of different disciplines and if you want to work in a certain way it’s something you can both talk about.

Once you’ve decided, call four or five therapists, some won’t have availability, others may not feel are quite right after that initial phone call. If you can afford to, book an initial session with a couple of people.

Once you’ve met a therapist, ask yourself how did you feel during and after the session. There’s nothing wrong with taking a few days to think about whether you want to start with that person. If everything feels good, and you can anticipate building an open and trusting relationship, go for it. If not, keep trying, it’s worth the wait to find someone you feel good with. This is a person that very quickly goes from being a stranger to someone you tell things to you’ve perhaps never told anyone before. If you feel any uneasiness, talk about it, and if you can’t talk about it, at any point in therapy, you don’t have to go back. 

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Jen Woodward is a psychodynamic therapist who works in London. You can find out more about Jen and her work over on her website.

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