Starting Counselling Part 1 - Finding a therapist
So, I’ve decided to do my blog a little differently for the next few months and am going to publish a series of 3 blogs which look at starting therapy, because, lets be honest, choosing to go into therapy is huge undertaking. It involves:
recognising that how you are currently experiencing life is not for you and that you choose to do something about it,
knowing you can’t do it by yourself,
getting past all the stigma and myths there is about counselling – no you don’t have to be ‘crazy, institutionalised, labelled or suicidal’ to access counselling!!
Being brave enough to be vulnerable and say ‘help’
And then, after overcoming all that…. you have to actually find a therapist/ counsellor to work with. For something that is meant to help your emotional wellbeing, it is a bloody nightmare accessing it! So, my intention in this series of blogs is to simplify and demystify things a little. In this first part I will outline how to find a therapist/ counsellor, in part two I will talk about starting therapy and what to expect and in part three I will explore reviewing and ending therapy.
Oh, and just to clarify, the terms counselling and therapy mean the same thing, just as the terms counsellor and therapist are the same, so I will use them interchangeably.
Why go to therapy?
Ok, so do I need therapy? I mean, “I’m not one of those crazy people you see in the movies” or “it’s not that bad – other people have it way worse than me” are statements I hear way too often and they simply aren’t true. The movies have a lot to answer for, the portrayal of mental health on media platforms is hugely stereotyped and exaggerated in order to get bums on seats and entice viewers. The truth is you don’t have to be crazy or have a diagnosis of anything or be on medication to go to therapy. Therapy is a safe space where you have a regular therapeutic hour (50mins – 60 mins) each week to talk about your stuff with no distractions or worrying about how ‘your stuff’ might affect the other person. It’s a place to work through thoughts, feelings or behaviours which you aren’t comfortable with. It’s a place to voice things that you have hidden. It’s a place to find different ways of doing things and learn different tools to manage whether it be negative thoughts, anxiety, sleep difficulties or relating to others. It’s a place to process past experiences and trauma and become aware of how it may be impacting you now. It’s a place to cry and laugh, to express anger and learn ways to recognise and work with all the emotions in between. It is a place for you. Your counsellor will not hold any expectations of you or judge you. They will not compare you to others – there is no limit to the amount of suffering in the world – you do not have to negate your suffering so others can suffer. We all come with different life experiences and this impacts on how we experience life – there is no right or wrong, too much or too little, there is just you.
Deciding what you want
Ok, so you’ve noticed you aren’t 100% happy with something and that you want to make a change. Before finding a counsellor, it is worth clarifying with yourself what you want, a kind of checklist:
Firstly, what do you want to work on? Is it a past or recent event which is impacting how you experience life now? Is it anxiety? Stress? A difficulty in relating to someone or communicating your needs assertively? Is it a low mood or anger which seems to bubble or boil over? Is it a sense of stuckness or a negative script on repeat on your head? Whatever it is, working out what it is you want to initially work on will help in your hunt for a therapist and setting your goals…
Speaking of goals, what do you want to get out of counselling? What would you like the end goal to be? Now, let’s be honest, counsellors do not have magi wands which they can wave and remove all your pain or erase events (as much as they might want to), however, thinking about what would be an acceptable result for you is worthwhile – if your counsellor did have a magic wand and while you were asleep got you to your goal, how would you know – what would it look like? How would you feel? How would you be different?
Thirdly, what kind of counselling would suit you? This is what we call the ‘modality’ and it is the way the counsellor is trained to work with what you bring. For example, do you want a space where you talk and direct each session or do you want the therapist to take the lead? Do you want an approach which deals with the here-and-now or will exploring your past be beneficial? Do you want to work creatively or talk or do a combination? There are lots of different counselling modalities out there and finding the one that suits you is important. For a quick overview of some of the modalities out there, check out my social media post or for a more comprehensive list look at this a-z list by one of the Counselling professional bodies in the UK, the BACP (British Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapists).
Lastly, how do you want to work with your therapist? Do you want to meet face-to-face in their therapy room or try walk-and-talk therapy in the outdoors? Do you want to work online or via telephone or even via email or text? There are pros and cons of each which you need to consider in relation to your needs – are you able to commute, can you afford the additional time this would involve? Are there any walking therapists in your locality and how would you feel if you saw someone you knew while walking with your therapist? How comfortable do you feel using technology? Have you got a safe space anywhere to work remotely with a therapist? How would it feel to have a therapy session whilst sitting in your home? These are all personal considerations and only you can answer them. When talking to a therapist, it may be helpful to ask them about anything you are concerned about and see how you feel about their responses.
Choosing a therapist
So, considering this blog is about choosing a therapist it seems like it’s taken a long time to get to this heading, however, I am hoping to explain how your answers to the previous questions will make the choosing of your therapist a bit easier.
I feel it is important to highlight here that the titles of ‘counsellor’ and ‘therapist’ are not protected titles. This means that anybody can call themselves a counsellor or therapist. So, someone who feels they are a good listener, someone who has competed a 2-hour introductory course to counselling, someone who has a bit of an interest in psychology, anybody can set themselves up as a counsellor or therapist and charge money for their
‘services’. As a qualified counsellor who has undergone rigorous training over years, demonstrated and been assessed for my skills, completed examinations, placements, fortnightly supervision and pay a professional body to evidence my dedication to good practice and pay for continued professional development, this fact hurts. It hurts because it not only discredits the hard work qualified counsellors have put into their craft but it is bloody dangerous for clients. I am not telling you this to scaremonger, I am telling you this so you can protect yourself. When looking for a therapist or counsellor, please, please, PLEASE use a directory of counsellors which verifies counsellors’ credentials by checking their training and qualifications, examples of these are Counselling directory, Psychology Today or one of the professional body’s directory’s such as the BACP, NCS or UKCP. (Counselling directory have compiled a list of professional bodies).
The added benefit of using a counselling directory is that not only does it give you peace of mind in terms of the counsellor’s credentials, but it also enables you to filter your search – remember those questions from earlier – what do you want to work on? What modality you are interested in? how you want to work? With a directory you can filter your search by your preferences, making your search easier.
I recommend reading a number of counsellors profiles and noticing how you feel when you read it. Each profile will represent each counsellor and if you read it and feel nothing then chances are you won’t connect to them in person, alternatively, if you read their profile and it feels like they are talking directly to you then the connection has already started. Something else to notice when you look at counsellors’ profiles is that some counsellors tick everything in the areas they work with and some counsellors only tick a few things. It may be that the counsellor is ticking everything they have worked with or maybe ticking the areas they feel they specialise in. Consider how you feel about each approach, may it be something you want to ask the counsellor about?
Once you have found a few counsellors that ‘speak to you’, it is time to get in contact either by phone, text or email. All contact details will be available in their directory profile, as any links to websites or social media belonging to the Counsellor. It can be useful to look at counsellors’ websites as these often give more information about the way the counsellor works, and may also provide some useful resources you can access. Also, if the counsellor is active on social media, reading some of their posts gives you further insight in how they ‘are’ as a person and whether you can connect with their content.
Once you have contacted the counsellor, not only can you gauge how their response feels to you but also you have the opportunity to ask questions. Some useful questions you could ask are:
Do you offer a free initial session or meeting?
What is your training? Did it include a supervised placement? If so, how many hours?
What is the name of your current supervisor?
What is the most recent piece of CPD (continued Professional Development or course) you have done and how have you used it?
Are you a member of a professional body? If so, which one? If not, why?
Can you explain to me how you work?
What is your experience in working with … (what you are seeking support for)?
What is your policy on cancellations and payment?
Am I able to work fortnightly?
Do you offer long-term or time-limited work?
How do you review the work done? How are endings decided?
What is your availability?
I worry about …. in face-to-face/online/walking therapy – how do you deal with this?
In talking to the counsellor, note how it feels – do you feel safe? Do you feel heard? Do you feel comfortable? These are all important because repeated research shows that the therapeutic relationship is key to successful counselling. You will only be able to open and honest if you feel safe and comfortable. Not every counsellor is a good match for everyone – they can’t be, and they know this and so will not mind if, after talking to them it doesn’t feel right for you. They may even be able to offer some alternative names of therapists that they would recommend, if you ask them to.
Once you have found a counsellor you feel comfortable with, decide if you are ready to start therapy. If you are ready straight away and the counsellor has availability you’re off. If the counsellor has not got availability at the moment and you are happy to wait, check if they have a waiting list and roughly how long it is – this gives you choice as to whether you want to wait that long or whether you want to continue your search. Maybe you find the right counsellor but don’t feel ready to start therapy straight away – that’s ok too. Keep their details and get in contact if/when you are ready. Counselling for me, is about empowering the client to make choices based on their needs. The client is the expert on themselves, they know what works and doesn’t work for them, what they are willing and not willing to do and who feels right or not to talk to and this empowerment starts with the choice of counsellor!
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For more about telephone, online and walking counselling offered by Sian-Claire Counselling go to www.sian-clairecounselling.com
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