There are many factors involved in choosing the right therapist for yourself. An important one is deciding whether the sort of therapy being offered is right for you.
Directories of counsellors and psychotherapists offer a huge variety of types of counselling and psychotherapy. (Don’t worry here about the difference between ‘counselling’ and ‘psychotherapy’. No one agrees on this! Here I will call them both ‘therapy’.)
No single type of therapy can address all the issues that human beings face. So, most therapists train in a particular way, then add other ways of working and develop their own styles. It is impossible to be sure in advance whether a particular therapist’s way of working will be right for you. But it makes sense to find out what you can.
Three important questions about the sort of therapy
Here are three important questions you can ask a psychotherapist about their style:
- Which sort (or ‘model’) of therapy do you use?
- What will therapy with you look like?
- Do I need specialist therapy?
1. Ask: what sort of therapy do you offer?
A good first step in understanding what a therapist offers is to ask them what type or ‘model’ of therapy they provide. This information can be useful if explained well. However it may not be enough on its own, so here are some follow up questions.
Go beyond the labels
If the correct names are used you may need to do more work to understand them.
For example, my web page starts by saying that I trained first as a person-centred counsellor, then for five years using a contemporary psychodynamic model. But then there’s a whole lot more. And that’s just the simple answer. So, do check the therapist’s profile or website for these details and then ask them about it. But go beyond the labels and ask the killer question:
Why is this the best sort of therapy for my issues?
Know what ‘integrative’ means
A therapist may tell you they are ‘integrative’. That means they select techniques from different models of therapy which they believe suit you best. That’s perfectly valid and maybe reassuring. But it leaves you no wiser as to why you should choose that therapist over another who says exactly the same thing. In any case, there are few therapists these days who can honestly say they work with only with one single model.
If you can, talk to people who have had that sort of therapy already or research it for yourself. Both are good ideas if you have the opportunity. Either way, don’t skip the next question!
2. Ask: what does your sort of therapy look like?
Is it enough to offer a ‘safe space’?
Most therapists will explain that they offer a relationship or a space that is safe, non-judgmental and confidential. Or some variation on that. This is vital, of course! Your first conversations may give you a clue as to whether you feel comfortable with them. That is a good start but doesn’t help you choose one safe-feeling therapist over another. (And what happens if you don’t really feel safe with anyone?)
Be more challenging!
Asking a therapist what their sort of therapy looks like is a challenging question. Why? Because no therapist can tell you in advance how you will feel, or predict how things will develop between you and them. And because your simple question has a very complex answer!
What will therapy with you look like?
That said, the therapist should be able to tell you some key features of how they work that distinguish them from others. For example, I might tell you that it is common to reach a point in therapy where you can’t move forward. And that my training includes helping you find out what is causing the ‘stuckness’ so that you can get past it. And that in getting passed the stuckness, you often discover more about what caused you to look for a therapist in the first place. Double benefit!
3. Ask: do I need specialist therapy?
If you want your therapy to focus on one very specific problem, you may wish to consider a specialist model of therapy. For example, if you want to simply manage your day to day anger without looking too closely at its origins, you might see an anger management specialist. Or if you are having strong symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), you could consider a specialist treatment such as Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR).
Understanding what sort of therapy you need can be daunting, especially given the large variety and complicated wording. Don’t be afraid to ask a therapist you’re considering why their way of working is right for you. If you’re not sure what to ask, use the three questions set out above. You can also contact me by clicking here.