Are you or someone close to you looking for counselling or psychotherapy? There are many factors involved in finding the right therapist. In choosing a counsellor or therapist, it helps to have prepared some questions to ask.
You will probably be asking about when and where the therapy takes place, how much it costs and other practicalities. But it is wise to to check also that the therapy on offer is right for your needs. (By the way, don’t worry about the difference between ‘counselling’ and ‘psychotherapy’. No one agrees on this! Here I will call them both ‘therapy’.)
Directories of counsellors and psychotherapists offer many types of therapies. But no single type of therapy can address all the issues that human beings face. And most therapists train in a particular way, then add other ways of working and develop their own styles. Or they train in many styles, but each to a lesser degree.
It is impossible to be totally 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. To do this, it helps to know some of the right questions to ask the counsellor or therapist.
Three important questions to ask when choosing a counsellor or therapist
Here are three important questions to ask a counsellor or therapist about their style:
- Which sort of therapy (or ‘model’) do you use?
- What will therapy with you look like?
- Do I need specialist therapy?
1. Question to ask a counsellor or therapist: why is this the best sort of therapy for my issues?
A good first step in understanding what a therapist offers is to ask them what type or ‘model’ of therapy they provide. You may also hear the word ‘modality’ used, which means roughly the same as ‘model’. 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, that’s fine, because some people like to know them and maybe learn more about them. But they can sound rather technical and confusing. Researching them may not be what you want to do when feeling anxious or distressed.
For example, my explanation of how I work 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, you could check the therapist’s profile or website for these details and then ask them about it. But you might prefer to go beyond the labels and ask the more direct question:
Why is this the best sort of therapy for my issues?
The therapist’s answers should give you some confidence that how they work is a good fit for you. If so, great! But if doesn’t, feel free to ask more questions. If it still doesn’t feel right, then maybe it isn’t.
Know what ‘integrative’ means
A therapist may tell you their model or style is ‘integrative’. That means they bring together different models of therapy into a single whole and then select what suits 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 the same thing. In any case, there are few therapists these days who work with only one single model. The next question (2) aims to to sort this out – or at least make a start!
If you can, talk to people who have already been to that therapist or at least had that sort of therapy, or research it for yourself. Whatever you do, don’t skip the next question!
2. Ask: what does your sort of therapy look like in practice?
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!
When thinking about which questions to ask a counsellor or therapist, a challenging one is to ask how their sort of therapy will looks in practice. 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! But it is still a reasonable question. So ask:
What will therapy with you look like in practice?
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! (Click on the next link to find out other features of how I work.)
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.