The benefits of private therapy

Private counselling and psychotherapy have become more affordable in the last year, with the COVID-19 pandemic causing many professionals to switch to working remotely. This has allowed them to reduce their costs and pass on savings to clients. At the same time, almost double the number of people as last year are experiencing depressive symptoms, so if you’re feeling low, now could be a great time to skip the queue for NHS therapy and go private.

Being a client, rather than patient

Through private sessions, your therapist may see you as a client, rather than a patient. As you’ll have a bigger role to play in deciding to start, stop or continue the sessions, you may feel that you have more control over the course the relationship takes. You’ll be a paying client, rather than a beneficiary of an NHS service, and you might find that sessions are better focussed on your needs, rather than meeting diagnostic criteria or treatment targets. So, if your goal is improving a personal relationship, or better understanding a prior experience, then you could find that more attention is paid to this, and less time spent on discussing weekly depression and anxiety scores.

You may also experience greater flexibility when it comes to scheduling. Private therapists tend to offer a greater number of appointments at evenings and weekends, which usually makes it easier to see them around your own working hours.

Additionally, while most sessions are offered virtually via telephone or video at the moment, in-person sessions may become the norm again soon, and private therapists are usually able to offer a more comfortable setting – be it a private office or dedicated space in their own homes. This can create a more relaxing atmosphere in comparison to locations such as local NHS health centres.

With private therapy, you can search for someone who has a similar cultural or linguistic background, or has the same sexual orientation, so that there’s less to explain and you feel fully understood.

A therapist who is a better fit

By opting to have therapy privately, you will have a greater range of professionals to choose from. Make sure to find out which approach your prospective therapists are using and consider how this may be helpful to you. A vast range of modalities exist, from psychodynamic therapy, which examines unconscious processes and childhood experiences, to cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT, which focuses on thought patterns and how these make us feel and act. If you’ve had therapy in the past, think about which aspects of it have been worthwhile, and what you’d like to work on going forwards.

Compare this to the NHS, where low-cost interventions such as CBT are normally offered first, and treatments such as dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) may require recipients to have a specific diagnosis before they can be ‘unlocked’, as per National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines. Private therapy increases access, making the client the key decision-maker, supported by the expertise of the therapists with whom they work.

However, research has shown that the most important factor in successful therapy isn’t the approach therapists use, but the rapport you develop with them. Spending a few minutes with a counsellor or psychotherapist on the phone can help you gauge whether you are likely to ‘get on’ with them, and some even offer a free trial session. With private therapy, you can search for someone who has a similar cultural or linguistic background, or has the same sexual orientation, so that there’s less to explain and you feel fully understood.

Although finding the right therapist can be tricky, spending time researching the available options and getting a feel for how your relationship might develop can be worthwhile to help you feel more comfortable, make the sessions most effective, and save you time and money, especially if you are hoping to continue in the long-term.

Lastly, organisations such as the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) set standards for therapeutic practice. By checking that your therapist is accredited by them, you’ll have assurance that you’ll receive a service that meets their standards. 

On Counselling Directory, all therapists have met our proof policy guidelines, meaning that they have provided proof of membership with a recognised professional body.

Getting the timing right

NHS counselling and psychotherapy sessions are often limited by the availability of resources. As mentioned, this may mean that you have to wait for your GP to refer you to a service or join a waiting list in order to be seen. After an initial assessment, most patients are offered either six or 12 sessions, during which time it is hoped their symptoms will improve. While this is the case for most, longer-term therapy allows more time to explore issues and work in-depth. You may feel reassured by knowing that your therapist will be there to support you over the coming months.

If your needs change, you may be able to increase the length of sessions with your therapist or see each other more frequently. If you feel things aren’t working out or you no longer require sessions, a private arrangement makes it easy to end or switch to a different professional. Ask your therapist about their policy on ending sessions before you start seeing them or check the contract that you are likely to be given for their ‘notice period’.

It’s important to make a careful investment, so take advantage of your wide choice, spend time searching online and speaking to therapists before making your decision.

Conversely, while long-term therapy may be a great option for some, others might feel they only need a time-limited intervention to resolve a particular problem. This, coupled with regular reviews of your progress together, can help ensure that the partnership remains effective. It can also help to keep costs down too.

Prices for a 50-minute session tend to range from about £35 to £60, depending on location and the approach your therapist offers. If you’re a student, unemployed or have a low income, you may be able to find professionals who offer a reduced rate. Check their profile or ask to see what’s available.

If you’re finding it difficult to justify the cost of private counselling, you may find this article on making peace with the cost of counselling by counsellor Helen Sargent useful.

Keeping things private

Finally, some people choose to see a therapist privately because it gives them greater separation from the rest of their life. Although services are available through GPs and NHS-funded mental health services, many people are worried about perceived mental health difficulties appearing on their medical records. For those who already have access to counselling and psychotherapy through their school, university or workplace, they may worry about peers, colleagues and staff knowing that they have accessed services. Having sessions independently of these organisations offers greater privacy.

Due to the duty of care that therapists have, there may still be times when some information may have to be disclosed to other professionals – such as if you or someone else is at risk of harm. However, these situations are rare, and your therapist should explain this to you when you begin sessions, or if they feel that your conversation may be approaching a topic where they may have to pass on information.

Even in situations like these, seeing a therapist who has no relationship to existing aspects of your life may give you the ‘buffer space’ you need to think and feel clearly about the concerns you bring to therapy.

Ultimately, there are many reasons why you may choose a private therapist. To be worthwhile, it’s important to make a careful investment, so take advantage of your wide choice, spend time searching online and speaking to therapists before making your decision. Although this may not be an option for all, the benefits of private therapy can be life-changing.

If you’re ready to start your therapy journey, we have over 18,000 counsellors working online and across the UK, waiting to hear from you. Simply browse profiles until you find the person you resonate with, and send them an email.

If you enjoyed this, you can read Rebecca’s other article, Four tips for getting the most out of online and telephone counselling.

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Written by Rebecca Morgan
Rebecca Morgan works within both the NHS and private health sector, supporting those suffering health conditions, learning difficulties, addiction, depression, anxiety and personality disorders. She has previously contributed perspectives on mental health to publications including The Huffington Post and Refinery29.
Written by Rebecca Morgan
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