Choosing a counsellor
There are lots of different therapists out there. There are different ways of practising therapy ("modalities", to use the jargon) too. So, how to come to a decision when selecting the right therapist for you?
It's a good idea to examine yourself as honestly as possible. Ask, "What is that I really want?" You may find answering this question difficult. Don't worry. This is the start of your journey. Self-examination, and reflection, will help inform your decision making.
Do some research. You will soon learn something of the gestalt, person-centred or psychodynamic traditions – to give just three examples. Again, please don't worry if you find yourself uncertain or confused at this point. Your journey is under way. Each modality has its own theoretical backing. Typically, different modalities work at different speeds.
For example, hypnotherapy (to stop smoking, perhaps) may require just one or two sessions. A course of CBT might last as little as six weeks (though either may last longer). However, most therapies will require a longer commitment from you – anywhere from months, to years, of frequently painstaking work.
If you are going to spend this amount of time, effort and money working with a particular therapist, you should first work at finding one who feels right for you. Learning about the modalities is all very well, but you are going to be working with a real, live human-being. Do you want a woman or a man – or does this not matter? Are you willing to travel, or do you need a therapist who works locally? What modality has stirred your interest? Ultimately, don't be afraid to ask yourself, "Who do I most like the look of?"
Go through as many Counselling Directory profiles as you can, choose, and make contact. Many therapists will offer a free introductory session ("initial consultation") of between thirty and sixty minutes. This is an excellent opportunity for you to talk - not just about issues but about your life. It is also an opportunity for you to get a sense of the person in the room with you. What does spending time with this person feel like. Ask the therapist some questions – about their training, the way that they practice, or anything else you might want to know.
You will probably be feeling nervous during the initial consultation, even if you have had therapy before. This is natural. An experienced therapist will be very familiar with this nervous feeling of yours. In fact, painful feelings provide the bedrock of some of the most important therapeutic work to come.
But that's for later on, when you've chosen your therapist. For now, contact a second, third or fourth potential therapist - if the first does not quite work. Trust your instincts. Entering therapy is a big, bold step. There is the time and the money to consider – plus, all those painful feelings of yours. Ask yourself, "Might I learn to entrust my painful feelings to this person? Can I see us working successfully together?"
When you do find a therapist you think you can work with, commit to the sessions as fully as you are able. The time, money and effort will all be worth it. Because the goal of your therapeutic journey is, literally, life changing.
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About Tom Bailey
Tom is an integrative counsellor working in Chorlton, Manchester. Recent work has lead him into the realm of psychodynamic psychotherapy. In March 2017, he undertook a day of CPD with Professor Ernesto Spinelli; in June, a day's CPD with Professor Susie Orbach.