It’s really easy to pick a therapist - true or false?
Let’s get to the point. The answer is “FALSE.” It’s pretty hard to pick a therapist.
I mean, our ethical codes mean that we don’t quote what our patients say about us. We don’t say, “9/10 people are very satisfied with my services"; or “call patient X who can give you a personal review of my services.” We don’t ask patients to fill out feedback forms. We don’t ask them to post reviews online. In fact, we do everything in our power to keep the sessions discreet, private and confidential. That’s probably one of the top things we do. We don’t tell big brother, or your partner, or your parents, or your employer what goes on. So it’s really pretty hard to know what people who come to us think about us, and even if a patient did give an unsolicited good review, does that mean they are talking about a good therapist? No, it might just mean they are talking about a popular therapist, who just wanted to be liked, and told the patient just what they wanted to hear, in some form of mutual admiration club.
Also, if you are seeing a therapist, and you like them, you are not going to be super keen to share them with your friends. Most people would rather keep a good therapist to themselves. And if a friend did want to share the details of good therapist they were still seeing, you might wonder why? Did they want to compare notes with you? Is it easier for them to sort out your problems than their own? Are they setting up some sort of bizarre psychotherapeutic rivalry where you have to compete for the therapist’s attention?
So, given all that, it’s a very tricky field. To add to the complexity, therapists are often rather cagey about recommending other therapists. That could be to do with professional envy, or the fact that they really don’t know what their colleagues are like as therapists. Even if you spend years training and working with colleagues, you still don’t know what they are like, one on one, in a therapeutic setting. Your colleagues could be annoying, irritating and spookily weird in public group settings, but totally devoted and brilliant in the privacy of the therapeutic setting. Also, every therapist and every patient is unique, which makes it hard to predict which matches will work. Rather like trying to recommend a partner for your unattached niece or nephew, it’s a treacherous business, what if it goes all wrong: will the patient come back and blame you?
So, you might find yourself browsing the internet and trying to find a therapist. You might read psychoanalyst Anouchka Grose’s book, “Are you Considering Therapy?” to get an idea of how to pick a good therapist, to familiarise yourself with some of the many approaches and philosophies. Or you might go in cold, just reading the profile and looking at the pictures. Your rational mind might read about the therapist’s experience, their qualifications, and impressive sounding titles and memberships, but perhaps you’re looking for someone modest who doesn’t shout about their achievements. At the same time your irrational mind, your unconscious, might be dreaming about if this person is the one that can help you wrestle with whatever is on your mind, be it for a few months, or decades to come. You might like the shape of someone’s nose, their eyes; when you speak to them on the phone to arrange an appointment you might find something valuable in their voice, some deep understanding. All of these conscious and unconscious factors are in the mix.
Finding the right therapist is rarely a straight line, it is full of false starts, setbacks, and dogged determination. Perhaps it is the complexity and effort required that makes it all the more valuable when you do feel you have really found the therapist for you.
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About Ajay Khandelwal
Ajay Khandelwal is the Clinical Director of Lambeth and Southwark Mind and a psychotherapist in Private Practice