Finding a therapist - that first step in seeking help
Interesting job - first ever article. Welcome - is that a good start? Seeking counselling can be a bit like that. Where do you start? Who do you talk to? Where do I find a counsellor? Will I like them, will they like me? This sounds a bit like dating?
One useful thing to remember is simply to take that first step, whether it be looking at a counselling directory, reaching out to someone who has a poster in the doctors or health care clinic. Getting familiar with the vast array of choices can be helpful.
Ask yourself: "What sort of person am I looking for?" You might see a pleasant face only to find they don't deal with your concern or you see someone who does but you don't like the look of them. This is all totally normal. Or you find someone who ticks the important boxes but they don't live near you, or they don't do Zoom, or their working hours don't fit yours. Making a shortlist can be useful in narrowing down the field.
Secondly, if you have been thinking of counselling, therapy or psychotherapy, what type do you choose? This is an important question and one to ask yourself. It will really help narrow down your search.
What about your anxiety or fear? Naming it helps. A good example could be the fear of spiders. This is quite common, however, if the fear becomes irrational it can govern our life; “Don’t ask me to go into the shed, there will be spiders”, you get sweaty hands and the lawn doesn’t get a trim. What is the irrational thought behind the fear? That’s for you to answer! The fact is that in the UK, spiders are pretty harmless and we can think about this and use it as the ‘key’ to going into the shed. This doesn’t make it easy straight away but you can start taking small steps towards the lawnmower.
For some people seeking therapy, they may be looking for a more holistic approach to meeting their needs. They may be looking for a bit more ‘soul searching’, where does this fear of spiders come from? What’s it like to sit here, think and be fearful of spiders? Maybe a humanistic approach could be what you are looking for? This can be a more meandering approach because a humanistic counsellor will let you guide your exploration as to your fear of spiders.
The humanistic counsellor takes a more mind, body and soul approach. Back to the spider in the shed. They may invite you to talk about your fears about going into the shed, asking how it feels in your body and what thoughts go through your head. What emotions does this combination stir up in you? This has the potential to be upsetting but a good therapist will gently guide you through your process.
By being mindful of what is happening to us when we stand outside the shed with a racing heart we can start to find our own way of accepting that which can lead to change. By sitting with those emotions we can allow the fear to lessen or pass us by. We learn to observe our emotions without becoming entangled with them.
Or we can challenge them.
Your counsellor will allow you to find your own solution or way of being with your fear. It is neither irrational nor rational - the fear just is. Through that exploration, we can often come up with how to work with the fear. It could be; take a big breath, count to 10 and go in (and that’s OK) or it could be speaking out and saying ‘I’m scared of spiders, can you get the lawnmower out for me?’ (that’s OK too), it could be talking to the spider in your mind or out-loud and telling it (or yourself) something ‘ha! I am not scared of you’ or ‘I’m coming in, don’t jump on me….’ or something else altogether.
You can travel back in time a bit and find the time when spiders were scary, such as a teasing family member or a nature program or a film that filled you with horror (Indiana Jones and Raiders of The Lost Ark). This can help us put that fear into perspective, giving us the opportunity to move on; ‘that film really scared me when I was eight but I am an adult now and I don’t have to be scared.’
The humanistic counsellor works with the fundamental belief that we all have our own answers and internal resources if we are given the space to find them in our own time. This means that there is no rush to achieve results and therapy will last as long as you find benefit.
Some of us look for practical solutions to what we are wanting to seek help with. We might be unable to sleep, switch off from the day, or may need help with problem-solving an issue at work. We could be ‘stuck’ with a certain way of thinking.
The search for practical solutions may suggest that a therapist specialising in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), it’s a method that considers our thinking and how we behave with the idea that we can change our behaviour once we become aware of how we think. We can learn to replace unhelpful irrational thoughts with helpful rational thoughts. I hasten to add I am not a CBT therapist.
There are many other types of therapy and these are a starting point. Both types of counselling are beneficial despite having different approaches. It’s really about what you want from your therapy and that can be a big question in itself.
Counselling is so much about what you want and that can often be the hardest first step.
There is no rush, unless you want to, in making contact. Maybe make a list of questions as sometimes mind blankness can strike. Remember there is no need to make a decision on the spot. It is OK to mull things over, it's OK not to make your mind up on the spot. You are allowed to think about if this counsellor is a good fit for your needs. Most importantly it is OK to change your mind. Often an introductory short session can help. Check their credentials if you are concerned about someone messing with your head (it happens!).
P.S. All typo's, grammatical errors are entirely mine - I am only human and no spiders were harmed in the writing of this article.