What matters (and what doesn't) when choosing a therapist

If you've decided to look for a private counsellor or psychotherapist, where to start can be pretty daunting. 


Unlike NHS patients (who will be put on a waiting list and in the majority of cases will simply be sent for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy,) as a private client, you have all options open to you.

While this provides you with an increased level of autonomy and a decidedly shorter waiting list, it can easily feel like you've fallen into an alphabet soup of possibilities - CBT, CFT, EMDR, and PCT to name but a few.

What type of therapy is right for you? 

So how do you know what the right type of therapy is for you, or even what all the different therapies do and don't offer?

Well, luckily, the answer can be remarkably simple.

It doesn't actually matter. Or at least not as much as you might initially think. 

It's about the quality of your relationship 

While there may be therapists who will absolutely insist that their chosen modality is 'the one true way', research has repeatedly shown that, actually, the single biggest factor that impacts how well counselling sessions go is the quality of the relationship between you and your counsellor.

After all, someone can be incredibly well educated, have prestigious titles, letters after their name and have lots of experience, but if their way of being doesn't mesh with yours, leaving you feeling misunderstood, or condescended to, it's unlikely to get you where you want to be. One researcher, Dr Edward Bordin, defined a good therapeutic relationship as needing:

  • A base of trust, consideration and respect
  • clear and agreed goals for therapy
  • and the ability to work together within the treatment

It's the way that they do it

One way to look for these things is to take advantage of a preliminary call before you book a session. Lots of counsellors on Counselling Directory will offer a free introductory call. This is an excellent space for you to start talking to them and explain a little bit about what's going on for you, and what you are looking for. 

Try setting up calls with a few different counsellors, and then ask yourself the following questions about each one.

  • Did you feel listened to and heard?
  • Did you experience their words as genuine and caring?
  • Do you feel they were confident in their approach?
  • If you felt that there was a problem with the way therapy was going, or you were uncomfortable, do you feel you could speak up about it? 
  • Do you think they understand what it is you want to achieve?
  • Do you feel like you "clicked"?

While trust and depth of a relationship can be built over time, there does need to be a foundation to start with. Think about your emotional response to each of the counsellors and consider why you are drawn to one and not another.  While each counsellor may be an expert in their field, you are the expert on yourself and will know what feels right for you at that time.

An ongoing process

The final thing to bear in mind is that your choice of therapist is not set in stone. What might seem to work, to begin with, may not work forever. You may want a different approach: your availability might change, or as you change due to therapy, what you need from your therapist will change too. Keep talking to your therapist about these considerations, as you go, allowing the therapeutic relationship to grow and support these changes, and bringing it to a close when it's the right time to move on to the next step.

Good luck with your search and your journey.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Manchester, Greater Manchester, M25
Written by Charlotte Clegg, MSc, MBACP.
Manchester, Greater Manchester, M25

Charlotte is a person-centred therapist with a lifelong interest in why people choose the paths they do - and a passion for helping people make those paths easier.
Away from the counselling room, she works for a mental health charity doing community outreach projects.
She primarily offers sessions remotely.

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