Making the choice to engage in therapy can feel daunting and scary. Sometimes this decision is made because a personal crisis has occurred, other times it occurs because there have been niggling patterns of behavior, moods or coping strategies that have been problematic for some time. Regardless of the reason, finding a therapist that best suits your needs can result in a therapeutic relationship that is at once, supportive, challenging and rewarding. Giving yourself permission to seek support and spend time working on your emotional health is a gift that hopefully you will reap the benefits of for many years, therefore it is important that to consider a few things that may enhance this process.
As a therapist it is a privilege to be trusted with the intimate thoughts and feelings of clients, and this trust must be treated with utmost respect and care. Some research has shown that the therapeutic relationship alone is the biggest indicator of successful outcomes in therapy so making the right choice can be hugely beneficial. Below are some things that you may like to consider. Only some of these suggestions may be important to you and they are designed for the individual to contemplate, not as rules.
- Socio-cultural factors – Each person will have a different idea about what they want from a therapist. You may want to contemplate if it is important for you to have someone of a similar cultural background who understands the nuances associated with it, sometimes this alignment can be a comfort. Other factors such as age or gender may also be salient to you, i.e. would you be more comfortable talking with an age group peer or would prefer someone of an older generation, is it critical for you to have a therapist of the same gender?
- Training and Therapy Offered – Most psychologists and counsellors will at least have a postgraduate qualification, in addition to this you may want to look at the types of therapies they have trained in and their previous work history. For example some therapies such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, Solution Focused Therapy and Mindfulness are excellent for assisting with present day functioning and problems. Other therapies such as Schema Therapy, Family Systems Therapy and Psychotherapy are beneficial in assisting clients with pattern behaviours and concerns that have their origins in childhood. You may also be after specialist counselling in grief, addiction, trauma or relationships. You should be able to find out most of this information from a therapist’s bio or when phoning to book an appointment. Please note that all therapists are trained to provide supportive, non-directive therapy regardless of the presenting issue.
- Availability – regard the therapist’s availability, do you require someone who has appointments after hours or are you flexible? Attending appointments at a time when you don’t have to rush off to work or straight to the children can allow you some quiet time for contemplation following the session. Consistent appointment availability weekly or biweekly should also be factored in.
- What to expect – regardless of whom you choose as your therapist, a good therapy session provides the opportunity for you to express your emotions, problems and concerns in a non-threatening way and for these to be heard and attended to in a non-judgemental, confidential space. Therapy provides the opportunity to be supported and feel validated and be assisted in processing and moving forward in a way that makes sense to you. Sometimes this can initially feel draining and emotionally painful but throughout the process hopefully it will also feel empowering and strengthening. You also have the right to switch therapists if the first one you try does not feel like a good fit for you. We are all human and what one person connects to in another is not necessarily the same as the next person.
There is no set formula or absolute linear pathway through therapy but committing to the process of attending to your emotional health can have wonderful repercussions for self-awareness, interpersonal relationships, your resilience and emotional stability. Having sat in both chairs as a therapist and a client and I can say that if you are contemplating seeking support it is unlikely that you will be sorry about taking the leap. Making that first appointment can be the most difficult part. Hopefully the above suggestions may make the process easier and you have a positive therapeutic experience.
Dr Rachel Upperton
B.A. Psych (Hons) PhD