Often at Take This we’re asked, “How do I find a therapist?” Many people who decide that speaking to a therapist or counsellor is the next step in addressing mental health issues don’t know where to start or how to find the therapist that will be right for them.
It can be an intimidating challenge. Effective therapy requires trust in your therapist and a relationship that can be difficult to create with a stranger, especially one whom you may know nothing about.
While we can’t define who the right therapist may be, we can provide some tools to help finding the best fit, or at least some things to think about. Often it takes multiple tries to find a therapist that feels like a good fit. Because it didn’t work with one therapist, doesn’t mean there isn’t a therapist who can help.
What should I do before I start therapy?
Before you even start your first session, there are a few important things you’ll want to think about.
- Are you in crisis? Therapy can be incredibly helpful for dealing with all kinds of concerns. However, sometimes just making an appointment with a therapist isn’t enough. If you feel that you are currently a danger to yourself or others, or if you have active thoughts or plans to kill yourself or someone else, you must seek help right away. Call 999, National Suicide Prevention Helpline: (6 pm to 3:30 am every day) on 0800 689 5652, Samaritans: 116 123 (24/7) or take yourself to your nearest Accident and Emergency (A&E).
- Try to get an idea of what you want out of therapy. It’s okay if you don’t have a perfect answer, but it can be very helpful to your search if you have an idea of why you want to pursue therapy. Do you want to develop better-coping skills? Break a bad habit? Work on your social skills? Improve your mood? If you’re having trouble verbalising it, it can be helpful to ask, “If I were to wake up tomorrow and things would be better, what would be different? What would that look like?”
- Understand how access to therapy: There are several ways to access therapy in the UK, including but not limited to:
- Through the NHS/your General Practitioner (GP) or self-referral (Click here)
- Through your workplace or School/College/University
- Through a national/local charity
There are pros and cons to each of these routes. It’s up to you to consider which is best. Non-private services can have wait times of several weeks, sometimes months, and often have a limited number of sessions before being able to re-apply. However, this shouldn’t be a deterrent!
4. Commit to change. For many people the hardest part is admitting things to themselves – like they might need support. But this is absolutely, ok. It should be considered an achievement to get here and take steps to engage in change. It’s important to note that therapy is a journey, and it can have good, and not-so-good moments. Importantly though, the therapy process tends to have better outcomes when people communicate their concerns to the therapist.
So, where do I start looking?
Going through your GP or workplace/institution won’t provide much choice as to who the therapist is – however, Goodness of fit (discussed below) is still important. If considering a local org, or private this will require some searching.
Get a referral.
Friends, colleagues, peers, and leaders in your community may have resources and information for access routes. When asking these people, it’s important to ask yourself two questions:
“Do I trust this person to know that I’m seeking help?”
“Is this person’s reference suited to my needs?”
For some, the idea of pursuing therapy feels uncomfortable and private. Therefore, consider whom you are asking for referrals and how they might treat your private information.
If asking around isn’t your thing, or if you’re looking for a more extensive search, internet databases are a great place to start.
In the UK the Professional Standard Authority have a 3-step system to search databases and professional bodies that therapists will be registered with. It can feel overwhelming, but see Legitimacy and Licensure below for more details. Another route is to look for local charity organisations, and there are many of these available. These orgs can vary depending on where you are, so making use of a map-related search might be useful.
What should I look for when selecting my therapist?
While there are a lot of factors that determine how “good” a therapist is (see below), there are four very important considerations to make:
1. Legitimacy and Licensure. One of the biggest problems in seeking a mental health professional in the UK is that “therapist” and “psychologist” are NOT protected titles. This means that anyone can call themselves one. This isn’t ideal and therefore titles like “mindset coach”, “Life therapist,” make things so confusing. Equally, not every therapist needs to have “Dr” at the start of their name. There are three main types of mental health professionals a person might encounter:
· Psychiatrist – has a medical degree and specialised in the brain/psychology. They can provide prescriptions. Often, psychiatrists work in hospitals or facilities rather than provide publicly available therapy.
· Psychologist – Psychologists do a lot of different work. Research, teaching, and can include expert or therapeutic work. Psychologists typically complete a doctorate in psychology, usually a research-focussed PhD. However, some psychologists qualify as “psychotherapists” if they complete additional, clinically focused, supervised training and register with a psychotherapy council.
· Counsellor – Counsellors are arguably the most accessible type of therapist in the UK. They may have one or more degrees in counselling, counselling and psychology, or may have completed a counselling-specific course. They typically engage in talking therapies, most commonly Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
Please note: In the UK only medical doctors can prescribe medications. If needed, speak to your GP or a psychiatrist about prescriptions.
If you have questions about the qualifications of your mental health provider, they should be able to readily provide transparent documentation, including their training, licensure status, and any governing bodies to which they belong. The three most common governing bodies are:
2. Distance and Travel. When looking for a therapist, make sure you have consistent access to transportation to their location. If you have to take a train and two unreliable buses to get somewhere, you might want to consider someone more local. Equally, you can consider if your therapist conducts therapy online. You’ll need the right devices and privacy, but this can be an option to look for.
3. Goodness of fit. This is probably the most important aspect of all! Having a good relationship with your therapist is the biggest factor in successful therapy. Even though the therapeutic relationship is very different from a friendship, there are a lot of similarities that can help you decide how well you fit together!
· You should feel comfortable with your therapist. Comfort is hard to put into words, but it’s usually characterised by trust, feelings of non-judgement, a willingness to be honest, and even safety in broaching areas of conflict or misunderstanding to resolve them. While you probably won’t divulge your deepest darkest secrets in your first session, you’ll probably get an intuitive feeling of how well you could eventually open up to this person. It might take a few tries to find a therapist you’re comfortable with – just like you try out lots of friends before finding a best friend!
· You should feel respected by your therapist. Do they give you space to talk? Do they take time to answer your questions?
· You should feel empathy from your therapist. It’s true that many people struggle with similar issues, and it’s true that experience working with those issues can inform therapists for future clients. However, your therapist should be concerned with you and how you experience your issues. You should never feel like “just another client,” or that your therapist’s experience means more than yours.
4. Therapy doesn’t last forever. Therapy is commonly in blocks of six to twelve weeks. However, more sessions can be requested. Many people initially go to therapy with a goal in mind, and how long it takes to achieve this can vary. Even private therapists may not offer therapy indefinitely. This is nothing to be alarmed by, and any changes in therapy is rotted in communication between you and the therapist.
About the author: Chris Leech is a 2nd Year PhD researcher from the UK. Chris’ PhD is in Psychology, looking at video games and student mental health. Chris is also a content creator – streaming and hosting a monthly podcast. Chris is one of the Take This Streaming Ambassador class of 2021/2022 and on the Community Review Board.
This article is not a substitute for medical advice or professional counseling. While we at Take This want to provide you with resources, we do not recommend or endorse any particular site, treatment, therapy, or resource. We provide these links at our sole discretion but have not necessarily vetted or reviewed any particular resource. We assume no liability for the use of the information or resources on these sites and encourage you to use your own best judgment when reviewing these resources.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, in need of immediate intervention, and based in the UK, Call 999, National Suicide Prevention Helpline: (6 pm to 3:30 am every day) on 0800 689 5652, Samaritans: 116 123 (24/7) or take yourself to your nearest Accident and Emergency (A&E). Information for other countries/areas can be found here.