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How do I know which is the right therapy or therapist for me?

With so many therapies and therapists to choose from, it can be a daunting and overwhelming process to find the right one for you. For some people, it can take various attempts to find the thing that fits for you, which can be a difficult and frustrating process.

What is it I want from therapy?
This may be about what outcomes you would like but also, what type of therapeutic approach you want. Do you want something that is shorter term and goal oriented (e.g. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) or something that is longer term and more exploratory (e.g. Psychodynamic Psychotherapy)? Do you just want to see someone once a week or more? Do you want something that is interpersonal and focusses on the therapeutic relationship or something that is based on building specific skills and coping strategies?

Is there evidence to suggest that this works for the problem I’m experiencing?
For most psychological and mental health difficulties, there is a well-established evidence base for therapies that are effective. That is not to say that other approaches will not work, but research has been undertaken to explore what works best and in which format (e.g. ideal number of sessions, individual, family or group approaches etc.). In the UK, the NHS work with the NICE guidelines as their framework, and whilst there will be an element of cost effectiveness that needs to be factored in to this, it is a good place to look for clear and consistent guidelines.

What are the psychologist’s / therapist’s qualifications and experience?
The term therapist is not a protected one, which means that essentially anyone can refer to themselves as this. You should therefore look for someone who is registered with a regulating body such as the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC), The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) and the British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP).

There is not a set number of years that you should look for a therapist to have been qualified – training to be a psychologist or therapist can take many, many years and many hours of practice before qualification. Therefore, even those who seem newly qualified will actually have a huge amount of experience.

What can I afford?
This is a difficult but important question to consider, particularly when embarking on therapy as you will want to know that you can budget for the length of time you are likely to need or want to have it. There can be a huge variation in cost between therapists, which mainly comes down to level of training and expertise (e.g. psychologists are likely to charge more because of their training and qualifications) and location (e.g. Central London is more expensive) as well as number of years qualified and working.

Whilst it would seem reasonable to go with whatever is the most cost effective in the short term, if this isn’t the right type of therapeutic approach for you and your difficulties, this may not be money well spent. For this reason, it is important that you do some thinking and research when choosing the right person for you. Therapy is a huge investment emotionally and can also be financially, so it may be that after looking into it, you choose to wait and save for the therapy you feel is right for you. Alternatively, this may not be an option and you may need to look for free or low cost options, such as through the NHS, charitable organisations or for those who are in training and can offer sessions for a reduced fee.

What have I tried before (and what has this taught me)?
Maybe you have had therapy before via the NHS or privately and you just want a ‘top up’, so you could look to have some more of the same. Or possibly you found that what you had before didn’t work for you and you want to try something different. Alternatively, maybe what you did have was good at the time, but you feel that it focussed more on the here and now or surface level difficulties and you would like to explore things a little deeper.

So, ask yourself, ‘what did I like and what do I want more of?’ and ‘what didn’t I like and what would I want to be different?’

What is realistic for me (time, place, length of therapy)?
The timing of therapy can be a hugely important factor both in terms of how well it works but also how it impacts on your overall view of therapy. For therapy to work well, you need to feel ready and able to commit to it as well as it being the right therapy / therapist fit for you. Questions you could ask yourself are:

  • Do I have any plans coming up that might get in the way of me attending sessions (holidays, work commitments, childcare issues etc.)?
  • Can I find a psychologist / therapist that is in a good location for me to easily get to each week?
  • Do I have the resources to be able to commit for the time the therapy is likely to take (e.g. 10 sessions, 20 sessions, one year)?
  • Am I ready to do this right now or is there something big coming up that will stop me getting the most out of it? Or is it because of this that I should actually prioritise this therapy (e.g. a change in career, pregnancy, health difficulties)

There is no right or wrong answer in relation to choosing a therapy or type of therapist, so if it doesn’t work out in the way you hope, it doesn’t mean that you have done anything wrong or that it is your fault. Every experience is an opportunity to learn what helps and what doesn’t and what we can do with this valuable information to move forwards.