Searching for a therapist
During my counselling training at the University of West of England, I had to undergo a period of personal therapy in order to experience first-hand how it feels to be in the client’s chair and to work on any issues holding me back from being authentic and feeling comfortable in my own skin. I very much liked the prospect of getting my teeth into the therapeutic process and looked forward (with some slight trepidation) to exploring novel ways of being and behaving.
Three counsellors to pick from
My first question was ‘Where should I look for a counsellor?’ I wanted to find somebody I could trust, somebody who knew what they were doing, and somebody who would ultimately help me to become a good therapist myself. I did not have a personal recommendation so I did some research based on my particular interest in Gestalt therapy and eventually found three Gestalt therapist who lived fairly close to my my home. I decided that I will contact them all, meet them for an initial session and then decide which one to work with.
A revealing experience
This experiment was extremely revealing. The three therapists were very different from each other and in fact the only thing they had in common was that they all called themselves a ‘therapist’.
I realised that neither the length of their training nor the years of experience were the main decisive factors. What became obvious to me was the importance of a connection between me and the prospective therapists. During each of my initial sessions, I paid attention not only to what they said, but also to how I felt in their presence – welcomed or scrutinised, accepted or subtly judged, truly heard or misunderstood. Ultimately, what made the biggest difference was the level of chemistry and a sense of feeling at ease. Each of them was a professional with plenty of experience but my feelings towards them varied greatly, and I ended up choosing the person I resonated with the most.
Freedom to choose what works
Had I been in a rush or pushed by circumstances to accept the first therapist on offer, I would have perhaps ignored my feelings and forced myself to work with him. The fact that I saw three practitioners gave me the freedom to choose the person who was attuned to me the most, and this was crucial. In order for therapy to be effective, we need to allow the counsellor to become an important person in our life (this is called therapeutic alignment) and if we don’t feel comfortable with the therapist or can’t trust them, this level of intimacy will be impossible to achieve.
When you pay for private counselling, it is much easier to pick and choose the person and the therapy that suits you. As I described in my other post, the possibilities are (almost) endless. If you opt for a free NHS counselling, I suggest that during your initial assessment appointment (which will most likely be on the phone) you enquire whether for any future appointment you can see a male or female counsellor, according to your preferences, and ask about the choice of therapies – such as group CBT courses, one-to-one CBT or one-to-one counselling. Once your sessions start and you realise that the practitioner is inexperienced, you can’t relate to them properly or simply don’t gel with them, contact the office and ask to be seen by somebody else. If you are nice about it and explain the reasons, they should offer you an alternative, so don’t feel bad about asking.
When we feel low, lack mental energy or experience anxiety, we might be inclined to accept the first therapeutic intervention that is offered to us, regardless of who the counsellor is and whether we feel connected to them or not. My advice is for you to remember that you have the right to pick and choose, and that your decision has to feel right. Of course that one has to be flexible and not expect a perfect therapist who offers a miraculous cure, but don’t forget to trust your gut – it will tell you if you are in the right hands.