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  • Dr Heather Dyson

Six Factors To Consider When Searching For A Therapist


People choose to engage in therapy for a variety of reasons. It may be that you want a place to reflect on your experiences and how they have made you the individual you are today, or you might want to process traumatic experiences that you’ve had. Whatever the reason, finding the right therapist for you, can often be challenging.


Here are some factors that you might want to consider before your start your search.


1. Are they registered with The Health and Care Professions Council or another governing body?

The Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) is an independent regulator which keeps a register for healthcare professionals (including practitioner psychologists) in the UK. Only professionals who meet the standards the HCPC sets for their training, professional skills, behaviour, and health, are allowed to register. It is a legal requirement for practitioner psychologists (e.g. counselling/clinical/educational/forensic psychologists) to be registered with the HCPC and individuals practicing without registration can be prosecuted.

Many people are unaware that the term “psychologist” isn’t a protected title. Only titles such as counselling psychologist and clinical psychologist, etc, are protected. Sadly, there are individuals who play on this lack of knowledge and claim to be “psychologists” when in reality they have no qualifications or experience in mental health. Consequently, when reviewing their website, be wary of anyone who does not specify what type of psychologist they are. Likewise, you can always ask your psychologist for their HCPC registration details, or check the register yourself. This will ensure that you are accessing therapy from a fully qualified individual, with the knowledge and skills to help you.


This register is particularly useful if you are looking for a psychologist but less useful if you are looking for a counsellor, psychotherapist, or life coach, as none of these professionals have to be registered. In these cases, checking the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy or The British Psychological Society will help to ensure that you are speaking with a registered and reliable individual.


2. Do they have the right qualifications for what you need?

There are lots of different reasons why people access therapy. For some it may be accessing support through life transitions such as divorce, career changes, or needing a place to explore some of their thoughts and experiences. For others, they may need more targeted help to manage distressing emotions (e.g. anxiety, depression, etc), behaviours (substance misuse, risk taking behaviours, etc), or process traumatic experiences. Consequently, finding the right type of therapist to help you can be extremely important. You wouldn’t ask an electrician to build a brick wall.


Psychologists have had to complete at least an undergraduate degree in psychology, several years as an assistant psychologist, followed by a doctorate in psychology. Consequently, they tend to have a wide knowledge base and experience to help with a diverse range of difficulties. Counselling and Clinical psychologists will often be trained in different therapeutic approaches, from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to psychodynamic and existential therapies and are idea therapists for anyone experiencing emotional distress.

However, due to their level of skill and knowledge, psychologists are frequently more expensive than their counsellor/life coach counterparts and therefore, for some of us, it may be financially advantageous to work with one of those professionals. Counsellors and life coaches can offer significant therapeutic benefits for many individuals with mild symptoms of anxiety or depression, or provide support through difficult life events such as relationship breakdowns or bereavement.


3. Do they have the right knowledge and experience?

It can feel overwhelming running through hundreds of profiles on websites like Counselling Directory, or Psychology today, trying to work out which therapist is right for you. There appears to be an increase trend for psychologists and therapists to advertise that they are able to work with every single mental health diagnosis known to psychiatry.


In my clinical (and possibly slightly contentious) opinion, I feel that whilst there is increasing pressure to diversify skills, it is better to access therapy from someone who specialise in the area that you are looking for support in. Again, we wouldn’t be asking a general labourer to plaster your walls or fit your kitchen cabinets. Whilst they still might do a good job, it will likely take them longer, and the finish might not be quite as what we wanted. Consequently, taking time to review individual profiles, whilst time consuming at the beginning, may save you a lot of time (and money!) in the long run.


When looking for your therapist, you can always consider contacting them and asking questions about their experience. For example, how long have you been qualified? Do you have experience working with ‘X’ type of difficulties? What would you recommend in terms of treating ‘X’, and why? Most therapists are more than happy to speak to you at length about how they practice and what they offer, in order for you to be able to make an inform decision about whether or no your would like to work with them.


4. Do you like your therapist?

There are several factors which result in successful therapeutic outcomes. However, by far the most important is that you like your therapist. You may have found the leading expert on your difficulties but if you do not have a strong therapeutic relationship with that therapist, it may be exceptionally difficult for you feel safe enough to explore your thoughts and feelings with them. Consequently, at best making therapy slow and uncomfortable, and at worst highly distressing.


Therapists frequently offer free initial consultations which can give you a chance to ask them questions and get a sense about who they are as a therapist/person, as well as how they work. Again, whilst this can make finding a therapist more time consuming, spending the time finding a therapist you feel safe with will pay off in the long run.


5. In-person or online?

This is purely a personal choice and there isn’t a right or wrong answer. Online therapy offers significant benefits in terms of flexibility. You are able to access your therapy all around the world which can be particularly useful if you travel for work, or if you want to see you therapist during your lunch hour etc. However, some individuals prefer to have in-person therapy as this can help to provide a sense of connection with the therapist which can be a bit more challenging online. Indeed, some therapies, such as Equine-facilitated psychotherapy, require the sessions to be person and cannot be provided online.


In my private practice, I have been able to provide both online and in-person therapy with excellent outcomes. The important thing when considering what’s best for you, is how experienced your therapist is with the type of therapy you would like to access, and how experienced they are with providing it online. Finally, taking time to consider what is best for you. If you want in-person therapy, then this is the best type of therapy for you. If you want online therapy, then this is the best type of therapy for you.


6. Can you access therapy somewhere else for free?

With the ever-increasing cost of living, money has become a concern for many individuals. Whilst accessing private therapy can often mean being seen more quickly, financially it is not always a viable solution for individuals. In the first instance, you might consider speaking with your GP who may know about services in your local area. Alternatively, you can type into Google where you live, followed by “IAPT services” (e.g. Bracknell IAPT services). This will give you the contact details of your local increasing access to psychological therapy service (IAPT service). These services offer free cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) sessions for low to moderate mental health difficulties. They are also able to refer to other providers if necessary.


Below are other organisations which offer access to therapy for various individuals or difficulties…


  • Addiction Support and Care Agency (ASCA) – Substance and alcohol misuse services based in Richmond and Kingston - https://www.addictionsupport.co.uk/

  • Campaign Against Living Miserably – CALM is a charity dedicated to preventing male suicide – www.thecalmzone.net

  • Child Bereavement UK – Supports families when a baby or child dies or is dying, or when a child is facing bereavement. - www.childbereavementuk.org

  • Combat Stress – This charity provides Veterans from the British Armed forces with access to inpatient and outpatient therapeutic interventions - https://combatstress.org.uk

  • Cruse Bereavement Support – This organisation is the UK’s leading bereavement charity - www.cruse.org.uk

  • Police Care – This service offers support for serving and veteran police officers and staff, volunteers, and their families who have suffered physical or psychological harm as a result of policing - https://www.policecare.org.uk/

  • Relate – Relationship counselling including family counselling, mediation, children’s counselling, and sex therapy. They also provide informal workshops for people at important stages in their relationships - https://www.relate.org.uk/

  • The Fire Fighter’s Charity – This charity provides support for serving and retired members of the fire service, and their family members - https://www.firefighterscharity.org.uk/

  • Young Minds – This charity promotes the wellbeing and mental health of young people – www.youngminds.org.uk.


If you have any questions or just want to talk through your options in terms of therapy, please contact me either through my website https://www.drhdysonpsych.com/ or email me at drheatherdyson@gmail.com


Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

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