I came across a BBC podcast entitled ‘Mental Health Profiteers’ (https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000zt9y#:~:text=File%20on%204%20investigates%20the,health%20services%20on%20the%20NHS.) which highlighted how unqualified people are offering to cure serious mental health challenges like anxiety in a short space of time, often taking advantage of peoples’ desperate situations. It prompted me to write about some important considerations when looking for a private therapist, since an ever-increasing number of people are looking outside of typical routes like the National Health Service (NHS) due to high waiting lists or wanting a personalised service.
Currently in the UK, counselling and psychotherapy are not regulated in law. The terms ‘Counsellor’, ‘Psychotherapist’ and ‘Psychologist’ are not protected, which means that anyone can set up a practice and refer to themselves by these titles, regardless of qualification.
Just to add a little bit of confusion, some psychologist titles are protected, such as ‘Counselling Psychologist’, ‘Clinical Psychologist’ and ‘Practitioner Psychologist’. These tend to be regulated by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) (https://www.hcpc-uk.org/about-us/who-we-regulate/the-professions/) – practitioners have highly specific training and have the prefix Dr.
As in all professions, there are varying degrees of experience and competence, so here are 8 things to consider as a minimum when trying to find a private (psychological) therapist:
- Ensure that the therapist is a current member of a professional body.
This means that the therapist has trained to a minimum standard and takes responsibility for their continual development through reading, further training, and regular supervision from a more senior therapist. The therapist will follow an ethical framework, which helps them to make decisions with the best interests of the client in mind. This also gives the client someone to contact, should they be concerned about a therapist’s behaviour or practice. The main professional bodies in the UK are:
British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP)
UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP)
National Counselling Society (NCS)
British Psychological Society (BPS) – for Psychologists
British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Therapies (BABCP)
They all have therapist directories, which will enable you to find current members based on factors such as location.
- Use Your Gut Feeling
Current research shows that a major factor in successful therapy is the relationship between the client and therapist, regardless of the therapist’s years of experience or therapy style.
It is perfectly reasonable to contact a therapist based on how you experience their profile picture and information on their website and/or directory listing – this builds connection.
A therapist may offer an introductory call without charging a fee, so use this opportunity to see if the therapist comes across over the phone as they do on the website. Give yourself time to reflect after the call and ask yourself questions like: ‘How do I feel at the end of the call?’, ‘Do they come across the same over the telephone as they do online?’ and most importantly, ‘Could I build a trusted relationship with this person?’ Nothing is guaranteed of course, but positive feelings at this stage are a good sign.
You should expect a good therapist to make you feel heard, be authentic and easy to speak to so there is no need to compromise here.
It is right to acknowledge when a therapist does not feel right for you – speak to at least two or three before deciding.
- Consider Culture
Coming from an ethnic minority background or the LGBTQ+ community may mean that you benefit from working with a therapist that has experience of the unique challenges you face. You may want to look at specific directories including:
Black, African and Asian Therapists’ Network (BAATN)
Pink Therapy (working with gender, sexuality and relationship diversities)
Do not overlook general directories though, as therapists will highlight certain cultural considerations in their profiles:
- What Do You Want to Achieve from Therapy?
It is worth thinking about your goals for therapy. It may be that you need a space where you can offload your worries to someone outside of your family/friendships. You may have specific challenges that you want to work through or a general sense that something is not right in your life.
You certainly do not have to have all the answers but giving this some thought will help guide conversations with therapists that you may be considering working with. Therapy is a collaborative process, and the therapist may offer suggestions for you to think about to ensure that you both have a common goal for the work.
- Commitments in Time, Money, and Emotion
Good therapists provide incredible value to their clients and the process can be life changing. It is not simply business transaction (you can read my other blog about this here).
Receiving effective therapy can mean a significant commitment of time, money and emotions depending how long the therapy lasts (often months). Can you: commit to weekly sessions based on the therapist’s fee and associated commitments like travel (for face-to-face sessions), persevere through the challenging times and trust the process?
Here are some things that you should absolutely avoid:
- Therapists Who ‘Specialise’ in Everything
A good therapist will have certain interests and expertise, which they can bring to the work. They will be honest about their own ability and competence to work with you and your needs.
- Therapists Who Can Fix Things or Cure You
Therapy is a process and not a quick fix (people also make progress at different speeds). The process can be challenging, and often feel like no progress is being made. A good therapist will see your small wins along the way, keep track and let you know – sometimes even celebrate with you!
Therapy is not about fixing or curing things but raising your self-awareness and helping you to manage things in a more helpful way.
- Inappropriate Boundaries
Good therapists can (and should) be comforting and supportive but are professionals and must always remain so. They are not a friend and should never act like one.
In conclusion, a good therapist can help you to develop skills and confidence to deal with the mental health and wellbeing challenges that you face. Keeping these points in mind during your search will help you find the most appropriate person to work with – it will be worth the effort.
You can always contact me with any questions.