Choosing a good therapist is a bit like choosing a good hairdresser
This week’s blog isn’t about making the decision about starting counselling, I’m going to save that one for another week. I’m starting one step further on, to try to help you figure out how to make the difficult choice of which therapist to do your self-work with. I often explain this to new clients as being a really tricky thing, a bit like choosing a hairdresser that you trust to give you a great ‘do’. Bear with me, another true story: I’ve only really had TWO hairdressers since I turned 10 year’s old! Curly hair comes with significant hairdressing risks – one inch shorter with wet hair can be a DISASTER when those curls dry out. I choose my hairdressers very carefully; when I moved to Melbourne, I did so much research before I eventually got my first hair cut – WOMO, Facebook – you name it, I researched it.
Interestingly, when it comes to counselling, the research suggests that the thing that really makes counselling effective, worthwhile and productive is what’s called the ‘therapeutic alliance’ or the relationship that is unique between a Counsellor and a client. It’s kind of like the ‘magic sauce’ in a Big Mac…except I’m a vegetarian and I’ve no idea what a Big Mac actually tastes like, but hopefully you get my point.
So, what are some of the things that influence this ‘magic sauce’ in a therapeutic sense?
- Feeling seen and heard:
This might sound utterly intangible, but I think you need to feel that your agenda / therapy goals matter, that you feel that you are working collaboratively with your therapist. This means that you feel comfortable enough to ask them for clarification if you don’t understand something, that you feel able to ask questions about the approach that you’re taking and that you feel at ease in their presence. This is very much a felt experience of safety and validation.
- Therapist & practice vibe:
This is probably equally random, but we take a lot from how people dress, how they speak, their racial / ethnic / cultural background and awareness of alternative backgrounds that are different to their own, even things like their age or gender identity can all make a difference. Additionally, the feel of the practice / rooms that they work from – does it feel like the kind of place you feel at ease.
- Therapeutic approach:
This one matters in a few ways. Firstly, we all have different approaches or therapeutic modalities that we prefer to work with, are trained in and these usually fit with the kind of mental health challenges that we have a special interest in. Not all therapists for example work with couples / children / trauma / complex trauma / personality disorders etc. If you are looking to work with a specific type of therapy – CBT / EMDR / ACT / EFT / DBT (we love acronyms in the therapy world) you need to make sure that your therapist is trained to work with it.
- Practical things:
Considerations like location, days and times that the therapist works and in these current times, whether they are seeing people online, in person or both all need to be taken into account. As does availability of course. Sometimes you’ve waited a while to see someone and things have gotten to place where you can’t sit on a waiting list for weeks on end. If your mental health has deteriorated, it’s really important you get help – know where the emergency options are in your area (Lifeline / Beyond Blue / Mental Health Triage / Triple 000).
- Last but not least:
Make sure you’ve done your research – check out their website / Facebook / IG or feedback from people who know might have seen them. Do they have values that they have articulated and connect with you? And remember, you can ask to speak to them before you make your first appointment – you’re the client and whilst your therapist is the expert in counselling and mental health, you are the expert in YOU!
If you want to know more about our values and therapeutic vibe, or you haven’t found the right place to get help please get in touch with us: www.theabaker.com.au / firstname.lastname@example.org / 03 9077 8194.