So, you’ve decided it’s worth seeing a therapist. You, and perhaps your partner, would be wise to spend a little time considering a few issues. Unfortunately the term ‘therapist’ is unregulated, but even if you’ve gone through a professional body to locate a qualified therapist there are still things to consider. Here’s a checklist to get you started.
The first question is for you. Why do you want therapy? What is it you hope to gain from seeing a therapist and what would you regard as a successful outcome? It’s very likely your therapist will ask similar questions and the reason for this is to assess how realistic your beliefs and expectations are.
Are there any particular qualities you want from your therapist? For example, would it be helpful if they had a military background? Should they ideally be male or female, older, younger or the same age as you?
What professional body is the therapist accountable to? A fully professional body will have specific codes of practice and ethical standards that ensure professional standards.
Does the therapist have clinical supervision? These days no therapist should practice without some form of clinical and professional supervision and updating. Very often a fully professional service will send you information in the form of a pamphlet or booklet outlining the ways you should protect yourself, what to look for, and how their services meet these standards.
Is there some form of contract between you and the therapist? Don’t sign up for open-ended treatments as most contracts specify a set number of sessions - which may be as few as six or around a dozen.
Does the therapist have some kind of referral system if you want to see a different therapist or if they require additional support?
Once the first session is over you should have a clear idea of what to expect from subsequent sessions. If you don’t then you should either check back with your question(s) or move on. Other questions to ask yourself are:
Did I get the feeling I was being listened to properly?
Did the therapist make me feel reassured and supported?
Did the therapist provide me with a clear impression that they work within a professional and ethically bound code of practice?
Did you feel the type of therapy (there are several) is for you?
If you can answer these questions to your satisfaction your therapeutic relationship is likely to be fulfilling. If you are ambivalent or feel any form of discomfort about the therapist or their methods, you should consider whether it is right for you. Remember, it’s only reasonable to feel a little self-conscious about self-disclosure, but your therapist should make you feel safe and secure.
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.