Updated: Feb 12, 2020
As it is World Mental Health Day, today may be the day that you start to think about reaching out to find someone to talk to about your mental health. So I want to talk about why it is so important to find the right therapist for YOU to get the most out of going to counselling.
Finding a therapist can seem like a never ending task these days. Where do you start? What do you look for? How do you know they are qualified? What if I don't get on with them? So many questions, so I shall put together a few things that over the years of being in private practice seem to be the most important aspects of finding the right counsellor to work with.
First and foremost, you have to actually like the person that you are sitting in front of for the duration of your counselling journey. But how can you tell if you will or not? This is totally subjective and something that I can't tell you what to look for, other than you have to "feel" it for yourself. This can start from the first email or phone call you receive from the counsellor, to how it feels walking in to their therapy room. Not every one will get on with everyone in their lifetime and that is normal. After all we are human and we all have different ways of relating to each other. But if you don't feel that you have a connection with the therapist you choose then that will hinder the therapeutic process and will waste your time moving forward and may even put you off finding another counsellor. But please, do not let this hold you back. If you feel that you do not connect with the counsellor you have chosen, let them know. Us counsellors are resilient and really WANT you to be comfortable. We wont take offence and actively encourage you to bring these issues into the room. Counselling is not meant to feel like an obligation, it is meant to feel like you can be who you really are. So if you feel like you are holding back because of the lack of connection, find another counsellor that really does 'fit'.
This is an important one and I cannot stress this enough. Do you feel you can be truthful, open and honest with the counsellor you have chosen? What you bring to counselling you may have not shared with anyone else in your life for whatever reason. May be because of shame, guilt or embarrassment or that you don't want to burden other people with it. Are you able to say those words out loud to your counsellor? Has the counsellor themselves given you enough genuine open space to invite you to be real with them? When I work with clients, this is where I explain that I do not care how you want to say or describe something as long as you do, in whatever language you need to say it just as long as you feel safe enough to do so. This may mean you need to swear, cry, get angry or flit from one subject to the next. All information is relevant and all information is real because it is your story. Do not think that because the counsellor is a 'professional' that they don't get a bit sweary in their own life (we are human too!). Language is the thread to our emotions and if you are feeling that you are stuck or cannot access those feelings, using language that you need to get those emotions out and that feels right for you, then this is how we do it. And that is ok. As long as any anger or swearing is not directed at the counsellor themselves -although it is encouraged to talk through any feelings you may have about your counsellor to them in an adult and constructive manner! - then being real in the therapy room is actively encouraged. Counselling is a real conversation. In fact, probably some of the realest conversations that you will have in your life, so embrace it and really be you.
Honesty; it works both ways....
This leads on to being aware that truth and honesty will come from your counsellor too. It has to. Not in a mean or horrible way, but maybe in a way that challenges your thinking or behaviour, especially if changing negative thinking is something you have come to therapy for. This is not a bad thing, don't get me wrong, it may come in a way that you might not want to hear at times but any honesty will come from an empathic heart that is reflected genuinely from your counsellor's perspective. The therapeutic relationship that builds between you and your counsellor will and has to built on trust and openness on both parts. A counsellor is someone that is there to listen to everything you want to talk about and to be able to reflect back to you how it sounds and feels for you to move through some challenging and sensitive emotions in order to get to the other side. But know, that the right counsellor will be right by your side when doing this. They really do have your best interests at heart.
We wont judge
I often hear that people don't want to go to counselling because they are worried what the counsellor may think about them or their problems. Totally understandable. Feeling vulnerable in front of a stranger is scary and understandably often is usually avoided. But I assure you that any judgement is left at the door and does not enter the counselling room. Ever. We want you to be able to be real (as above) with warts and all on show. We want to see those said warts (not literally mind, maybe save that one for your GP!) because airing what is on your mind and hearing those words in the open can lessen the power behind keeping them after they have been locked up tight in your mind. Let’s face it. We live in a judgmental society where people have strong opinions about all sorts of things but know that the right therapist will not judge you. I’ve witnessed so much as a counsellor over the many years in practice that very little surprises me anymore. Also, what is a big deal in one person’s mind, may be inconsequential in another’s. Be brave and show those warts!!
The right counsellor will be able to show empathy and understanding from your point of view. To see through the eyes of you, to hear through your ears and to feel from your heart. But how? Well, by being able to put ourselves in your position and feel what it is like for you. This creates a sense of relational depth between the two people in the room, to really feel connected. This enables you to enter into edge of awareness where you can really start to feel able to access every part of yourself in a safe, nurturing environment. Empathy allows you to feel wholly accepted by another person without any of the social masks or amour that we put on for the outside world. Empathy helps you pave the way for you to be able to accept yourself.
What we wont do...
As a counsellor, I will never give you outlandish promises that I can "fix" you. Any counsellor that declares this isn't in the real world (yes, there are some out there unfortunately). However, I am there to walk with you while you figure out what is the best route to take for you and collaborate with you on how to make the hard stuff easier to sit with. So I wont tell you what to do or declare that I have all the answers (although sometimes I wish I did!). I am there to remind you that you are not "broken", but to give you room to access your own wisdom and encourage you to see that you are the expert of your own life. It is your life that you are living and ultimately only you know deep down what path is right for you. I will never pretend that I know more than you just because I have trained to be a counsellor. We share ideas and see what fits right for you in your life using the therapeutic relationship that we have built together. By gently turning down the noise of the outside world while in therapy, and ramping up the volume of your own internal voice can help you reconnect with yourself once again and finding the right counsellor to help facilitate this process will be like finding a gem covered in the sand.
The legal bit
I hope the information that I have shared with you helps you feel a bit more clearer about what it is to look out for when chosing a counsellor and I wish you all the best as you embark on the first steps of nurturing your mental health for today and in the future.
About the Author:
Kat Quinn ~ BSc. (Hons.), Fd. Couns. MNCS is a qualified and experienced Person Centred counsellor and is an accredited member of The National Counselling Society with her private practice based at Tardebigge Court, Redditch, Worcestershire, England. Please visit her website for more information and to contact her to arrange counselling sessions.