Want to start therapy? Here are four key things to bear in mind when you’re looking for a therapist.
It probably goes without saying that this year has not been an easy one. However, one silver lining is that the long periods of lockdown coupled with the job insecurity many have faced has really opened up the conversation around mental health.
In fact, according to a recent study by software management company Quadrotech, the rise in people speaking out about their own struggles and the importance of self-care has led to greater numbers seeking help in the form of therapy. In 2020 alone, demand for mental health counsellors increased by a massive 671%.
While more people may be looking to start therapy, it can seem like a daunting thing – especially when it comes to finding the right therapist. But although it can feel overwhelming at first, there are actually plenty of ways to narrow down your search and find a therapist who suits you and your needs.
Indeed, while you’ll never be able to get a full impression of a therapist until you’ve completed a few sessions with them (after which it’s OK to swap therapists if you decide that the person you chose isn’t for you), asking yourself a number of key questions before you start your search puts you in the best stead to find someone who’ll be able to help you work through whatever is bothering you.
With this in mind, we spoke to therapist, writer and founder of online therapy directory Cultureminds Therapy Sharnade George to find out more about the things we should all keep in mind when searching for a therapist.
From considering a therapist’s cultural background to working out what you can afford, here’s what she had to say.
1. Know where to look for a therapist
Knowing where to look for therapy is one of the first hurdles to accessing treatment – but all it really depends on is what kind of service you’re looking for.
“If you decide you want therapy but don’t know where to go, your first point of contact should be your GP,” George explains. “Your GP can help you with a referral to an IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) service – which is a free service.”
She continues: “You can also self-refer. If you do a Google search of your local area followed by the world ‘IAPT’, you should be able to find your local service, go on their website and contact a team. Generally what would happen next is you’ll get put through to their admin team who will do a screening, and then you’ll be pulled through for assessment, which is where the process starts.”
If you’re unable to access NHS treatment or want to give something else a go, mental health charities such as Mind may also be able to signpost you to local support and services which can assist you – especially if you’re looking for help with difficulties such as alcohol dependency or drug misuse which usually have dedicated groups.
Finally, if you’re on the hunt for a private therapist, visiting a therapy directory is usually the best course of action, George says.
“Commonly, if you search ‘find a therapist near me’ or ‘private therapists,’ a directory will come up which will show you all the different types of therapist out there,” she explains. “There are loads of directories to choose from – my directory, Cultureminds Therapy, is one, but there’s also Harley Therapy, who have been around for a long time, or Counselling Directory, who have also been going for a while.”
2. Think about the kind of service you’re after
Therapy comes in lots of different forms, so take some time to think about the kind of service you’re looking for before you start your search.
“Before you start your search, think about how long you’re prepared to wait – do you want therapy within a certain timeframe, or are you willing to wait?” George says. “With the NHS, the waiting lists can be quite long, whereas, with private therapy, you could get matched with a therapist within a day, for example.”
Another factor which plays into this decision is the potential cost of your treatment – if you decide to go down the private route, how much can you afford to pay for a session with your therapist? Knowing this not only helps you to narrow down your search, it also means the therapist might be able to adjust their prices to suit your means.
As George previously explained to Stylist: “When it comes to private therapy, therapists can also provide something called a sliding scale. A sliding scale is there to help people if they’re having financial difficulties, so the therapist can work with you and your budget and set a price based on an understanding of how much you can afford.”
3. Look into qualifications
The kind of therapist you’re after will depend largely on the kind of support you’re looking for – not only are some therapists more experienced when it comes to dealing with certain mental health issues, others may have additional qualifications which make them more suited to your needs.
“Certain therapists are specialised in certain conditions,” George explains. “Although most therapists are qualified in various difficulties because we study the DSM-5 (the guide used to diagnose various mental disorders all over the world) at university, one therapist may be more qualified in depression and anxiety, while another might be more focused on anger or low self-esteem.”
She continues: “With this in mind, really get to grips with what the therapist you’re looking at is offering and whether they’re specialised in the condition or problem you’re looking for help with.”
George also recommends looking at a therapist’s theoretical approach – how they approach therapy, what they do to support their clients and how their sessions work all play into their value to you as a patient and could help you to decide whether you’ll ‘click’ with them or not.
4. Is cultural background important to you?
For some people, finding a therapist who shares their cultural background – or who is able to demonstrate cultural competency and understanding – makes it much easier to open up and work through how they’re feeling.
“Finding a culturally competent therapist is about finding someone who comes from a place of understanding and has the ability to communicate effectively and interact with people over all cultures,” George explains.
“Everyone has a different view of life which can affect them mentally, so finding a therapist who reflects your background – or who is culturally competent – just brings that sense of awareness and understanding.”
For George, whose newly formed directory, Cultureminds Therapy, aims to improve access to psychological therapies for Black and Asian communities, finding a therapist who understands and reflects your lived experiences can play a crucial role in the client-therapist relationship.
As she writes on the Cultureminds website: “Being able to find a professional who understands you and your culture can be essential for your healing and therapeutic journey.”
If you are struggling with your mental health you can ask your GP for a referral to NHS Talking Therapies, or you can self-refer here.
For confidential support, you can also call the Samaritans in the UK on 116 123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.