My Psychotherapist is nice, but are they any good?

Any article thinking about his question will usually begin with a handful of key points. These are quite pedestrian, but for the sake of inclusion (and dare I say to demonstrate my own competence!) I’m going to list them here before going on to talk about whether or not the person you are paying for counselling, or your psychotherapist is doing you any more good than your friend down the pub…

a mate pretending to be a psychotherapist down the pub

Conventionally the key things to consider are:

  • Qualifications and Credentials: Ensure that the psychotherapist is licensed or certified by the appropriate regulatory body in your country or region. This typically indicates that they have met specific training and ethical standards.
  • Experience and Specialization: Inquire about their experience in treating the specific issues or conditions you’re seeking help for. Some therapists specialize in certain areas, such as anxiety, depression, trauma, or relationship problems. Assessing their expertise in your area of concern can be beneficial.
  • Recommendations and Referrals: Seek recommendations from trusted sources, such as friends, family, or healthcare professionals who may have experience with psychotherapy. Personal referrals can provide valuable insights into a therapist’s effectiveness.
  • Personal Connection: Establishing a good rapport with your therapist is essential for effective therapy. During your initial session(s), assess how comfortable you feel talking to them and whether you feel understood and supported. Trust and a positive therapeutic alliance are crucial for progress.
  • Treatment Approach: Different therapists employ various therapeutic approaches (e.g., cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychodynamic therapy, mindfulness-based therapy). Research and familiarize yourself with different approaches, and discuss with the therapist their treatment 
  • Outcomes and Feedback: Inquire about the therapist’s approach to measuring progress and outcomes. A competent therapist should regularly review your progress, seek feedback, and make adjustments to the treatment plan if necessary.
  • Ethics and Boundaries: A professional psychotherapist should adhere to ethical guidelines and maintain appropriate boundaries during therapy. They should prioritize your well-being and maintain confidentiality, except in cases where legal or safety concerns arise.
  • Ongoing Professional Development: A good therapist is committed to continuous learning and professional development. Inquire about their efforts to stay updated with the latest research and therapeutic techniques, as this demonstrates their dedication to providing quality care.

I don’t think anybody could argue with these eight points, and on the face of it, if you took them all into consideration it would be hard to imagine how you could end up making a poor choice. And yet people do! Why is this?

One reason must have to do with the fact that when many people are seeking out a psychotherapist or counsellor they’re often not in a great mental place. Our usual faculties of inquiry and discernment are impaired by anxiety, stress, and depression, so much of the checklist will be ignored and omitted, basically in favour of finding somebody who just seems willing to listen, and who tells us that they are able to help.  It’s not reading the instructions before rushing to plug in the new gismo, all over again!

People tend to find their therapists in one of three ways:

  • Personal recommendation: Either by a friend etc, GP, or Psychiatrist.
  • By going through the register of Approved Therapists provided by a Health Insurer. (BUPA, AXA, etc)
  • Searching a list of Accredited Therapists produced by organisations such as the BABCP, UKCP, etc with regional entries. 

Of these routes, I think the first is the strongest. When people contact me inquiring about psychotherapy, I always ask the question ‘how did you come to find me?’ Going on to explain the reason for asking is that if I know who recommended me, and the work we did together, it gives me a bit of insight into what the new person is likely looking for. What worked well for their friend, they think may work well for them, and they’re very likely right. This helps us form a connection straight away and get things off to a rapid start. It’s also likely that they already have an idea of cost and how I work, which is also helpful.

Health Insurers’ Approved lists are fairly straightforward, and practitioners on them would necessarily be accredited by their particular organisations, such as the BABCP, UKCP etc.  There’s one caveat though: Practitioners have to accept the insurer’s payment rate, which is often below, sometimes considerably, the rate that therapists set for themselves.  This means that therapists who charge more aren’t going to be on it unless they accept working for less with insured clients.  What are the implications of this? Organisation’s lists of Accredited Practitioners are the most reliable way to verify training, supervision, and insurance, but won’t tell whether a person is likable.

So, if you have found a psychotherapist or councillor, and you seem to get along fine, how do you know whether you’re getting the value?  Here are some pointers which have worked well for me as a patient/client over the years, in no particular order:

  • Beyond being listened to, do you feel that you are gaining the competency and skills to run your life?
  • Do you find yourself talking about the same things session after session?  Does it feel like you’re repeating yourself?
  • You may have a new understanding of how you come to be the way you are, but do you actually feel any better?
  • If your Health Insurer or Work weren’t paying, would you yourself be happy to pick up the bill, assuming you could?
  • Have you achieved your goal, such as the treatment of PTSD, but your sessions still seem to be ongoing, (and a bit aimless) …
  • Do you look forward to your therapy sessions? If so, why?

How can an app be useful?

Sometimes I see patients and clients who require some quite specific treatment with Eye Movement Desensitisation & Reprocessing (EMDR) or CBT. I find that adding in my app Ed can Help, for people to take away and use between sessions works extremely well.  It gives people a very useful tool to use in their own time and build up the expertise to tackle anything which crops up in life well after we have finished working.  I really like the idea of people becoming their own best therapists, and this is a great way to start.

Conventional talking therapy, in its various forms, undeniably has a very important role to play in the improvement of (some) people’s lives.  Ed can Help… sits comfortably alongside all methods because it doesn’t have any dogma of its own: It’s a tool to use, which works directly on feeling.  In time I believe the evidence that it actually facilitates and enhances conventional therapy outcomes when used alongside, will definitely be forthcoming.

If you are having psychotherapy or counselling already, why not experiment with adding in Ed can Help… to find out the difference it could make for you too?

Download and start your free trial today!