How to find the right therapist

BY CHINEDU EDEH, CLINICAL ADMINISTRATOR & TRAINEE COUNSELLOR

One reason why “therapy” is underused or causes hesitation within Black communities is the lack of understanding around what it is and where to get started. 

Whether you’re unsure if therapy is for you, or you’re convinced that it is but don’t know where to begin, here are some things to think about to help you make the right decision for yourself.

What is therapy? 

In the context of mental health, “therapy” can refer to any one of numerous psychological talking therapies. What they all have in common is working with a trained therapist to help solve any mental and emotional problems you’re experiencing. 

Therapy is for anyone and everyone, and you don’t have to be in a crisis to benefit from it. However, how useful you will find therapy depends on whether your needs and the practice of a therapist are a good fit. 

While we can’t cover every type of therapy because there are so many schools of thought and practices, here are some common forms of therapy, and who they might work best for.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

CBT aims to help you improve your mental health by working to unlearn unhelpful patterns of thinking.

A CBT therapist will help you to identify the relationship between your thoughts, feelings and behaviour usually over a course of 12 sessions. They will encourage you to challenge negative thoughts, and they may give you tasks to complete between sessions, such as keeping a diary.

According to the NHS, CBT has proven to work with people with the following kinds of mental health problems:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Phobias
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Bulimia

It is possible to do CBT without a therapist, using a workbook, an online course or apps and other tools (check out examples on the NHS apps library). This is called guided self-help therapy.

Psychodynamic therapy

Psychodynamic therapies go a lot deeper than CBT. This approach to therapy emphasises the link between childhood experiences and adult behaviour. 

Psychodynamic therapists play the role of an expert who helps to bring to light things that may have been buried in your unconscious mind which could be driving your actions now. Deep-seated emotions and memories, for example. This is known as psychoanalysis.

This school of thought is also the home of Attachment Theory, which emphasises how your earliest relationships (i.e. with your parents) function as blueprints for all subsequent relationships.

Psychodynamic therapy is most helpful for people who want to explore themselves deeply and understand how their histories may be impacting their present patterns.

Person-centred counselling (PCC)

Person centred counselling is a therapeutic approach that focuses on the relationship between the client (the person receiving treatment) and the counsellor. 

In person centred counselling, the client guides the sessions. The counsellor is not the expert, but rather an empathetic facilitator that holds space to allow the client to find the resources they need for self growth. So, person-centred counsellors are not there to advise you, tell you what to do, tell you what is right or wrong, or validate or invalidate your thoughts. 

Person centred counsellors may use techniques such as reflection and saying your words back to you, so you hear your own thoughts. This may help you realise what you should or should not do in a given situation, or it could help you look within to discover what you do or don’t want.

This type of therapy is suitable for people who want to feel more empowered to make decisions for themselves and find the strength from within to flourish. Keep in mind that with this practice, you’ll be doing most of the talking.

Integrative therapy

This type of therapy is what it says on the tin – a combination approach to therapy.

Integrative therapists draw from different theoretical foundations (e.g. psychodynamic, CBT and PCC) and other tools to provide a unique mental health intervention tailored to the individual client. So, they can focus on one or as many approaches as necessary depending on the client’s needs.

This type of therapy is useful for anyone who thinks they may need a bit of all of the above types of therapy for different aspects of their lives. Why choose when you can have all-in-one? 

You may also want to check out eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) for PTSD, or mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) for depression and addiction, both of which you can learn more about on the NHS website.

Finding the right therapist for you

Successful therapy is largely dependent on client-therapist fit, so it’s worth doing the work to find the right one for you. Begin by asking yourself what your expectations and vision of therapy is.

What would you like your therapist to look like? For example, do they need to be the same race, gender or religion? 

Where would you prefer to have therapy? Face-to-face, or by phone? It might be challenging to have in-person sessions because of COVID, but it’s important to think about how you will manage video fatigue, for example, if you do it via video conferencing tools like Zoom. However, if you’re anxious about going out, this may be an even better option for you.

Be sure to read the profile of your therapist to see which approach to therapy they take and whether it aligns with your needs. An initial consultation (usually free of charge) is an opportunity to ask any questions you have about what therapy will look like, and share what you want to get out of it. It’s not an actual therapy session, it’s more like drawing up a contract or dating to see if you’re compatible.

Where to get started

Here are some organisations that can help you get started on your journey to find a therapist:

*Note: we cannot guarantee the outcome or results of therapy. This post is for informational purposes only, not advice.