How to choose a psychotherapist
Warning signs to watch for
The decision about who we choose as our psychotherapist is an important one. Psychotherapy in safe hands allows us to 'be with' the difficult emotions or experiences, safely, little by little so that we can resolve and let go of the troubling issues.
To be sure that our therapist has the capacity to hold us safe, we want to be sure they have developed the tools to see us through to bliss and joy that is waiting for us, with our sense of self integrated and intact. Sometimes people go deep with an ill-equipped therapist and end up stumbling through life without an intact adult sense of self. If we touch into such wounds with the wrong person, we can end up drowning in them.
Anyone can call themselves a psychotherapist, so it is up to you to take responsibility for ensuring they are up to the job. A good psychotherapy training, including accreditation and registration, can take 8-10 years and up to £50,000 (including supervision). So perhaps you can see why not everyone wants to commit to that. In addition, the best psychotherapists are committed to their own personal journey of development, and as part of that have had a lot of psychotherapy themselves, and are still having it, at least from time to time. They believe that our work on ourselves is a lifelong journey.
It can be easy for human beings to understand a bit of something, perhaps to have completed a basic training and think they are quite expert. At best this is 'unconscious incompetence': we don't know what we don't know - think of how everyone these days thinks they are a photographer.
At worst this is 'omnipotence'. Psychologically speaking, omnipotence is 'The feeling of unlimited and unstoppable power or openness resulting from a history of absence of parenting or ego-constructing figures during important developmental stages'. In other words, we can over-estimate our own capabilities, intelligence and power; we feel somehow 'special' or different or perhaps we notice that others put us on a pedestal. This is not the uniqueness that we all have - for everyone of us is special - but omnipotence, at its core feels we are a bit more special than others. The very nature of omnipotence (which is quite common in us, to some degree or other) is that the person who has some or other degree of omnipotence will be blind to it - the omnipotence itself is its own defense mechanism.
Omnipotence is at the heart of the 'rescuer' pattern (TA), which many of us in the helping professions have, it is what motivates us to go into this sphere. And it can lead to burn out, compassion fatigue and worse. If someone is practising as a psychotherapist and hasn't done a lot of work on their omnipotence (or is in denial) they can be dangerous.
So my advice to you is to spend a lot of time researching and talking to therapists before you choose one, and, if at any point in the process your instincts tell you that your therapist cannot facilitate your healing, listen to that.
Credentials to look for
Two of the most important things to look for in a psychotherapist are:
- accreditation with a recognised body
- and registration with an organisation like the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP).
This combination is the kite mark of a high quality psychotherapist, and puts them on a par with other registered health professionals such as doctors. UKCP registration means that they have had 400-500 hours of face to face training to masters level, at least 30 hours of personal psychotherapy, and high levels of supervision (UKCP requirement is 1 hour of supervision for 3 hours of client work). It also requires ongoing professional development amounting to 50 hours per year.
Ask them about their past and current/ ongoing professional training (at what level, how many hours?), their qualifications, and their ongoing investment in supervision (frequency of supervision, ratio of hours). Also enquire about whether they have had an in-depth clinical placement as part of their training. Are they committed to their own ongoing psychotherapy is important (how many hours, is it ongoing?). Interview them, ask as many questions as is feasibly possible. If they tell you these things don’t matter – you will, of course, know that this is NOT the person for you.
It’s about personal qualities too
Did you know that AT LEAST 50% of the work in psychotherapy is down to the person who is the psychotherapist and the relationship created between client and psychotherapist. It is about how much you can trust the therapist and feel that the therapist has deep empathy and unconditional positive regard for you. You may be telling this person things that you have never told anyone else (things about what you feel, think, say or do) and no matter what, you must feel that this person radiates a kind of 'love' towards you, unconditional positive regard. It is all about feeling safe and held.
In order to find out about what type of person the psychotherapist is, I also recommend that you test a few out. Book an initial session and see what the 'chemistry' is like. Many have a free initial session, where you can get a feel for how you feel with this person. Do you feel equal with this person, are they kind and humble? Or do you feel they are somehow on a pedestal, a bit over confident? It is most important that you feel safe, seen, valued and that you feel this is a person with whom you can dive into the depths of yourself and know that he or she will be there to guide you on the most important journey of your life.