Taking a first step into the world of therapy can be really daunting for most people.
Who to pick?
Will it help?
Will they judge me?
Is my problem big enough?
What will happen in the session?
These are just some of the questions people ask themselves when they are having their first therapy session. It can be really difficult to take that first step to see a therapist and trying to work out where to start looking for the right person can be intimidating.
Therapy, whatever form, can be a wonderful thing that can improve life in many ways. But there are certain things that matter when choosing a therapist and it isn’t what people initially think.
Most people get caught up in whether they should be seeing a Psychiatrist, Psychologist or Counsellor. This does matter but it isn’t the main thing. A quick breakdown then of what each of these do.
Psychiatrist – A Psychiatrist is a medical doctor who has completed a medical degree and then gone on to do further study of mental health. They specialise in diagnosis and treatment of mental illness and can prescribe medication.
Psychologist – A Psychologist has a degree and works with mental health problems and human behaviour. They can diagnose, use talk therapy, provide testing for various issues and help treat behavioural problems. Psychologists don’t prescribe medication.
Counsellor – A Counsellor has either a degree or diploma. They are trained to give guidance in personal or mental health problems. Counsellors do not diagnose. They may work in tandem with a general practitioner to provide overall help for a client who may benefit from medication.
There is often an overlap between the 3 roles which makes it confusing for people to find the right person to work with. As a starting point, if you have a general practitioner that you trust, this is the first point to ask who they believe might assist you.
Generally, from there, if they believe that a Psychiatrist is required, that is where you begin your journey on exploring help options. If they suggest a Psychologist or Counsellor, then at times these two can be interchangeable – IF – they are experienced in the area you need help in.
A Psychologist has undertaken a far greater level of education. The education matters, the person matters more.
The most important thing that matters in picking a therapist though, is that you connect with them, that you like them.
At that first session, YOU are interviewing THEM!!! Yes, you are in charge. You are paying for a service, make sure you are happy with it. There is no mystery in therapy. As therapists, our role is to help you.
You absolutely need someone who is trained and experienced in what you would like to talk about. But, and this is the tricky bit, the training and the experience will only work if they are good at what they do as a human being.
Imagine if you will, a primary school teacher. This person has done the degree, done extra courses, is incredibly qualified, you can practically wallpaper your walls in their education. But you, as a child, don’t like them, don’t connect with them. You won’t have a great experience and won’t learn as much. Imagine now another teacher with the same qualifications but this teacher gets you, they seem to understand you, they know how to work with you. You are going to have a good year and learn a lot.
So too this relates to therapy. Yes, your therapist needs to be trained and experienced but you also need to relate to them and like them to get the most out of it.
As a starting point, find someone who seems to have training and experience in what you need and then do one session. If you like them and feel they are a good fit, awesome, keep going! If you don’t feel it is quite right, stop. Shop around. Start over. Yes, it is a pain to tell your story over again but it is so worth it to find that right person to work with.
Many years ago, I was in the position of needing therapy to help me and I had no idea of who to work with (this was a long time ago before I became a counsellor). I initially worked with a really, really qualified therapist and hated it. It was memorably one of the worst experiences I had ever had. I walked away disillusioned. Then a friend told me of a lady who worked a bit of a distance away but that she really liked. No where as near qualified. I figured I had nothing to lose and went to see her. She was one of the turning points in my life. She got me. She wasn’t working out of a book, she had life experience. I felt connected and safe with her and for the first time in my life I opened up.
That was the start of big change for me and I still remember those sessions and the changes that came from them. I credit that lady and those sessions with me learning a lot about myself.
From my experiences, both positive and negative, I shaped how I work as a counsellor. I do what I would have liked as a client. For many people I am that person that they finally connect with. But I am not a fit for everyone and that is ok too. I tell my clients that in the first session. Learn in that session if you like me and connect with me. Otherwise shop around.
You are the expert in YOU. Trust your instinct!