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. 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. It isn’t what people initially think.
Most people get caught up in whether they should be seeing a Psychiatrist, Psychologist or Counsellor. This matters and is the starting point only. 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. A good for for diagnosable mental health conditions and serious intervention or treatment.
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 with individuals to help navigate life’s problems. They also work with relationships to help learn skills to get and maintain a healthy relationship. 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. However, Mental Health Plans can only be used with Psychiatrists and Psychologists so they often won’t refer to counsellors.
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 then a Psychologist or Counsellor may be suitable for you – IF – they are experienced in the area you need help in. Just as counsellors are not trained in many mental health conditions, many psychologists are not trained in relationship work.
The education matters.
The person themselves matters more.
The most important thing that matters in picking a therapist, 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. And if they are the right fit for you.
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. Therapy is an interpersonal experience. 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. He was top of the field in the area he worked in. I hated every moment of the session. In my opinion, he knew the theory, but he was really bad at the job. It was memorably one of the worst experiences I had ever had. I walked away disillusioned. I thought therapy was useless and a waste of time. If that was the best there was then what was the point?
Then a friend told me of a counsellor who worked a bit of a distance away but that she really liked. No where as near qualified as the therapist I had used. I figured I had nothing to lose and went to see her. Very reluctantly but I went. That was one of the best turning points in my life and worth the travel. She got me. She seemed to really be invested in the work we were doing. This counsellor wasn’t just 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!