Finding a therapist


The way the NHS is these days, more and more of us are having to resort to seeking

independent sources for help – counselling, therapy, physiotherapy, naturopathy,

homeopath, acupuncture, nutritional therapy, psychiatry and so on.


Most often this happens because the NHS is so constrained by its approach to

conventional medicine, it offers very limited resources in the variety of therapies

available, indeed to many therapies its attitude, through its practitioners, is positively

hostile. Sometimes the waiting time to be seen is months long, conditions worsen and

patients simply cannot wait any longer so they resort to finding private therapists. 

When conventional medicine relies too much on medication, then the path seems to

be about disease management rather than health creation. Not so with the use of

private therapists whose aim is to help a patient back to good health and educate

them how to maintain and enhance good health. There also seems to be a trend in

the UK, which has been around in the USA for some time, that people are just more

used to making private therapy the first point of call. 

Whatever the reason, if you are in need of a therapist, of whatever kind, taking time to

choose the right one is paramount. So here are some guidelines:-


Your self-saboteur

So often I have met with clients who just fail to get it – that the reason for their life problems are down to them and not always to others.

The reason, too, why therapy doesn’t always work can also be down to the client.


We find it too easy to point the finger and find someone else to blame and most of us have our own inbuilt self-saboteur – that part of us, outside our usual conscious awareness, that, no matter what we do, always gets in the way.


It’s natural to resist and push back against therapy and the therapist; it helps if you can both talk about it. Sometimes it will be the normal process of resistance but other times it can be the therapist is pushing you too far too soon. A lot of our issues have their causes hidden away in our sub-conscious minds. As you start to uncover them, there’s often a part of us that we’re unaware of which surfaces and tells us that this is too uncomfortable. But therepy is never meant to be plain sailing; it is supposed to challenge as well as support you. So, acknowledge that from time to time you may need to step out of your comfort zone, dig deep, face up, in order to deal with what needs to be dealt with.  What we want to address is often not what we most need to address


Self-sabotage ways


  • You Have a “Fear of Success”

  • You have a fear or dislike of change or hard work

  • You give yourself too many options, and then make decision making difficult or impossible

  • You quit too soon, and certainly when the going gets tough

  • You fritter time on the easy and never get round to the real issues

  • You procrastinate

  • You blame your money situation

  • You make things way too complicated then get stressed

  • You blame stress

  • You allow yourself to be distracted or have your time monopolised

  • You avoid radical responsibility

  • “Your self-story is on a loop and is one of negativity

  • You spend your time planning, writing lists, creating beautiful spread sheets but never do the work

  • You burn the candle both ends and so sabotage your sleep

  • You’re hard on yourself, your own worst critic



Locating a therapist

Unlike the NHS and your wish for a doctor and you get what you are given, locating a private therapist or even a private nurse or doctor means you can search. Usually there is competition which means, ideally, though I am not so sure it often happens, that therapists aim to be the best in their field. Alas, one look at their websites and the impression given does not fill the seeker with confidence.

Know what you want. Take time to consider why you want to work with a therapist, what you want them to be able to do, what goals might you set for your time together and over what period of time.

If you are willing to have your seeking made public, ask someone you know if they can recommend a therapist. Tell them what you are looking for and why. Then ask them why they think the person they are recommending fits with your criteria.

Professional register. Does the therapy you are seeking have a professional regulating body with a list of practitioners. Remember though, that in some cases, membership is not always compulsory so you may find that therapists in your area are not on the register – especially if it costs them a load of money to be listed.

Web search. Write down all the words or phrases under which you may find your therapist eg massage, masseur, Swedish massage, massage therapist in Edinburgh etc – then search. Consider first impressions.

Looking for a therapist is a lot like dating. You have to meet a few different ones before you find your perfect match.

First impressions

It’s said we have form our first impressions within seven seconds. And those impressions help us form an opinion as to whether the person is going to be right for us.

So what’s your first impression of the therapist’s website – does it look professional, is information easy to find, is it then easy to understand? Are terms and conditions and prices and directions explicit? Or is it filled with “For more information enquire here”

How quickly and professionally do they handle your e-mails, phone calls, and letters; how promptly do they get back to you? Do they answer only one of your questions, or all of them?

What impression do you form of their voice, of their dress – professional, lazy, attentive, abrupt, compassion, condescending, understanding?

Be willing to challenge your first impressions. I remember one guy, a counsellor I was visiting for the first time, who came to his front door in dirty tracky, tacky bottoms, unkempt hair, and slippers which were worn, threadbare and holy. I didn’t have the nerve to walk away and am glad that even after the first session I decided to push through my first impressions. Turned out he had been having a flu day and had been unable to reach me and I learned he was exactly what I needed at the time offering just the right level of support and challenge.  So don’t just observe your impressions, ask yourself, what are they really saying about the other, and about you!

Whether or not your first gut impressions are correct (they usually are) they will influence you. So don’t rush to act on first impressions.

Continue to do your research. After all you are likely to be spending quite some time and money on this person you are inviting in to your life.

Be a CV checker

As I set out to scour the internet, I have a few things in mind :-


  1. What therapy am I looking for?

  2. Why?

  3. What outcomes do I seek?

  4. Where?

  5. Is the gender important?

  6. What is the maximum cost per session I am willing to invest in myself?

  7. What’s my first impression of the site?

  8. Can I find what I want easily enough?

  9. Are terms and conditions clear?

  10. Are fees clear?

  11. How flexible re their terms and conditions eg I once wanted some counselling sessions but my work schedule was pretty busy and the counsellor some two hours away. It would have suite me to have had fortnightly sessions but the counsellor was unwilling and could give no satisfactory explanation. I did not book.

  12. Do they offer taster sessions, discounted first assessments?

  13. Or is it one of those sites that is laden with “contact me for more information.” I avoid those.

  14. Do they disclose their address / location? Some assume you will know which town they are in. Avoid.

  15. (If they can’t be bothered checking information before posting it, why give them business?)

  16. Will they allow you to have an introductory phone interview to discuss them, not your conditions?

  17. What is the language – is it all about the therapist or is it geared to me and how they might help me?

  18. IE is it ego driven or about clients?

  19. Is it real or phoney?

  20. Are their testimonials? Can I trust them?

  21. What is my gut telling me?


Many therapists have their own websites, LinkedIn profiles, or even Facebook accounts or other social media profiles.

Check their biography or resume to verify their years of experience, training, and make sure their certifications are from an accredited institution. But remember accreditation is no guarantee of their excellence. Some accredited bodies are simply there to collect fees.

Are you impressed by the letters after their name? Do you know what they mean? If not, you can easily Google.


Is your ego impressed? Is your intuition on alert? Heed the warning signs.


Conduct a phone interview

If you can, arrange a phone interview.


Plan for the interview. What do you want to find out?

What will you do if you are led up an alley you want to avoid?

If you feel you are being coerced into sessions you don’t want, how able are you to say “no!”

A phone call is a simple way to connect with a prospective therapist before the initial face-to-face interaction.

How did they sound to you – patient, understanding, willing to disclose or were they brusque, disinterested, secretive?

Be prepared that as you interview the therapist, they may also want to check if you are the right fit for them.


Phone calls help you gauge what the therapist is like because you hear their voice, can listen to their tone or speaking pace, is it a match for you, what’s their use of jargon like, and you can ask introductory questions about their professional background or what they specialise in.

What’s their experience of working with people like yourself?

To therapy you take not just yourself and your issues, you bring with you much life experience, values and beliefs, religious, spiritual or secular. Your gender or sexuality may be important as may your cultural background eg your ethnicity may be an important matter for you.


It’s easier to open up to someone who can relate to you in terms of your gender, your age, and all else that is important to you.


If the therapist names their approach as X eg psycho-dynamic counselling, then ask them to explain what that means then do your own research. It may sound good but is it what you are looking for?


Ask your prospective therapist about their work experiences and how much experience they have had working with people like you. Don’t just ask, “Are you OK dealing with Catholics?” you want to know how many Catholics they have dealt with, that is, if being Catholic is important to you. If they can’t answer your question directly, or seem to delay answering, that may be a sign that they’re not a good match.


What values of theirs are important to you and to find out eg respect, honesty, confidentiality, a willingness to support and challenge. I had a counsellor recently and when we got to the sessions, she would say nothing, simply nod her head. It wasn’t what I’d agree so I left.

Always set goals

Set goals for :-

  1. Any phone interview

  2. Coming to the therapy overall – this is your long term goal

  3. Each session


Also discuss


  1. What are the therapists goals?

  2. How do your and your therapist's goals fit together?      

  3. The process you will both work to, the therapeutic approaches eg will the therapist be honest and direct, will they self-disclose in order to help you, do they just sit and now, will they share their hunches, feelings, and intuitions.


Be prepared to be flexible on your goals; a good therapist should be able to help you clarify that you are working on the right goals.


The therapist's room

I once went for counselling and the room was tiny as a broom cupboard, it was either too warm or too windy – there was a need for an air fan. I felt claustrophobic.


Therapy is supposed to offer a confidential space for you to talk freely, at ease, without being judged, or you feeling uncomfortable. If you keep being distracted with thought of “it’s hot in here” “I don’t feel comfortable” etc. then your whole therapeutic process becomes disjointed and interrupted.


As you step into their room, take a moment to observe the therapist’s working environment. Is it clean, neat and tidy or are there stacks of paperwork strewn all over their desk? Are flowers fresh and plants well-tended or are they rotting away in a dry plant pot? It’s said that our office and car layout are a reflection of our own internal state, our approach to neatness and tidiness.


A therapeutic session should lead you to well-being, organisation, preparedness, positive energy, and wellness; if the  physical environment doesn’t communicate those things, I would be think twice!


The therapist’s dress

You may think this has nothing to do with you, but we do judge on whether a person is tidy, clean, dirty, scatty, woo woo or whatever. First impressions, I repeat, mean everything whether it is in a therapeutic setting or on a first date, or job interview.


It may not be important to you that your therapist looks like the dog’s dinner or is immaculate and well-groomed. But notice – if you have a reaction to their appearance, something is ringing your bell and it may be important. , Ask yourself if is this someone with whom you can have a working relationship with week in and week out. I struggle with people whose hair is unkempt. I am aware it is my issue and can mostly ignore it. But if it is impacting on me, I trust my intuition. Equally, someone who is so immaculate may inadvertently have you feeling inadequate. You could either find another therapist or use that information to explore what is being triggered for you.



The therapist’s body language

A conversation is effective not just because of the words exchanged; it’s said most communication is done through non-verbal body language.


How do you feel if your therapist is yawning, looking at their watch, looking away, combing their hair, scanning their mobile phone, interrupting and talking over you, or somehow just not paying you quality attention?


Do you have the courage to confront them? You should. No big deal, simply something like, “I’d prefer if you didn’t eat whilst we’re communicating!”


While you’re sharing your deepest, innermost thoughts, it’s important to have a therapist who pays you good attention and is present and shows they are present.


Nods of the head, eye contact, occasionally writing notes, and asking relevant questions that dig deeper into the root of your problems are a few signs that your therapist is listening to you.


Now, what of your body language? What is it saying about you? Are they perhaps matching yours. So you look tired and bored, they look tired and bored!



The therapist’s thoughts

Some styles of therapy mean the therapist will speak little and certainly will give away little of what they are thinking. Some, even ones who shouldn’t, say too much, interrupt too often, don’t listen.


But given that any therapist is likely to be asking you about your thoughts on your life experiences, take the right to ask them for their input. Sometimes this can also tell you if they have been listening. If they refuse to answer you, be persistent and ask why? The least you should get is an explanation for their reticence. If they still won’t share some of themselves, consider if this is going to be a help or a hindrance.


I have had doctors who want to steer things to their agenda, and so no matter what I say, they will talk about what they want to talk about. I now remind them that this is not patient centred and that I would deeply value their response to what I am speaking about. It is my session, no theirs. It is my body, my health.



First therapist, first choice

If you have drawn up a lists of possible therapists, even if the first you call seems to be a match, still talk with  the others. If your intuition is really steering you toward the first, then it will be persistent.


Keep your options open and talk with a few different people before you make your final decision.


Above all, do not feel under pressure by the therapist to work with them. This type comes with a big warning sign.



First session, give it time

After your first session, do an evaluation.


  1. If you were at all nervous, remember this was a new experience. It can take time to get used to it.

  2. All those goals you set, how many were met?

  3. Were your  overall expectations met?

  4. What did you get that was positive that you hadn’t planned for?

  5. How did you and the therapist get along?

  6. Is this someone you feel you can work with?

  7. What might you have wanted more of / less of?

  8. Could you tell the therapist that? Are they open to feedback?

  9. How satisfied are you with your own performance?

  10. What might you do differently next time?


Any therapeutic healing process takes time and also work on your part to be effective.

Your therapist needs time – at the first session they will probably be avoiding giving you too much to handle.


So be prepared to have 2 -3 sessions before making any major decision to cease or continue.


Remember, couples don’t just meet one night and in a deep and meaningful, working relationship the next.