Private therapy is on the increase. There are a number of different styles available, which won’t always be apparent from the blurb on websites or leaflets. There is still a culture of mindless acceptance of whatever the therapist or counsellor brings to the table. Some clients are unpleasantly surprised by their experience, and then have the difficult task of disengaging. They then either give it a rest, or find someone else.
The selection process has some similarities with relationship matching across cultures. If you go to a state service, then you are more likely to be matched with a therapist without your consent. This experience is analogous to an arranged marriage – it may work out, but the original selection was not in your hands. If you go private, then you may have more opportunity to select, but even then the system might not let you try before you buy. In an experience similar to dating, you may have to pitch in and see what happens.
Here are four tips for getting the most out of your therapy. They are based on my experience as a therapist and counsellor, and on my conversations with clients as to what has and has not worked for them in previous therapeutic relationships.
TIP #1 – HAVE AN INITIAL PHONE CALL
Get an early conversation with your prospective therapist. Pay attention, during the call, to their personal style, and ask yourself if you feel comfortable with it. Are they reserved and self-contained? Are they friendly and outgoing? Does this match what you can work with? Many people, even if they have no experience of therapy, know what they can work with in relationships. Therapy is a relationship, and so it’s best to know early how you feel about it.
TIP #2 – USE EARLY SESSIONS AS A TEST
Just as job interviews are two-way, so therapeutic relationships should be two-way. You are selecting someone to trust with your innermost thoughts and feelings. Notice how your initial assessment is handled. Do you feel inappropriately judged, dehumanised, or processed? Is the therapist transparent about their method? Even if the method itself is non-transparent, is the therapist at least caring about how they expose you to it? Do you feel that you are in emotionally safe hands?
TIP #3 – NOTICE GOOD EMPATHY, AND CHALLENGE POOR EMPATHY
Your therapist is partly dependent on your response to their attempts to be understanding. You can help them by offering corrections where you feel their understanding is wrong. A good therapist will make it clear that they welcome correction and clarification, and encourage you to come back to them with your own version of your experience. Don’t be afraid of saying ‘It’s not quite like that’, or ‘I don’t see it that way’. If your therapist never seems to be ‘getting you’, it may be time for a change.
TIP #4 – FIND THE RIGHT LENGTH, FREQUENCY AND NUMBER OF SESSIONS
Therapy is still in its infancy in terms of time arrangements. Most therapists tend to mindlessly offer about an hour, tell you when the time is up, arrange sessions at the same time every week, and either choose an arbitrary number such as six sessions, or let sessions carry on infinitely. It is worth shopping around to see what is on offer in terms of flexibility. For example, you may want sessions twice a week, or once every two weeks. You may consider an hour not enough (or too long), and therefore seek some flexibility. And you may wish to arrange therapy during academic term-time only, or in holidays only. It’s your self-development, and so there is no reason why you should not seek something suitable for you.
Counselling and psychotherapy involve a slightly haphazard selection process.
You can make this process fit your needs by trying the following:
- Have an initial phone call. Get an idea as to whether the personal style of the therapist works for you.
- Use early sessions as a test, checking whether you feel in emotionally safe hands.
- Notice whether your therapist ‘gets’ you. To be fair, give them a chance by guiding them with your response. See if a good empathic relationship develops between you.
- Find the time arrangement (length, frequency and number of sessions) that suits your style and needs.
Do make your own choices, but if you are thinking of starting therapy or changing therapist, then you are welcome to make contact with Eddie Chauncy via this site for an initial phone call. The call, and the first session, are always free. Variations in session length, frequency, and number can be arranged.