3 Things to Consider When Looking for a Therapist

Posted: January 24th, 2014 | Category: General | Tags: , ,

The process of finding a suitable therapist can be confusing, and individuals often ask “where do I start looking for one?”, “what should I consider?”” and “who is the right therapist for me?”.


If you find that you’re in this situation, here are 3 things that are useful to consider.



1. Therapist Qualifications

When we use the term ‘therapists’, we often refer to professionals who are trained to provide help and support to individuals experiencing life challenges, mental health difficulties or psychological and emotional stresses. These professionals come from a wide range of backgrounds and have different professional titles including counsellors, psychologists and psychotherapists.


In Australia, the titles ‘therapist’, ‘psychotherapist’ and ‘counsellor’ are not regulated by law, which means that anyone can use these titles without having to meet any specific standards. This doesn’t mean that all therapists, psychotherapists and counsellors are bad or ‘quacks’ but it’s useful to appreciate that the quality of professionals within these areas could vary.


If you come across professionals with these titles, it’s useful to consider if the individual has undergone formal training accredited by PACFA (Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia) or is a member of a PACFA-recognised organisation.


PACFA is currently the peak body of Professional Organisations within the areas of psychotherapy and counselling. It sets the professional standards for training in these areas, which provides some industry standards that members adhere to. The training to become a counsellor or psychotherapist is typically conducted by colleges and institutes.


The terms ‘psychologist’ and ‘clinical psychologist’ are regulated by Australian National Law and anyone who uses these titles must be registered with the government organisation AHPRA (Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Authority). AHPRA is the governing entity that regulates 14 healthcare professionals, including psychologists, doctors, nurses and dentists.


The qualification to become a ‘psychologist’ involves the completion of at least a 4-year university undergraduate degree plus 2 years of supervised training. The title ‘clinical psychologists’ is used by psychologists who have been formally endorsed for their expertise within clinical psychology. The minimum qualifications for ‘Clinical Psychologists’ include at least a 4-year university undergraduate degree and typically a 2-year university postgraduate Clinical Psychology degree, which involves structured clinical training, supervision and research.



2. Therapist Expertise

When looking for a therapist, it’s also important to find someone who has the expertise and experience working in the area that you’d like to seek help with. This involves checking to see if the therapist is familiar with:


– Your client group (whether you’re seeking help as an adult, child, couple or family)

– The issue you’re seeking help with (depression, anxiety, eating disorder, life transition issues, etc.)

– The preferred type of intervention (if you’re interested in particular types of treatment approaches, such as cognitive behaviour therapy, mindfulness, psychodynamic psychotherapy, etc.)


When considering expertise and experience of individual therapists, it’s useful to make sure that the professional practices evidence-based therapies. This means that the professional is appropriately trained in and experienced with the use of treatment approaches that have been shown through adequate research to be useful in dealing with specific issues.


This doesn’t mean that you’ll have to sieve through all the treatment literature on a specific issue or mental health disorder before looking for a therapist. However, having a general awareness that there are different treatment approaches helps you ask your therapist useful questions about the treatment approach he or she uses.


It can be worthwhile to look up the expertise of a therapist or psychologist from their professional profile. You can see what prior experience they have in the relevant area, including where they’ve previously worked or trained and any current or past involvement in research and publication in the area.



3. Client-Therapist Fit

Apart from the fundamental professional criteria of qualification and expertise, finding a suitable therapist is a lot about finding a good fit between the client and therapist. Therapy can be a very personal journey of working through very private and vulnerable issues. That’s why it’s important that you feel comfortable and have a sense of trust towards the professional helping you through this process.


The way to find out about the fit is to make contact and arrange for a consultation. It may take some time to figure out whether there’s a good fit so I often recommend allowing a period of 3 sessions to determine if the therapist is a good fit. This is because sometimes the client and/or the therapist can be a bit nervous or unsure in the first session as you get to know each other. The first session is also usually more about fact gathering by the therapist to get to know the issue you’re seeking help with.


The second session would often involve developing a good sense of what the issues are and putting all the various concerns into an overall picture plus a plan for future therapy sessions. By the third session, the initial nervousness of working with someone new would have now greatly reduced and there would have been some opportunities to start working on the issue that brought you to therapy.

Therefore, by the third session you should have a pretty good sense of whether there’s a good match between you and the therapist. Also, it’s useful to know that most therapists welcome feedback on how the sessions are going so if something is not working for you, it’s important to raise it with the therapist so that there’s a chance to improve things.


 It can be a daunting experience trying to find a therapist, but by keeping these things in mind and finding information about a few therapists, you’re more likely to make a good choice and find someone you feel comfortable with who can help you through your difficulties.


If you’d like to make an enquiry or speak to any of our Psychologists at Indepth Psychology, please call us on 02 8068 4361 or fill in the contact form.


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