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BACP Senior Accredited Counsellor

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Therapy, Mobiles and the Challenge of Choice

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I am about to upgrade my mobile which will be a fun way of spending time – or perhaps not! A quick glance at the phone websites provides the usual daunting array of devices, systems and providers which all clamour for my attention.

This is a useful reminder for me of what it may be like for some clients when choosing a counsellor to work with. Having decided that counselling or therapy could be helpful, clients are then faced with an overwhelming assortment of different techniques, approaches, agencies or individuals to choose from. I am sure that for some this choice of which therapist to choose can be as confusing as the selection of that new mobile is for me.

One useful source of advice can be from friends who will extol the virtues of a particular model or service.  It can be helpful to listen to other people’s experiences although it is worth remembering that we may all have slightly different needs; and that can be true of both the mobile and the therapist.  

It may be a little more awkward for some people to seek advice from friends and relatives on something as personal as therapy and counselling.  Nevertheless if a friend or colleague has had a good experience from working with a particular counsellor, that can be a helpful marker.

In addition to direct enquiries from members of the public, therapists will also receive enquiries from many different sources. That can include members of the health services, professionals such as solicitors, corporate counselling service providers and also companies or organisations.

When a client decides to contact a therapist there are immediate thoughts of what to look for. What are the important features or requirements?  And once contact has been made and a meeting arranged there is the issue as to what questions to ask the therapist.

I am usually hesitant to suggest what clients ought to look for in a counsellor or therapist. This should be an individual choice and decision. It is likely however that some key issues will include the way the therapist works, the likely personality fit between client and counsellor together with that instinctive feel as to whether the counsellor’s room feels the right place to be. For some there may also be issues around gender and age of the therapist.

There are however a couple of very specific points that it is sensible to highlight which may not be immediately obvious to the new client. I will start with what I regard as the most important. 

I would always strongly encourage clients to work with an Accredited counsellor. Accreditation can be seen as a supportive statement bestowed by the professional body granting the Accreditation such as the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). If the therapist is accredited with one of the mainstream counselling organisations such as BACP, this can be seen as a confirmation that the therapist is professional, trained and adheres to a recognised ethical code. That is important given the serious work that can be completed within the therapy room.

The technical way in which the therapist works may also be important to new clients.  There are some very specific counselling approaches currently in use such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) or Solution Focussed Therapy. These two techniques can be particularly useful if there are only likely to be a very few sessions to be held and a behavioural change required.  CBT has however been criticised in some quarters as being rather rigid and formulaic.  CBT work offered by some agencies may seem to be very structured with an emphasis on homework including notes and thought diaries which can be off-putting for some clients

If there is a need to develop an understanding at a deeper level as well as a wish to change behaviours then it may be appropriate to work with other open ended approaches such as psychodynamic or existential therapy. Other clients may prefer a mixed approach which can be found within the pluralist or the integrative schools.

I would always encourage clients to have an initial discussion with their potential therapist about the approaches used by the therapist. I am uneasy about the view expressed by some therapists that ‘clients will not understand’ or ‘clients will not be interested in different counselling techniques’. That seems to be a rather patronising and old fashioned approach.  A professional counsellor should be prepared to discuss options and to do so in a way that helps each client to understand the approach. The therapist should also be willing to point the client in another direction if it seems likely that her/his specialism, training or degree of knowledge is not appropriate for that client. 

Clients should also expect a professional therapist to discuss issues around confidentiality both with regard to what can be expected but what may also not be possible.  For example an Accredited therapist will regularly undertake what is known as supervision. This is a standard requirement for any professional therapist and one which clients should expect the counsellor to mention.  

There are also the practical issues to consider. If you are to discuss private and personal issues with a therapist it is important to ensure that the basics are right for you. For example the location and surroundings will be important. It is understandable if you approach a counselling session with concerns as to what you may talk about but it will not be helpful to be worrying about whether you will be able to find a parking space.  

Counselling is not be about being completely at ease in the room. Therapy can sometimes be a challenging process and there may be some testing moments. Nevertheless if you are comfortable with the surroundings, with the location and with your personal safety and security, you will be in a better place to engage with any difficult work.

A final thought is on the issue of fees. It is important that the fee level feels right and is affordable and this should form part of those initial discussions. If weekly therapy is being offered it is particularly important to ensure that it is affordable. A counselling process which starts well and makes progress but then has to stop abruptly because of cost issues, is unlikely to provide a helpful experience for the client.

I often suggest to clients that therapy work is an investment. It is an investment by you in time, money and emotional energy.  Just like any other investment it is important that you as the client feel that you are gaining an appropriate return for your personal investment.  To ensure that is the case, it is worth spending some time thinking carefully about who to see and what you want to hear.

As a therapist I am very aware that first impressions are important. I always encourage clients to pay attention to their inner voice and that intuitive feeling which may come from the first contact and a first response. Certainly we as therapists should ensure that we are always in a position to respond quickly and courteously to those who contact us.

And that brings me back to my current dilemma about my phone.

In order that I can respond quickly and effectively it is important that I make sure that I actually receive calls, emails or texts that are sent. That means I now need find a new and very reliable piece of kit. And the more I look at the issue of which new mobile to go for, the more this seems to be a really confusing choice to make!

So if there are any good ideas, referrals, and recommendations out there please don’t keep them to yourself….!




Geoff Boutle

added on 1st October 2016

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