There are a surprising number of therapists. Some are very good. Many are not. Some are very good at what they do, but what they do isn’t very effective. Some aren’t very good at what they do, but what they do is, or can be, very effective. So you want to find a therapist who is good at what they do, and who uses methods that are very effective.
But, being a layperson yourself, how do you know what’s effective and whether an individual therapist is very skilled?
Let’s narrow the grounds somewhat here. I’m talking about help to resolve problems that relate to emotional issues. If your problem is strictly physical, then I can’t advise you, since that’s not my area. But very many physical complaints involve emotional issues. Very, very often people go first to physical practitioners to help physical ailments that are simply symptoms of emotional issues. Much better to get the emotional help you really need.
So be honest with yourself. Does your problem relate to emotional stuff? The most common mistake people make is to pursue therapies that only deal with the physical symptoms of their issues. This is expensive and ultimately unsuccessful. If your problem does have an emotional element, you need to heal it. The information here applies to you.
What kind of therapist is best for you? Don’t be tempted to go medical. If you want to resolve the emotional issues behind the symptom, don’t spend too much time looking at the medical explanations. Medical sources don’t know and don’t understand the emotional causes of physical problems. A medical explanation is of no value to you in resolving the underlying emotional issues.
Recognizing the emotional component of problems
Any emotional issue is going to have at least some of the following attributes associated with it:
- Negative or limiting beliefs about yourself or the world
- Unwanted behaviour (doing something you don’t want to do or not doing something you want to do)
- Uncomfortable feelings
- Dissociation (numbness)
- Low opinion of self
It is quite possible to have only limited awareness, or even no awareness, of some of these. For example, regarding limiting beliefs: many people have the belief that it is good for them to sacrifice themselves for others, and do so routinely; and it hasn’t occurred to them that this belief creates problems for themselves and those around them. Regarding dissociation: some people who are dissociated are not aware of it because being numb has become so familiar that it seems natural.
Nevertheless, if you pay attention to your body (rather than thinking about it rationally or analytically) as you consider these attributes, you will become aware of which are an issue for you. If you need help to gain this awareness, put the statements in the negative and say them to yourself. If you get a bad feeling as you ask these questions, your body is letting you know that there is an emotional issue involved. Bring to mind your physical ailments and state:
- I do not have negative or limiting beliefs about myself or the world.
- I am not numb or dissociated.
- I know that I’m okay.
- I am not stressed.
Just because you have an emotional problem doesn’t mean you have a clear apprehension of it. You may not know what your goal is or even exactly what your problem is. The therapist will help you to determine these.
Now you know that there’s an emotional issue to your problem (if you didn’t know already). What’s the best therapy for it?
There isn’t a clear answer to this question. For two reasons:
(1) Problems don’t have a single specific solution. If two different people manifest the ‘same’ problem, that problem is going to be very different in those two people. The manifestation may look superficially similar (social phobia, for example), but the problem itself is fundamentally different in each person.
(2) The applications of the ‘same’ therapy may be entirely different among different therapists. Hypnotherapy is possibly the best example of this. In the hands of two different therapists, hypnosis is an entirely different tool. It isn’t even about who can hypnotize the best. Hypnosis is actually just a tool; it’s not in itself a therapy. It’s what the hypnotherapist does with the tool that makes it effectual or not. The same is true of EFT. There are probably thousands of EFT practitioners in the UK alone. As a tool, and in principle, EFT is very simple. In clinical practice, EFT is entirely different when used by different practitioners.
So superficially similar problems can have entirely different etiologies; and the name of the therapy does not tell you very much about how it is used.
What you don’t want is a therapy that will involve enormous amounts of time (and therefore also of money), as do many of the older psychotherapies. The therapists who provide such treatment may be enormously experienced and skilled, but the therapy they’re using is ineffectual. If someone wants to sign you up for 6 months of treatment, go elsewhere. It may indeed turn out that you need six months of treatment – or even longer. But this is the exception, not the expectation.
Since the name of the therapy doesn’t tell you very much about the way it will be applied, it’s the competence and versatility of the therapist that’s really important. How do you find such a beast? Referral is the best way, of course. But if you are reading this, it’s probably because you don’t have such a referral or didn’t trust it.
Most therapists will now have some kind of internet presence. Shortlist a few therapists that you like the sound of. You need to interview them. Telephone them and ask for a free consultation. Many therapists will advertise that they offer this. Even if you’re not aware of such an offer, ask for it. All competent therapists will agree to it. Why on earth wouldn’t they? If they don’t, cross them off your list immediately.
Also, during your initial telephone call, find out what they charge. You may not be able to afford 250 dollars or pounds per consultation; and you might judge that the therapist with a fee of 25 dollars or pounds per consultation is either very inexperienced or has self-esteem issues. Even so, cost shouldn’t be a deciding factor unless the fees are really prohibitive. Higher cost is not necessarily an indication of higher quality – even though high-charging therapists will often make this claim. I have often come across hypnotherapists who charge a fortune for quit-smoking programmes but possess neither experience nor competence.
At your initial consultation, there are 15 questions you need to ask. Of course, they’ll need to ask you questions too in order to answer some of yours. Feel free to take notes of their answers so you can compare them at leisure. Most importantly, do you trust the therapist? For this, rely on your intuition. You can only work with someone that you trust.
15 questions to ask at your initial consultation
1. What therapies or methods do you use? What makes these successful?
2. What training have you had?
3. What professional association do you belong to?
4. How long have you been practising?
5. What kind of success do your clients achieve?
6. How many sessions do clients have with you on average?
7. How many sessions would you expect me to need?
8. How much do you charge, and how long is each session?
9. What therapies will you use with me? How do you decide?
10. How much experience have you had with my type of problem (relevant in cases of child sexual abuse, deep trauma or other issues of great severity)?
11. How soon will I experience the benefits?
12. How will we measure progress?
13. What expectations do you have of me?
14. What expectations should I have of you?
15. What is a realistic outcome of the therapy?