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Five questions to ask when looking for therapy

1 February 2021

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Five questions to ask when looking for therapy

The demand for mental health support for young people has never been greater. Finding the right type of support, however, can be a time-consuming, complex and tricky business.

If seeking private support, you may have to navigate a mind-boggling array of online information. Even when you eventually whittle your search down to a few names, how do you know if the professional you contact has the right training, professional skills and knowledge? How can you be confident that they will be able to effectively work with you or your son or daughter to overcome the difficulties you are struggling with? It is important to remember that any fully qualified professional would expect to be asked questions. They would also want to provide information to help you make the right decision about treatment. Here are 5 questions that we’d advise anyone to ask when contacting a professional for the first time:

Step 1: Are you currently registered with a professional body or statutory regulator?

Doctors, Psychiatrists and Psychologists and many other health professions are subject to statutory regulation. This means that a single professional body such as the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC) is tasked with setting, monitoring and maintaining professional standards. This body ensures that there is consistency and transparency in maintaining these standards and that the public can be confident in the professional’s training, conduct and competence.

In contrast, there is currently no statutory regulation of Counsellors and Psychotherapists. Instead, there are professional bodies such as the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) and the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) which hold national registers of practitioners who abide by a code of ethics and who meet agreed standards and training requirements. The body also has a complaints procedure if needed. However, Counsellors and Psychotherapists are under no legal obligation to become a member of a professional body. Unfortunately, this lack of regulation means that anyone is able to use the title “Counsellor” or “Psychotherapist” when advertising their services. It is for this reason, that it is critically important to ensure that anyone that you work with is registered with a professional body.

Step 2: I am contacting you about this problem X. What type of training or clinical experience do you have treating this problem?

This question will provide an opportunity for the professional to share information about their background training and the range of difficulties they have treated. You may want to ask how they would go about treating the difficulty you or your son / daughter are presenting with. You may also wish to ask about the number and frequency of sessions and how long the treatment might take.

Step 3: What’s your success rate in treating this particular problem?

The success of therapy relies on lots of different factors. However, it may be helpful to ask any therapist you contact what the expected treatment response might be for your particular difficulty and how often in their experience, this response is achieved. How would they know that the treatment is working and if it is not working as planned, what would they do? Are reviews built into the therapy? If you are a parent, in what ways if at all, will you have opportunities for feedback or to be involved in your son / daughter’s treatment?

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) may also be a helpful resource for checking which type of talking treatments are most effective for the type of problem for which you are seeking support.

Step 4: What type of therapy do you practise?

There are many different models of therapy. Each model influences how the therapist will make sense of and treat the presenting problem. For example, psychodynamic therapists view psychological difficulties as stemming from early childhood and so will focus on helping you to gain insight into this period of life. This type of treatment is likely to be relatively long-term therapy. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) on the other hand, focuses more on the present and on the processes that are currently maintaining the problem, rather than the processes that might have led to its development.

In order for you to decide what kind of therapy may be of most benefit to you or your child, it’s often helpful to ask the professional to explain how they work and what to expect during a typical session. Ideally, you would want to find a therapist that views your difficulties in a way that makes sense to you.

Step 5: What is your area of expertise or speciality?

Some therapists have received specialised training in specific conditions, e.g. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. There are also therapists who have expertise in working with particular groups or age ranges. It may therefore be helpful to know if any of the therapists you contact have specialist knowledge and expertise in the areas which are most important to you or your child.

We hope that you find these questions useful when you are looking for a therapist. You have a right to expect a good service for you and/or your child when you work with a qualified mental health professional.

1 February 2021