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Dear All

In these blogs I am going to be giving pointers for those of you who are looking for a counsellor or psychotherapist and to make suggestions for people who are facing different issues.

First Blog – October 2017:

Some Tips on How to Choose a Therapist and the Importance of the Therapeutic Alliance

When you have an issue and you feel you can go no further without seeking out someone to talk to in the form of a trained professional, there are one or two points to bear in mind.

Firstly, and in some ways surprisingly, studies have repeatedly shown that the one criteria which more than others is a reliable indicator as to potential success of the treatment is the Therapeutic Alliance or relationship with your therapist. In other words if you manage to build up a trusting, friendly, working relationship with your counsellor or psychotherapist there is a good chance the therapy will have a good outcome. And this criteria is more important than your choice of therapy model (i.e. you may have a preference for CBT [quite popular at the moment] or psychodynamic, person centred, transactional analysis, Jungian, solution focused brief therapy [SFBT], compassion focused therapy, to name but a few of the many hundred types available, but if you do not manage to forge a good relationship with the practitioner, your chances of success will probably be slimmer than if you had chosen a modality you knew nothing of but liked the look of the face of the therapist!

The last few words lead me to another interesting result from a study I first came across when reading a book called Families and How to Survive them by Robin Skinner and John Cleese. In it they mention the Family Systems Exercise in which a group of individuals who have not previously met are asked to select another person in the room without being allowed to speak at all. To abbreviate the story a bit, the end result is that people find someone who, it turns out, is often similar in some detail to themselves, just by choosing them from a group with no access to any knowledge of who they are or where they come from etc. In some ways, choosing a counsellor or psychotherapist can be very similar: you look up in a directory all the therapists in a given location and choose the one that you like the look of (sometimes selecting out the ones that practice the preferred modality first). My point is that, as in the Family Systems Exercise, you are probably choosing someone (ultimately) who may resemble someone in your family or possibly would fill a gap that may exist in your family (i.e. the more serious/funny/sad brother/sister/parent that you never had). But, more importantly, if you like the look of someone there is probably a better chance that you will get on with them. So if someone asks me for advice as to how to pick a therapist for their son/daughter/partner etc I would say: select a list of (perhaps accredited) counsellors that you think would be suited for the job (as they list the issue as something they are able to treat) and then ask the son/daughter/partner to chose from the pictures in your shortlist. In this way the prospective client has 1) taken an active part in the selection process and 2) has actually chosen someone with whom they have a better chance of success in the therapy.

Similarly if you want to take your partner for couples therapy, choose a small number of practitioners that you like the look of and let your partner choose from that sample. Clearly this technique is not entirely foolproof and very occasionally when you actually meet the therapist they don’t turn out the way you had hoped. There are at least two possibilities in this scenario: firstly I would suggest giving the therapist some time, maybe a couple of sessions or three. The logic here is that the therapist, like many people may appear uncertain at the start but this may be put down to the difficulties that sometimes arise when meeting someone for the first time. As time goes by he or she may become more confident and your initial impressions could prove wrong. An alternative approach may be to immediately contact another therapist to see if you feel more at home with them. It really is ok to change therapists after one or two sessions (if you are not convinced by then it won’t work for you). No-one will be pleased to keep taking your fee if you are not getting the most out of the sessions. However having said that, sometimes it is worth putting in perhaps that bit extra work to understand what is going on in the therapy or even asking the therapist for more feedback/comments/etc. And remember, therapists are people too! They are not always on form every day of the week, so give them a chance and maybe you will come through well together.

Bibliography

Kahn, N. Between Therapist and Client 1991, New York: Holt Paperbacks

Safran, J.D. & Muran, J.C., Negotiating the Therapeutic Alliance, A relational Treatment Guide, 2000, New York: The Guildford Press

Skynner, R. & Cleese, J. Families and How to Survive Them, 1983, London: Mandarin (Methuin).