Counselling and Psychotherapy – Getting Your Money’s Worth

Contacting a Counsellor or Psychotherapist for Face-to-Face Therapy

There are more people choosing to seek private counselling and private psychotherapy than ever before. Changing perceptions about counselling and psychotherapy as well as cutbacks being made to NHS services are probably the two main drivers behind this shift.

Despite this change there is no doubt that thinking about contacting a counsellor or psychotherapist for the first time can be anxiety provoking. Not knowing what to expect and not being sure of what to say are probably in the top ten reasons why many people decide not to do it.

One of the first things you can do is to carry out an online search of your area. A couple of good search terms to initially use are ‘Counselling (your area name)’ and ‘Psychotherapy (your area name)’. This should bring up a few pages of links for you to look through. There are a number of professional organisations in the UK, each with their own entry requirements and code of ethics that provide searchable registers of therapists, e.g. UKCP, BACP, BPS and BABCP etc. There are also a growing number of independent organisations springing up that offer searchable databases of members’ contacts, e.g. Counselling Directory, and other more specific organisations like Pink Therapy etc. If you are looking for low-cost or no-cost therapy then there may well be a charitable organisation in your area that can offer this. An online search followed by a few phone calls can lead to a low-cost and/or free service, although you may be required to meet certain criteria to qualify. Don’t forget you can also ask your GP what is available through the NHS.

For reasons of space I will focus on how you might approach a therapist working in private practice, although some of the following suggestions may well be transferable to different situations.
A useful question to ask yourself at this stage might be ‘What am I looking for in a therapist?’ Do you have no preference or a number of preferences? Do you have a preference of the gender of your potential therapist? It may be useful for you to consider the following: your potential therapists gender, age, race, sexuality, class, religious beliefs… (insert anything that you feel is important to you here) etc.

When you have narrowed down your search and are thinking of contacting a potential therapist a good question to initially ask is ‘Do you have space for a new client?’ Think beforehand about what days and times you have free. You may have a lot of flexibility or you might only be free on a specific day and time; either way, try to be clear about your availability so that you and your potential therapist can decide if it is feasible for you both to meet. If you can’t, then recognise this and carry on looking. There will be more therapists out there available to work with you; you just need to find them.

Should you find a potential therapist whose availability fits then some further useful questions to ask might be ‘Do you charge for the assessment session?’ ‘How long is the assessment session?’ ‘What are your fees should we decide to work together?’ ‘Where is your practice located?’ If you have mobility issues or you use a wheelchair don’t forget to ask ‘Does your practice have disabled access?’ Should your potential therapist not have disabled access to their premises then don’t be afraid to ask if they can see you at a venue that does. On issues of equality in access to therapy and anti-discriminatory practice your potential therapist should be willing to look at providing this for you. Don’t forget to ask about how to get there, e.g. practice address, bus routes, parking availability etc, as well as any other questions that you may have.

Your potential therapist may ask you questions like ‘Have you had therapy before?’ and ‘Can you tell me a little bit about why you are seeking therapy?’ as well as any other questions that they may have. With this in mind it can be a good idea to think in advance about how you might answer these questions. Sometimes writing down a few sentences about why you are currently looking for therapy can help you feel more confident about making contact with a counsellor or psychotherapist on the day.