Finding a good therapist can feel like trying to find the proverbial needle in a haystack. Type your location and the word “therapist” into your search engine and you’ll be faced with hundreds of listings.
It doesn’t help that anyone in the UK can legally call themselves a therapist or counsellor. Sadly, there is currently no legislation around this issue.
Therapists are also human. So like in any profession, there will be those who do well at their chosen occupation and those who don’t.
So how to find a good therapist? Who can you trust and what should you look for?
A Good Therapist Has Good Training
The best qualifications alone do not a a good therapist make – but it’s a good start. A counsellor, psychotherapist or counselling psychologist in the UK will have spent a minimum three years at a reputable school, followed by at least a year of being a trainee. Do not feel embarrassed to ask your therapist what their training is if it does not appear on their website.
You can also verify if your therapist’s school is recognised by the appropriate boards in the UK. This includes looking at the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) accreditation directory or the British Psychological Association (BPS) accredited course list.
Recognised UK qualifications you might see when seeking a therapist are:
- BA/ BSc – Bachelors or Bachelors of Science, basic foundation degrees to be taken before the next level of education that certifies one to be a counsellor
- MA/ MSc – a Masters of Arts or Master of Science, taken after a foundation degree
- DipPsych a one-year conversion diploma in psychology taken by those whose first degree was not psychology so that they can then continue with graduate studies in psychology
- BSc(Psych) bachelor of science in psychology – again a foundation degree only
- MBChB bachelor of medicine, bachelor of surgery, foundation degree for psychiatrists
- MSc Counselling Psychology masters of counselling psychology
- DPsych postgraduate diploma of counselling psychotherapy
- Psychotherapy & Counselling MA masters of psychotherapy
- Level 5 Diploma in Psychotherapeutic Counselling – the highest level of qualification for counsellors in the UK. Counsellors with level 4 are also eligible to work with clients
- DClinPsych doctor of clinical psychology
- DCounsPsych doctor of counselling psychology
- DEdChPsy/ EdChPsychD – doctor of educational and child psychology
- PGDip (PGDip CBT, PGDip CAT, etc) postgraduate diploma in a certain type of therapy
- PG Cert post graduate certificate, most often a one-year course taken by those who already have degrees.
A Good Therapist is Registered
A good therapist is registered with the appropriate organisation in the UK that shows they are committed to upholding strong ethical standards. There are many different organisations, and you can learn about them by reading our associated article ‘Does my therapist need to be registered?”
The acronyms you will see attached to a therapist’s name that indicate what organisation they are registered with are as follows:
- MBACP a registered member of the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy (BACP) but not long-term experience as a therapist.
- BACP acc a registered member of the BACP with proven experience who has passed a rigorous assessment to be ‘accredited’.
- MBACP Sn Accred the BACP’s highest rating for practicing therapists, this denotes that not only is a therapist very experienced, they have a specialist area they are accomplished in.
- UKCP shows a therapist has taken training at an institution approved by the UK Council for Psychotherapy.
- CPsychol registered with the British Psychological Society (BPS).
- FRCPsych or MRCPsych Members of the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych). This means they are also qualified doctors who can prescribe medication.
- HPC Health Professions Council.
- RMN Registered Mental Nurses – this is a basis for further training to become a counsellor or psychotherapist.
A Good Therapist Has Essential Personal Skills
Remember, just because a therapist has letters behind their name does not mean they are a good therapist.
They must also have the personal and professional skills that only experience, love for the job, and the right personality to be a therapist can bring.
A good therapist is:
A skilled listener.
A good therapist listens not just to what you say, but more importantly to what you do not say. They help you become more aware of what lies ”in-between the lines”, and bring your attention to patterns in your behaviour that you may not be aware of.
Easy to speak to.
You may feel nervous or stressed during your first few sessions, this is normal. But a good therapist will soon leave you feeling comfortable.
Good therapists show their clients respect, have a sincere interest in your wellbeing. They keep the focus on you, and work to make sure that the session stays upon your issues, not their own.
Your body language may say something different from the words you are speaking.Good therapists will observe your mannerisms, perhaps even drawing attention to physical movements you make during the session.
Works in a Healthy Environment.
A good therapist does not have to have an expensive couch for you to sit upon in the poshest area of town. But the environment you work in may affect your therapy. For example, an uncomfortable chair or disturbing artwork could be a distraction which could break the natural flow of your session. In some cases, raising these concerns can help build a therapeutic relationship.
There are behaviours and actions which are inappropriate or unethical within the therapeutic relationship. A good therapist knows that you are their client and do not overstep this line in any way. They do not try to be your friend or anything more.
And what is a bad therapist, then?
- Does not listen to you.
- Does not have healthy boundaries. If your therapist makes sexual advances or alludes to having a sexual relationship with you they are engaging in a gross ethical violation and should be reported.
- Suggests meeting up outside the therapy environment. This touches on the idea of having a duel relationship with your therapist, i.e. friendship or other type relationship. Interacting with your therapist outside the therapy environment is unethical and risks the work done within the session.
- Makes you feel bad: Belittles you or says things which engender feelings of shame and embarrassment. Therapists should be supportive and tolerant.
- Gives gifts that have no relevance to the progression of the treatment. Even gifts that typically have positive associations such as cards or flowers can also be counter-productive to the professional relationship.
- Hijacks your therapy session: A bad therapist speaks about their personal issues during your session time.
- Is guarded or suspicious about their education, experience, and qualifications. You have the right to know about where your therapist received their training, how long they have done therapy, and about their professional affiliations. If your therapist seems evasive when asked about this information or refuses to give it to you, they might be hiding something.
Harley Therapy connects you with therapists who have graduated from the most reputable UK institutions and have at a minimum five years postgraduate clinical experience. Meet a therapist in one of three London locations, or worldwide via Skype counselling.