*I am providing a link to a helpful and FREE printable comprehensive interview questions worksheet at the end of this article.*
So, you think you need therapy?
You probably do.
Everyone could do with a little bit of therapy in my humble opinion! And there’s no more shame in going to a therapist than going to the dentist or Doctor. It’s good mental and spiritual hygiene to take care of your inner world.
If you’re thinking about going for therapy then there’s most likely elements of your life no longer working for you. The fact that you’re aware of that and know that you need help is great and you’re already ahead of the game. Your self-awareness will stand you in good stead.
When I started looking for a therapist, all I knew was that I was clinically depressed at times yet high functioning. I suffered a lot of anxiety. I was totally miserable inside yet covering it up from everyone in my life and that the next bout of depression would probably finish me off.
I couldn’t understand why sometimes I was determined to end my own life (and had tried several times over the years) and yet there was nothing wrong with my present life and ultimately, I didn’t really want to die. I did AND I didn’t at the same time.
I was full of shame, I felt like a fake. How could I want to die and yet past a smile on my face, and go to work and look and sound so damn normal? How could I be feeling find one minute and then an hour later feel in the depths of despair but not know why? Why did I feel so empty?
I now know why. And looking back, I had NO idea what I was going to uncover about myself through the process of therapy. I was sure I was just a malingerer or an attention seeker or just desperate for undeserved sympathy. I hated myself with a passion for all of it.
But yeah, I was literally stunned to learn that I was suffering from trauma – complex trauma to be precise which is basically sustained traumatic events in childhood caused by attachment disruption with a parent, divorce, neglect, emotional and physical abuse, bullying, domestic abuse in the household, addiction problems in the family and mental illness in parent/s. You get the picture.
Before I started therapy, I was sure any therapist would think I wasn’t in need of a therapist, that there wasn’t really anything wrong with me and that my childhood was pretty normal (which I thought it was) and they’d think I was just on a big “ poor me” trip.
I soon learned that it was quite the opposite. They took me seriously and they went as far as to identify some pretty toxic dynamics in my childhood. I was diagnosed with complex trauma. And there started the journey of a lifetime, which isn’t over yet.
But back to you…. All of that is to say, don’t assume you know everything there is to know about yourself and your family and that if you feel like you need therapy it’s because you’re weak or attention-seeking or just born miserable and broken. It’s not true, you’re none of those things.
In fact in my 7 years of therapy experience, it’s only the strong and the brave who turn up and who stick it out.
If you’re feeling bad then you deserve support. Go get it.
It’s hard to know where to start, if you’ve never been in therapy, how do you know what you really need? How do you pick the right therapist for you? How do you pick the right kind of therapy?
It’s a minefield!
There’s a ton of information out there about how to find a therapist, so I’m not going to go over it here.
But I do have some tips in order to help you find the therapist who is the best fit for you.
Before we start though, I want to say, obviously am not a mental health professional, I am a client, a service-user, a patient – whatever you want to call it. I can’t know what you need and I can only give you the benefit of my experience, so feel free to take what’s helpful and leave what isn’t. Do your own thinking and your own research into what you think you might need.
Also, I am in the United Kingdom, so our processes here are different from other countries so be aware of that.
If you’re an absolute newbie to the world of therapy and don’t have a therapist yet, then my tips are
- Research, Research, Research! Ensure any therapist you find is fully registered with an ethics board to practice in the U.K that’s the BACP, UKCP for counsellors and psychotherapists. Be aware that at present, anyone in the U.K can legally call themselves a therapist even if they aren’t trained as one. So, make sure any potential therapist is listed with a governing body.
- You should know that even therapist’s who are fully registered can be shit at their job. Like every profession, there’s the good, the bad and the damn right ugly! So be aware of what a “Good Therapist” is and know what the red flags are and when to get the hell out of there! ( I will cover good practice and red flags in another post soon.)
- More expensive or more qualified doesn’t necessarily translate to better therapy. I’ve heard some real horror stories of terrible practice from Psychologists who charge the earth, and conversely heard some heart-warming, beautiful stories of excellent practice from counsellors and psychotherapists who charge half the price. What’s important is that you and your potential therapist are a good match personality wise. Training of course is very important but I know of psychologists who are not up to scratch on the most up-to date research on neuroscience and complex trauma yet still practice claiming they know how to deal with trauma, using training they had as a student 20 years ago! And equally I know of other therapists who are really enthusiastic about learning and training and have an area of specialised interest – those are the type you want!!
- If you have adverse childhood experiences- things that affected you as a child, as outlined above, then you might have complex-trauma and you will want a therapist who is well versed and experienced in working with complex trauma. – Just a heads up- I learned to my detriment, that trauma is a bit of a fashionable buzzword in the therapy industry and many therapists claim to work with trauma and have taken courses, only to find out their “trauma course” was a two day seminar on PTSD or single event trauma like car crashes or house fire. That isn’t going to help you if you’re suffering sustained childhood trauma. So, look into their training,what kind of CPD (Continued Professional Development) they do and how often and to what depth, check their area of expertise. Therapist’s understanding what complex trauma is and knowing how to treat it are two vastly different things, you really want a therapist who has a deep understanding of what it is and empathy for it as well as a great interest in it and of learning more as needed.
- Before looking for a therapist, take some time to think about your needs. Make a wish list of what your perfect therapist would look like, not necessarily physically, but what you would want from your perfect therapist in an ideal world? Male/female? Warm or clinical? Formal or informal? Young or old? How many sessions per week would you like versus how much in reality you can afford. Do you think you’ll need outside session support such as email, text or phonecall? Are 50 minute session okay or would you prefer 60 mins, or 75 mins etc? Write it all down, not matter how unlikely your wish-list is. And that’s your start point. Then look at which parts of that list are negotiable, which are deal-breakers and which don’t matter but would be an added bonus. Once you have all that, start looking for your new therapist to be!
- Lots of therapists offer a free first consultation or at least 15 minutes of their time to answer any questions you have. But some don’t, some will charge a full fee. It’s up to you whether that sits well with you. It doesn’t for me. At the first point of contact, as far as I’m concerned it’s an interview. US interviewing THEM! No one else gets paid to go to an interview or to pitch for a job so why the hell are we paying therapists for their interview? That’s just my personal opinion though, it’s up to you how you feel about that.
- It’s okay, preferable even, to interview several therapists that might be a good fit. Even if you think you’ve found “ the one” at the first ever interview stage, it might still be worth while just seeing the others you like too. However, if the therapists you like all charge you for their first point of contact chat, then that could be costly.
- At the interview stage, take questions, ask them LOTS of questions! You want to get the best fit possible. Trust me, there’s nothing worse than building a therapy relationship with someone for months and becoming fond of them or attached even and then discovering they aren’t suited to you or not well enough trained. When a therapy relationship doesn’t work out, it can sometimes feel like a break-up! I shit you not, you’ll feel like you’ve just broken up with your first love… it’s traumatic. You’ll cry, and mope, and pine for months. So it’s best avoided as much as humanly possible. Obviously not everyone will react in that way, but if you have attachment issues there’s a good chance that’s how you’ll feel!
- Don’t expect to feel an instant connection. It can happen, but with all relationships it takes time. It’s normal to not be sure of them or not even sure if you like them that much. If you have an instant dislike, then they’re probably not for you. But if there’s things you like and they “fit” on paper, but you’re just not feeling much about them, give it time. You both need to warm to one another, get to know one another and get a bit comfortable with one another. First impressions aren’t always the most accurate. I’d suggest giving it at least 8-12 sessions before deciding, if you can.
- Good Luck!
Lastly, I want to address the people who know or suspect they have complex trauma caused by adverse experiences in childhood. You may not fully understand yet exactly how those experiences have affected you but you probably are feeling pretty shitty inside or numbed out or angry or hyper-vigilant.
If you already know/suspect that you’ve been affected by trauma or simply parents who didn’t meet your needs as a child, for whatever reason (even well meaning parents can totally misread their child needs and is traumatic for a child) then I want you to be really careful when picking a therapist.
Complex trauma is…. Well…. It’s complex!! Trauma doesn’t just reside in your feelings, your thoughts, your brain. Research shows that trauma very much lies in your body. Whether you’re aware of it or not. There are signs of trauma stored in the body if you know the symptoms. There’s huge amounts of info out there if you’re interested.
As such, I think as a lay person who also has trauma stored in my body, that it is essential you get a therapist who is trained in body psychotherapy such as somatic experiencing therapy, or at least a therapist that is at least aware of how the body is impacted by trauma and work with a “bottom up” approach, which basically means, working with the body signals (your fight or flight, your felt sense of your body or lack of feeling in your body) first before delving into the trauma material. And that therapist should be willing to work in a more body based way.
Other good therapies for complex trauma are *Schema Therapy, *Family Systems, Art therapy, Drama/music therapy, play therapy (yes even for adults!) *Transactional Analysis –
*not a body orientated therapy but very much delves into the fragmented parts of self and the psyche and child states.
There’s probably lots more therapy out there that I haven’t mentioned, the list isn’t exhaustive. And some of it might not feel right for you. This is all just a guide remember.
I have a FREE list of printable interview questions you may want to ask a prospective therapist. I compiled it when I was looking for a new therapist and was very anxious to get the right therapist for me. I am sharing them here for you to print off if you wish.
This list is personal to my needs at the time, and the questions are especially relevant if you’ve already been through therapy and know the ropes and the pitfalls and really know what you need and want. It will be good for those with complex trauma and attachment disorders (yes adults have disordered attachment patterns!)
But it you are a therapy newbie, you can print off the questions as a guide and I have made space there for any questions of your own you might want to add.