BLOG POST – Spring 2017


This Blog follows on from my Winter posting ‘Danger – ‘Therapists at Work’! choose a therapist 2This time I am going to tell you how sort out the real deal from the frauds when you are looking for a psychotherapist or a counsellor.

So, how can you tell if a therapist is properly qualified? Well, the fact is that without expert knowledge avoiding the ‘cowboys’ is not easy. Unfortunately, anybody, properly trained or not, can call themselves a therapist. There is no law against it. As a result, there are an awful lot of quacks and charlatans out there. That’s because in 2012, the Government threw out the planned statutory regulation of the psychological therapy providers. This means that there are no lists of officially recognised, properly qualified, practitioners for you to select from. You are on your own!

Actually, working out how to choose a genuine practitioner is Job 2. Working out what sort of psychological therapist you want is Job1. The problem is that there seems to be lots of different types of therapists about. What are the differences between them? Who does what? Most of them describe themselves as counsellors, or as psychotherapists, or as psychologists. In other words, they are all exponents of what are popularly known as ‘the Talking Therapies’ They all claim to help people who are experiencing mental health or psychological well-being difficulties. These concerns might include mental disorders, psychological problems, emotional difficulties, or general anxieties, worries, and fears. (By the way, psychiatrists are different altogether. By law, they have to be registered medical practitioners who have trained as specialists in the mental disorders).

Generally speaking, counselling deals with the less intensive emotional problems. That’s because most counsellors are not trained to a particularly high level, (not even to degree standards in most cases).  Talking to a counsellor is a bit like talking to your best-ever friend. However, it is a lot more confidential, a lot more challenging, and usually a lot more helpful.

Psychotherapy is much more comprehensive in its approach to its clients’ problems. Genuinely qualified psychotherapists are trained to a high level, (Master’s degrees, Doctorates, and beyond). They provide a wide range of solution-focussed help for a wide range of emotional problems, psychological disorders, and mental health concerns. Psychotherapists are essentially ‘problem solvers’. They don’t just ‘talk the talk’, they ‘walk the walk’ and they deliver the appropriate treatments.

Psychology is the study of mental processes and the accompanying behaviours. Not all psychologists become therapists. Generally speaking, most psychology undergraduate courses only provide minimal training in the psychological therapies. However, any psychology graduates who do go on to become mental health therapists will have undertaken postgraduate-level training in either clinical psychology or counselling psychology.

So, having done Job 1 and decided what sort of a therapist you need, you next need to tackle Job 2 and find a properly qualified practitioner. How do you discover if someone is properly qualified or not? How can you avoid the rogues?

Well, firstly look for people who are fully accredited by one of the main professional bodies, (not just ‘Members’ but ‘Accredited Members’, ‘Registered Practitioners, ‘Fellows’, or ‘Chartered’). These professional organisations include the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, The United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy, the British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Therapy, and the British Psychological Society.

Secondly, look at the qualifications claimed by the practitioners you are considering. Do they have appropriate university-level diplomas or degrees in counselling or psychotherapy? Be careful – even amongst the apparently qualified there are tricksters about. Too many minimally trained practitioners make themselves look better than they really are by listing all their ‘letters’, even the ones that are irrelevant. For example, someone with a PhD in say Geography, History, or whatever, but who actually has only a basic, low-level, counselling diploma, might still use the title ‘Doctor’. This way, the less qualified practitioners can make themselves appear to be much better qualified than they really are. It’s easy to be deceived, even by those with the best of intentions. For example, did you know that Doctor Marie Stopes, the justly celebrated birth control pioneer, was not medically qualified at all. Although certainly not a fraudster, she was actually a PhD botanist who studied plant fossils.

Thirdly, use your common sense and check them out. That’s what Google is for. Ask around, call them up and ask any questions that you might have. Do they have an independent complaints procedure? What exactly are their claimed qualifications? Where did they get them? Do they have professional insurance?  If they seem a bit reluctant to tell you all about themselves then your alarm bells should start ringing. Do they seem genuine? Above all, does this therapist sound like someone you would be comfortable talking to? If they don’t, no matter how well qualified or experienced they actually are, find somebody else.

Finally remember this: The Talking Therapies are just a service industry like any other. There is nothing special about the ‘Therapy Trade’ or the people who work in it. Psychological therapists are just hucksters trying to attract customers in a very competitive marketplace. They sell therapy just as other merchants might sell electrical appliances, food, clothes, holidays, or indeed anything else they can persuade the public to buy. So, approach hiring a therapist just like you would approach hiring a car. Don’t book the first one you see, (therapists or cars). Look around and check out what’s available. Then choose the one that best suits your needs. Don’t just go for the cheapest or be fooled by the flashiest. Go for the package, (again therapists or cars), that will get your job done at a fair price. Never forget, with therapists, as with anything else – ‘you gets what you pays for’.