FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Psychotherapy is a means to an end, and that end is to resolve your particular issues so that they no longer restrict your potential in life in the same way that they have done in the past.
Therapy may help you to overcome certain problems such as an eating disorder, depression or anxiety by helping you to find a solution to your underlying problems or concerns. It can give you a fresh perspective on a difficult issue and can help you understand and reframe the difficulties that you have experienced in the past and that you are experiencing currently. As well as helping you to understand yourself and your personal goals and values better, it can also teach you specific emotional and social skills which can help to improve your relationships and steer your life towards greater fulfilment and success.
This is the biggest question and probably the hardest to answer in any meaningful and reliable way. It is far beyond the scope of this site (and probably beyond your attention span) to offer a comprehensive description of the more than 300 varieties of counsellors and psychotherapists in the UK today, but I think I can summarise it quickly, so that you will be better equipped to make a responsible choice.
Qualifications and experience speak volumes when you are trying to choose a therapist. I am a Chartered Counselling Psychologist who has not only received training which lasted a minimum of seven years, but I have also received supervision in relation to my therapeutic interventions from experts, which ensures that the therapeutic services that I provide are of the highest standard. In addition, I also keep up to date with the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines and offer evidence-based treatments. I believe that qualifications, supervision, and professional development, along with therapeutic services which are tailored to each individual's specific psychological challenges and needs is what can ensure the quality of therapy.
In order to be a Chartered Psychologist, a practitioner must have post-MA or doctorate level training in a range of psychological therapies, as well as experience with a wide range of presenting difficulties. In July 2009, the Health Professions Council (HPC) took over as the statutory regulator for practitioner psychologists in the UK and, in order to be able offer services to the public as a Chartered Counselling Psychologist, practitioners need to complete an HPC approved programme of training.
Counselling Psychologists follow a distinct professional discipline with graduate and postgraduate accredited programmes via the British Psychological Society and HPC. The programmes changed from Post-MA graduate counselling programs (3-5 years), to a doctorate program (3-5 years). Counselling Psychologists have to gain eligibility for Chartered Membership with the Society and also gain eligibility to apply to the Health Professions Council (HPC) for registration.
Other practitioners, such as counsellors and/or psychotherapists, most often do not have HPC registration or post-graduate qualifications and their training may have taken place over the course of only months or a few years. Chartered Counselling Psychologists are trained to be more versatile and flexible and to be proficient in using different therapeutic approaches in order to adapt more easily to clients individual psychological needs. They offer an active collaborative relationship which can both facilitate the exploration of underlying issues and can empower people to confront change.
Evaluate the therapist yourself using your subjective messages from your experience in the sessions. You know what they say? One instinctively knows when something is right...
The initial consultation lasts for approximately one hour and is an opportunity to discuss your current difficulties - in fact, during this first session you can expect to do nearly all of the talking. During the assessment, the psychologist will take a detailed family history in order to understand you in the context of your past and your life experiences. While you are talking, the therapist will be listening carefully, evaluating your situation and deciding on possible treatment. Towards the end of the initial session, the therapist will explain different ways you could work together and will propose a therapeutic structure: a schedule of appointments, a fee, and any other confidential and related details. You can then make a decision at the time to attend for a number of sessions or you have the opportunity to discuss this structure and decide whether to continue, or you can of course go away and think about it.
At your first session, you and the therapist should agree on a regular day, time and place for your appointment. After that, your appointment should, ideally, stay the same as long as the therapy lasts; that is best for the success of your treatment. You may think that a flexibility in the schedule is helpful to you, but it has been shown over and over again that to your unconscious mind, it is not. If you are depending on a structure for support, any change to that structure will leave you feeling unsafe. Therapy sessions last for 50 minutes, but if you arrive late they must still end at the agreed time, not least out of respect for the next patient.
The duration of therapy varies greatly according to each clients presenting difficulties and their personal aspirations. During the initial consultation, the therapist will provide an indication of the proposed duration on the basis of the problems that you are facing. As a general rule, I would suggest that you initially come for 4-6 sessions to get a feel for the therapy and to enable you to gauge whether it is likely to be helpful to you. Psychotherapy is not a quick fix and it doesn't instantly change you and make your problems go away. The most important factor in successful therapy is the commitment by the person seeking therapy.