What do you look for in a psychotherapist?

If you are seeking help for emotional distress you are probably looking for three things:

  • You want to talk about thoughts and feelings which you have not talked to anybody (or many other people) about before. So you want space and time to express yourself.This is one of the important things that all forms of psychotherapy offer – a place where you can speak of things that are difficult to speak about or look at and share feelings that are distressing, frightening or overwhelming.
  • You want to be sure you are speaking to someone who will understand your experience and whom you can trust.People who learn to be psychotherapists have a special interest in people and are trained to recognise a wide range of human experiences, especially those that underlie emotional distress. They seek to offer a place where clients can be heard without being judged or stereotyped. What you discuss is confidential. The therapist will only discuss what you say with a supervisor or, at the most, with a few colleagues in a professional setting. Sometimes, the therapist will discuss what you say with one or more of your family members, but only where this seems likely to be helpful to you and only after discussing it with you first and obtaining your permission.
  • You want to work with someone who can give you a clearer understanding of your problems, how they came to develop in the first place, and what you can do to change.For example, many people with depression are puzzled by their low mood. It can be helpful to see how current life conditions are contributing to this. For example, conflict in relationships is strongly associated with depression and it is often not possible to address the depression without tackling the relationship difficulties. Similarly, people may become depressed because they don’t seem to have “got over” a traumatic experience or a bereavement. But they may not have properly dealt with these experiences and addressing them may be needed to deal with the depressed mood. Similarly, someone brought up in a punitive environment with a critical parent may have an inner voice that continually tells them off and runs them down, which in turn keeps them feeling that they are worthless or not good enough.
  • You may be cautious about asking for professional help because you would like to be independent and able to manage their own life. Some people feel ashamed that they need to turn to professionals for help, or may be afraid that by having counselling or psychotherapy they will become even less able to help themselves.It is the aim of all forms of psychotherapy to assist people in taking charge of their lives. Cognitive therapy, out of which schema therapy evolved, is designed to actively support clients in learning to help themselves. It provides them with resources to enable to become their own therapist so that not only will they learn how to cope with their daily situations better, but will also cope more effectively in the future, when emotionally difficult times occur.

Next: What kind of psychotherapy?