When it comes to identifying a suitable therapist, there isn’t one size that fits all. A palpable difference is to be found between a good therapist and a therapist that will suit a patient’s needs. A good therapist is someone who is adequately qualified and fulfils the basic characteristics of a professional therapist, whereas a therapist who would suit a person’s particular requirement refers to the area of concern the person is seeking help in (child counselling, relationship counselling, marital counselling, family therapy, etc). Though a majority of therapists are trained to handle and help a wide variety of population, and deal with various mental health concerns, only a few of them prefer to super specialise in a particular field.
Here’s a list of a few important points to bear in mind while deciding on a counsellor:
1. Know the difference between a psychiatrist, a counselling psychologist, and a clinical psychologist.
A psychiatrist is an individual who has obtained an MBBS followed by an MD in Psychiatry. They are authorised to prescribe medications, and a majority of them mostly deal with diagnosis.
A counselling psychologist is an individual who has attained an M.A. or MSc. in Counseling Psychology. They usually deal with the aspects of therapy and treatment.
A clinical psychologist is an individual who has obtained the degree of M.A. or MSc. in Clinical Psychology. They predominantly engage in testing and diagnosis, and primary treatment.
In reality, these professions aren’t as well defined and they have the tendency overlap. Here, it is important to keep in mind that only a Psychiatrist can prescribe medications.
2. The qualification of the therapist is of utmost importance.
Ideally, an individual who holds an M.A. or MSc. in Counseling Psychology is referred to as a counsellor or therapist. However, there are individuals who take up certificate courses which differ from their field of work, and choose to specialise in a particular kind of therapy, given as a variety of therapies do exist. In India, due to a lack of licensure and standardisation, it might be slightly tricky to identify an individual who is an authentic professional in this field though there are individuals who are accredited practitioners from organisations like Rehabilitation Council of India (RCI) and University Grants Commission (UGC). It helps for the patient to ask about or learn of their therapist’s qualifications before committing to them.
3. Experience of the professional
There have been mixed reviews about a professional’s experience on the basis of research. It is difficult to decide this as a therapist-client relationship is subjective in nature and each person has their own experiences to draw a conclusion from. Even so, to a large extent, years of experience do not matter as much as the professional’s qualification, the client-counsellor relationship, and the area or areas of concern being handled and addressed well by the counsellor.
4. Super Specialised Professionals
With reference to dealing with specific concerns, one might want to seek a super specialised professional. For example, if a child with autism has an academic concern, a remedial educator will be of better help and if the child has a concern relating to behavioural and social skills, a counseling psychologist will be better suited. One might not always be able to get in touch with the exact professional they need as at most times, one is unaware of the actual concern. In such a scenario, approaching any mental health professional is usually helpful. Based on the client’s requirement, they will usually be referred to a more suitable professional.
5. Therapy takes time
It is common for clients to want to know the approximate number of sessions that they would have to come to therapy for and how long the same would take to bear fruit. This information is slightly difficult for therapists to provide after the first or second session. When it come to seeing the results of therapy, it usually takes a few sessions for the person to identify changes in themselves. Counseling doesn’t consist of one problem for one solution but involves a vast range of techniques. It also does take a period time for the client and counsellor to develop a bond and work towards improvement. It usually takes around 2–3 sessions for a client to feel comfortable and for the therapist to help the client based on their specific requirements. It’s only post this that actual therapy can take place. As a client, if you are uncomfortable with your therapist, you can always state that point and request for a referral elsewhere. What is also helpful is to find a therapist who practises close to your home or at someplace you would not have to travel for hours to.
Though the definition of a “good counsellor” is hard to come by and each professional functions based on numerous factors such as school of thought, client requirement, their own beliefs, etc. there still are a few characteristics that a standard therapist should more than likely exhibit. Here’s what to look for:
- A good therapist will come across as sincere and empathetic.
- They will be fairly organised when it comes to scheduling appointments and creating plans of therapy.
- A good therapist is a genuine listener.
- They will try, as much as possible, to adhere to the time frame of the session.
- They will not provide judgments on or decisions for your life. A good therapist will be non-judgemental, and base their ideas on observations and interactions with the client.
- A good therapist will usually encourage you to think for yourself and will try and not advise you on matters until they feel a need for the same.
- They will not let their personal bias and opinion come into play. If you feel unsafe and judged, you can question them about the same and look for another therapist.
- A good therapist is usually resourceful and will help you to the best of their abilities.
- Good therapists also have an insight into the role they play in their sessions and are aware of their shortcomings.
- Good therapists charge efficiently for their services. Though the fees are dependent on a variety of factors such as time, personal expertise, method of therapy and so on, therapists’ fees (in a city like Mumbai) usually range from rupees 500–2000 per session.
When an individual seeks help or therapy, there are chances that they might not be able to bond well with the therapist and that the level of client-counsellor comfort does not develop. In such a situation, it is important for the client to talk to their therapist. The therapist will usually try another approach and if that fails, they are more than likely to recommend the client to another therapist. When this occurs, the client is requested to give a chance to another therapist and is also requested to avoid having a prejudice against counselling, as far as possible. Therapy or counselling is often a method of trial and error. In a number of instances, the counsellor-client fit is usually a success. It is important to bear in mind that what a professional therapist or counselling session can provide, no other professional will be able to.
The most crucial step is to convince oneself or the concerned person to go for counselling. As mentioned above, therapy takes time. Give yourself the time you need to heal and the space you require to do so. Therapy is a lifestyle change, where one learns to be more aware of their own thoughts and emotions, trying and learning to better deal with them.
A vast majority of the population, irrespective of their literacy level, believe in the myth that one seeks the help of a psychologist only when they are suffering from a severe mental disorder. But the fact remains that, irrespective of having a serious mental health concern, it is always advisable to go in for therapy and enhance your life, to help you live more fully.
There is a hesitancy observed in patients to pay the required fee to their therapists. While there are therapists who charge an obnoxiously high amount of fees, paying no fees or asking for a discount isn’t ethical either. Yes, the session might be like a conversation and no, you won’t get a prescription, but it is important to realise that the therapist has given you their time and expertise, which is something that you wouldn’t have received otherwise.
It is essential to take professional help when you feel the need for the same and to not let social stigma deprive you of a better life. The last point to bear in mind and remember is that— It is completely okay to not be okay.
Gladding, S. T. (2014). Counseling: A Comprehensive Profession. (7th Ed.). Pearson Education. New Delhi: Indian subcontinent version by Dorling Kindersley India pvt ltd.
Bansri Mehta is a Counselling Psychologist and Volunteer Researcher at One Future Collective.
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