By Oskari Pentikainen, Student Counsellor at The Eaves
Finding a suitable therapist can be a journey in its own right. Exploring who could be “the right” therapist for you can bring up many questions and evoke a variety of feelings. What is suitable for someone else might not work for you. It can feel that there is a lot to consider: such as therapeutic approach, qualifications, speciality, professional membership, cost, availability, experience, face-to-face vs online, recommendations, how do you actually feel about the therapist? Indeed, it is natural to feel unsure or even confused in the face of different possibilities, and not knowing how much importance to attribute and to what.
Entering a new relationship
One way of navigating this journey, as explored here, is thinking about it as entering a new, healthy and healing relationship – a therapeutic relationship. Following this approach, it is important that you give yourself permission and time to explore and get in touch with what actually works for you. Ultimately, therapy is about you and your needs. Always remember that therapists are there for you. Not the other way round.
For the purpose of convenience, I use therapist synonymously with counsellor, psychotherapist, psychologist and other practitioners at The Eaves, and refer to their work as therapy. If you are not familiar with different types of therapeutic modalities, Mind or NHS can be helpful entry points for understanding some of the differences.
For example, my model of therapy is integrative and relational. I draw on several different therapeutic modalities and theories (incl. psychodynamic, humanistic, transactional analysis) to inform my work and therapeutic relationship between the client and myself. This also influences how I understand “suitable therapist” including my emphasis on relationality. I believe that just like we are wounded in relationships, so we heal and evolve in relationships. Like entering any authentic and healthy relationship, entering a therapeutic relationship, you may want to ask yourself whether you feel safe, not judged and truly heard by a therapist.
Think about exploring or going up a mountain. Different possible routes on the mountain are different therapeutic approaches. We may find ourselves drawn to one over another. We try the route only to realise that it is not appropriate for us. Or that it is not leading where we wanted or needed to go. Exploring and finding out is part of the journey. And that is OK. The role of the therapist is to travel alongside you; including telling you if they are not suited for your journey.
Walking alongside you
It is important to remember that your therapist will not make the journey for you, neither are they likely to merely give you advice from the bottom or the top of the mountain. Your therapist’s role, as I see it, is to walk alongside you. At your pace. In order to feel safe on that journey, we want to trust and feel at ease with our co-journeyer; and for them to be familiar with different, varied parts of the territory. This is one of the reasons why therapists are required to be in therapy throughout their training and continue doing their own work throughout their practice.
Connection – including with your own feelings
Research says that the working alliance between client and therapist is often a more consistent predictor in therapy outcomes than the therapeutic modality itself. What this means is that the quality of relationship between you as the client and the therapist, is arguably at least as important, if not more, as is the actual type of therapy being used.
What does all this mean in practice? Reading a therapist’s profile, talking with them on the phone, and having an initial session will likely bring a feeling response in you. What is that feeling saying? Can you imagine sharing your journey and being vulnerable with this person? It is natural that your feelings and views will evolve in time. Whatever those feelings and views are, acknowledging them is an important part of the journey. While not always easy, I would invite you to bring and share them with your therapist.
Connection flows from being authentic. Is there is a sense of the therapist being real, genuine? Conversely, can you envisage being real and honest, and bringing rarely seen or unwitnessed parts of yourself to this person?
Daring to try
Experimenting and experiencing different approaches and therapists sounds natural yet not always easy and can feel a daring step to take. Therapists are bound by their ethical code to put your interests and needs first including when you do not want to continue working with them. It is natural to wonder how a therapist will react if you choose to leave or turn them down. What the therapist may or may not feel, however, is not your responsibility. Their role is to walk alongside you, be there for you including for you to explore such decisions, and respect them. I was with my first therapist (a man) for best part of a year until I felt I wanted to move on to a woman therapist in face-to-face format. Looking back, my therapist’s capacity to put my interests first including hearing and holding what was evoked in me by the ending was one of the main gifts I received from that relationship.
Trusting your inner compass
Ultimately, whatever the return is that you hope to get from therapy, it is always an investment into yourself including your own evolution and healing. The process of looking for a suitable therapist itself is an important part of this investment. Getting in touch with and learning to trust your inner compass, including noticing and learning to take steer from how you feel, and finding out what works for you are good places to start.
Our professionals see individuals of all ages, families, couples and young people 12 hours a day, Monday to Saturday between 9am and 9pm. Please call 01483 917000 to speak to a member of the referrals team. You can also send us an enquiry via our website. Click here to find out more.
 See for example: Allison L.Baier, Alexander C.Kline, Norah C.Feeny  “Therapeutic alliance as a mediator of change: A systematic review and evaluation of research”, Clinical Psychology Review, Volume 82, December 2020, 101921. Available at
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0272735820301094?casa_token=WBBcu_7PkU8AAAAA:u2NReB7WtE7mT8mcCiwm1lApWiHB4XSmAoX_7yYS_v_Al9kgx5NuTrw_rQpwFnlIpCkVzZVU0OY on 27 May 2022;
Horvath, A. O., & Symonds, B. D.  “Relation between working alliance and outcome in psychotherapy: A meta-analysis”, Journal of Counseling Psychology, 38(2), 139–149. Available at https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-018.104.22.168 on 27 May 2022.
 See for example: British Association for Counsellor and Psychotherapists; or National Counselling Society.