The Counselling Shed
Recently a friend asked me to recommend a counsellor for his sister. Since I know his sister I could not offer my services.
Now this was not a straightforward thing for me to answer because I don’t really like recommending specific counsellors. If the person who has been given the recommendation then has a bad experience of counselling, they could feel let down or disappointed and they might also be less likely to give counselling another try in the future.
If someone has a bad experience of counselling then it is not usually the case that their counsellor was simply not a good counsellor (although this can sometimes be the case) but rather, that they were simply not the right fit for that person.
For this reason I believe that it is important for people considering counselling to do their own research into counsellors and to then trust their instincts about who to contact.
Searching for a counsellor can be a bit of a minefield though – I mean, where to start looking?
For this reason I thought it would be a good idea to give you a few pointers: things to think about and/or to look for look for when doing your research. My hope is that you will then be able to work out who the best counsellor for you might be.
A first thing to think about is whether you are looking for face-to-face, online or telephone sessions.
Face-to-face sessions obviously limit you geographically to counsellors from your local area, whereas with online or telephone sessions you could approach counsellors from anywhere in the UK. Before Covid, online and telephone counselling was much more niche, but nowadays most counsellors offer counselling in a variety of formats.
Face-to-face sessions allow for a more direct, intimate and human-to-human form of relationship and this often allows for a more effective therapeutic relationship. However, some people feel intimidated by direct contact and prefer to access counselling via their computer or telephone.
Sometimes clients opt for a mix of formats – starting with face-to-face sessions, but then, due to work commitments, or other commitments, switching to online or telephone sessions if this is more convenient.
If a counsellor offers counselling in a variety of mediums, then they should be willing to offer the sessions in a format that is appropriate and convenient for you.
A next thing to think about is what type of organisation or counselling service feels the right fit for you. Here is a summary of the main types.
Counselling can be accessed via your GP. Usually however, this means that your mental health will have reached the point where the GP is able to diagnose a mental health condition. Sometimes medication will be offered. Sometimes you will be referred for counselling – and sadly, as we know, the NHS often have long waiting lists.
Because of the way NHS counselling is funded (in accordance with the NICE guidelines) the form of counselling that tends to be favoured is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or CBT. CBT it is a particular form of therapy, one where the relationship between the counsellor and the client is more akin to that of a School Teacher and Student. NICE favours CBT, not because it is more effective than other forms of counselling or therapy but because the outcomes have been more widely captured – and due to the fact that homework is set, it is easier to quantify and capture any progress that is made by clients. CBT is effective for many people though.
With NHS funded counselling, sessions will be time-limited – i.e. the number of sessions will be determined by the organisation rather than by you and it is likely that you will be allocated a counsellor rather than be free to choose your own.
The CBT Therapist will likely be asking questions, giving out worksheets and then setting homework etc., which you will then be expected to carry out and then report back on each week. The focus is on changing your mindset.
Whilst CBT is an effective approach for many, some people find that they are not looking to be directed in this manner and would rather have a space where they are more free to explore whatever is on their mind: they are looking for a space where they are listened to, heard, and supportive in a non-judgemental and non-directed manner.
Organisations such as Faversham Counselling Service (FCS) or Canterbury Medical Practice are funded by the NHS. Counsellors that work for these organisations will be working for them on an employed basis. Whilst it is likely that there will be an emphasis on the CBT approach, the counsellors working for them will likely be trained in a range of other modalities as well.
An advantage of approaching an organisation like FCS is that you can be sure that you are approaching a reliable, methodical and stable organisation. The downside is that it could feel a bit impersonal and it is unlikely that you would be able to request a specific counsellor. It could have more of the feel of attending your GP surgery – stable, effective but a bit impersonal.
Another organisation to consider is Community Counselling Services, based in Canterbury. CCS are a not-for-profit community interest company (CIC). Many of the counsellors who work for CCS, do so on a voluntary basis. Usually voluntary counsellors are building up their hours of counselling experience, which is a required part of their counselling training. The advantage of this for you, is that the counselling can be accessed at a much lower cost – as little as £10 per session. The disadvantage is that like the NHS, there can be long waiting lists. Also, as with NHS funded organisations you will likely be allocated a counsellor, rather than be able to choose your own.
Another for type of organisation is an independent agency. A few examples include Abbey Place Clinic in Faversham, Concorde House Clinic, Aurora Therapy Centre, or Manor Barn in Canterbury, and Ikigai Holistic in Whistable.
The counsellors in these agencies will be working on a self-employed basis but working out of the premises of the agency. The advantage is that the counsellors will be trained in a number of approaches and they may offer a different specialisms: for example eating disorders, relationship problems or addictions etc.
The advantage of seeing a counsellor in an independent agency setting is that you will likely be exposed to other events and activities that are taking place in the local area. Also, if a particular counsellor feels that they are not the right fit for you, or that they do not have the level of expertise to be able to support you with your specific issue, then they will likely be aware of the training and expertise of the other counsellors within the agency and so can easily refer you on.
A disadvantage could be that the counsellors might charge slightly more, this is because they are having to pay for the rental of the room within the agency, but unlike NHS funded organisations you are free to choose your own counsellor plus there would be no limit to the number of sessions.
Another way of accessing counselling is via a therapy platform. Therapy platforms, such as BetterHelp have emerged in the UK in recent years. Their aim is to provide clients with a better and easier way of accessing counselling and they are proving to be popular with people in their 20’s and 30’s.
Rather than have to do the research into counsellors yourself, such platforms ask you questions about your situation and then aim to quickly connect you up with a counsellor after analysing your details – I guess a bit like a dating app, that hooks you up with a good match!
Such platforms are not without criticism however. First, is a potential issue with the security and privacy of your information. Since many of these platforms are business rather than clinical based initiatives, your sensitive data is often shared with third parties. Counsellors take client confidentiality very seriously and so the lack of privacy that these platforms often involve are ethically problematic for many counsellors.
A further criticism is that because they are profit-driven organisations, therapy platforms underpay therapists and mislead clients about the nature of therapy. For example, according to Sally Brown, writing in the BACP journal, Therapy Today, BetterHelp allow clients to have 24/7 text-based access to their therapist. Part of a counsellors role is to support clients to be able to regulate themselves between sessions, and maintaining the boundaries of the sessions – for example, a seemingly simple thing like starting and finishing on time, actually supports clients to feel safely held. Allowing clients to have 24/7 access may seem good on the surface, but whether this is therapeutically beneficial in the long run, is ethically doubtful.
Some therapy platforms are better than others though and platforms such as HarleyTherapy or Welldoing seem to be set up with the clinical needs of the client more at the forefront, but at the end of the day they are principally profit oriented set ups.
So in conclusion, if they appeal to you then do take a look at therapy platforms. However, my feeling is that if you are prepared to put a bit of work in yourself, in terms of looking into counsellors, then you’ll get the benefits of finding a counsellor that is suited to you and your needs but without the pitfalls of these platforms.
The way that the majority of counsellors work in the UK is on a self-employed basis from their own premises: this could from a space in their own home, from a bespoke counselling space, or in a rented office or room in another building.
The advantage with private counsellors is that they will be trained in a number of different approaches and potentially offer a number specialisms. As with accessing counselling via an independent agency, sessions with private counsellors are unlikely to be limited in terms of duration and so the number of sessions you have is up to you. Prices vary and you can expect to pay anything between £40 and £100 per session. Some counsellors will offer payment incentives – for example if you book 10 sessions you will get a 10% discount, some will not. Some will offer a free first session, others do not. So you will need to look at the specific counsellors details in this respect.
The advantage with accessing a Private counsellor and/or with counsellors via independent agencies is that you can select your own counsellor and the number of sessions is determined by you.
Sadly in the UK, the tile of ‘counsellor’ is not protected in law: this means that anyone can call themselves a counsellor. Whilst many people think counselling is just sitting down for a chat, there is much more to it than this.
Training as a counsellor in the UK takes at least 4 years and trainee counsellors are required to undertake lengthy periods of their own counselling: they are also required to have carried out a minimum of 150 hours of supervised counselling practice, have regular supervision, be insured, and be a member of a professional body. It is a rigorous training. Therefore please be sure that you are accessing a counselling service where the counsellor is properly qualified. If in doubt, ask them – and if they are properly qualified then they will be happy to show you their certification.
The best place to search for counsellors – this is for private counsellors but also for self-employed counsellors working out of an independent agency – is via an online directory. The main online directories in the UK are The BACP Directory of Therapists and The Counselling Directory.
To be eligible to appear in these directories counsellors will have been required to provide evidence of their training: therefore you can be assured that they will all be properly qualified.
Counsellors on these directories will likely list their type of training. Whilst there are a number of different models of counselling, these models fall into one of three board categories: CBT, Humanistic and Psychodynamic.
CBT was mentioned above and is focused on supporting you to change your mindset.
Humanistic counselling is based on the counsellor deeply respecting you as a separate, autonomous human being. When you think about all the events that have shaped your life it would be patronising and disrespectful for the counsellor to wade it and start telling you what you need to do. Rather, the counsellor works with you, to support you to find out what it is you are looking for – so that together you can find your next steps forward.
Psychodynamic counselling refers to approaches that originated out of the work of Sigmund Freud. Although Psychodynamic counselling has changed a lot since Freud’s times, the focus is on how your past patterns of relationship have affected you.
‘Integrative’ is another word you might come across – and integrative counsellors pic and mix elements from the above three approaches.
Despite there being these different models of counselling however, research has indicated that all three approaches can be equally effective. The research showed that the most important indicator in the effectiveness of the counselling, was the quality of the relationship between the client and the counsellor.
For this reason, when researching counsellors on counselling directories, I feel it is really important that you to trust your gut feeling about who to approach.
So as mentioned above, the fit between you and your counsellor is really important – you need to feel that you could get along with this person.
When looking for a counsellor then, I would encourage you to try to get a feel for the counsellor from what they say about themselves and their service on their directory listing and/or website – if they’ve included one, you can also pick up clues from their picture too.
Do you get the sense that you could get along with this person?
Another thing just to mention is that qualified counsellors will be required to be a member of a professional body. Here are the main ones in the UK.
Association of Christian Counsellors (ACC)
British Psychoanalytic Council (BPC)
British Association of Play Therapists (BAPT)
British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP)
British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapists (BABCP)
The National Counselling Society (NCS)
United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP)
Each professional body will have a code of ethics that the counsellor will be required to abide by. If you would like more information about this, then your counsellor should be happy to provide further details and/or to signpost you to the relevant code of ethics.
Professional bodies will also have complaint procedures. If something crops up that you are not happy about then hopefully you would feel able to bring this up with your counsellor but if you feel that your counsellor does not deal with your complaint effectively and/or if you feel the need to raise your issue with an independent party, then the relevant professional body will be happy to support you.
Look – searching for a counsellor can be a minefield and so I hope these brief guidelines have not added to any confusion. Therapy platforms can help you to quickly get matched to a counsellor but such platforms are not without ethically questionable implications – so you’d need to read and reflect on the small print carefully.
If you are prepared to put a bit of work in yourself, in terms of looking into counsellors, then you’ll get the benefits of finding a counsellor that is suited to you and to your needs but without the pitfalls of these platforms.
Feeling that your counsellor is the night fit for you and feeling that your counsellor is someone that you could get along with is the most important factor.
So, when making a decision about contacting a counsellor, trust your gut feeling!
Entering counselling is a courageous step – so well done you for even thinking about it – but the rewards can be immense. Life changing!
I’d like to wish you all the best.
Do you have a question? Contact me now for a no-obligation chat. M: 07757 859650, E: email@example.com