I remember the first time I really paid attention to someone mentioning psychotherapy and counselling to me. Whilst nursing a cup of tea in the seaside town of Falmouth my friend Amy told me that she had been looking into life as a psychotherapist and was interested in joining a training. We were in the process of finishing our final show as budding young artists having completed our under grad degrees, and were very much in need of a new project!
Enter project Gemma.
Up until that moment I had seen counselling and therapy as something outside of my world and in many ways it had been, until Amy brought it up in conversation. As I listened to her enthusiasm I felt confused and a little bewildered that someone I knew would think it helpful to seek out a therapist, and embarrassed that I frankly knew nothing of such endeavors. I hadn't ever given the idea of therapy much thought and I guess if I am really honest, I thought counselling and therapy was for people unlike me and for those that needed something I absolutely did not; help.
I remember several months later walking through the Arts House in Islington, London as a newly enrolled student on a professional training to become a psychotherapist. I had gone to an open day out of curiosity and never left! What had happened to me!? (I guess that's a separate blog!) Either which way, as part of the training I needed to find a personal therapist who was going to facilitate the building of me as I know me today. It wasn't an easy task and one that I found awkward, uncomfortable, irritating and in many ways disagreeable. I couldn't have known what was going to happen as I began my own journey walking through what I now affectionately call 'the hallway of mirrors' (respectfully stolen from aforementioned personal therapist.)
When I started my personal therapy I couldn't have comprehended the emotional, psychological and dare I say it, spiritual journey I was embarking on and if you research the area, you will likely find many that want to share their incredible journeys of not only becoming therapists but also working with them as clients and as people invested in personal wellbeing and mental health.
As with most things, it can be difficult to adequately summerise life changing processes, its tricky to find all the right words at exactly the time when you need them and I would struggle to sum up the journey that brings me here and writing this. Psychotherapy is subtle and when done well, its gentle and it is the process by which someone can begin to make sense of feelings and thoughts both past and present, as well as how those feelings and thoughts influence relationships with family, friends, peers, colleagues and with the most important person in our lives; ourselves.
As parents and carers it can be even more daunting looking for someone outside of the family network to help. We sadly seem to live in a culture that promotes coping over thriving, and do it yourself over asking for the right sort of support. I have now worked as a child therapist for many years and have got to know some incredibly brave, insightful and progressive children, young adults and parents, and yet I know that many have felt judged, overwhelmed and worried that they are bold enough seek the advice and support of a therapist. As a credit to all of the people I have worked with, I thought I would put together a little list (I love lists) of things to do when looking for someone like me, and whilst I feel like I am constantly trying to break through the stigma and taboo of asking for help from therapists, I also write this as someone who once thought therapy was for other people, not people like me. Hindsight is a beautiful thing!
Step one - Go online and research
This is going to be a somewhat overwhelming and taxing endeavor as you try to fit yourself into the many boxes that we (psychotherapists) have created in order to make sense of what we do and how we do it. Essentially you want to ensure that the person has a good enough qualification, and by good enough (Thank you Donald Winnicott - http://changingminds.org/disciplines/psychoanalysis/theorists/winnicott.htm), I mean someone that has achieved a good standard of training, has been committed to their own personal therapy and had consistent supervision from someone more qualified and more experienced than themselves. Essentially they should all be working with your best interests in mind. Many governing bodies can help you understand this in more detail and I recommend UKCP and ACP for child therapists and counsellors.
Before the next step here is a mini guide to therapists and orientations, and what some of the approaches offer:
The classic therapy and possibly the most intense sounding, and yet in my experience these therapists have done the longest training's and some (at doctorate level) would have been in 4x weekly personal therapy! That in and of itself is a huge commitment to personal development and depending on their personal therapist, has likely led to them having a good sense of what bothers them in life, what unconscious motivations they have/have had, what sort of people seem to make them feel certain feelings, and significantly what important life events have impacted them. The psychoanalytic training's together with the personal therapy commitment gives them a greater awareness and should mean that they are less likely to get lost in their own minds when in the therapy room with you.
Integrative Psychotherapy -
I am in this box! and this somewhat newer perspective includes aspects of psychoanalytic thinking whilst also including many other theories. Integrative therapists are interested in all areas of the mind and body, and because of this the integrative approach can be quite varied and the therapists are likely to be quite different to one another in how they work with clients. Integrative can include neurobiology/neurosciences, attachment theory, gestalt, transactional analysis, psychoanalytic and counselling to name but a few and they work by blending different areas of expertise depending on the clients needs. Integrative Child therapists can also include puppetry, sand tray, clay, painting, poetry, drama and music.
Humanistic therapy -
This approach emphasizes a persons capacity to make good choices for themselves, whilst promoting relationship and respect for others. Three approaches to humanistic therapy are especially influential; Client-centered therapy works with the clients conscious views on themselves and helps their client develop and grow by emphasizing concern, care and interest. Gestalt therapy works with the importance of being aware of the here and now, similar to mindfulness and promotes personal responsibility for yourself as a whole, whilst the Existentialists focus on free will, self-determination and the search for meaning.
Within all of the approaches, the relationship with the therapist will be where you work through the areas of your life. Depending on your experiences, this can take as little as a few years or as long as several sessions, if you know what I mean! That is to say, your perspective on this process will be central and will influence the results.
Step two - Phone them
In my experience therapists are usually very patient and understanding, and they have dedicated their lives to personal development and to helping people to feel healthier and happier about themselves and the worlds they live within. Use the time on the telephone to ask questions and find out about who you are speaking with and what they offer. As you do this listen to yourself and notice if you feel more at ease as you chat or if you feel more like you want to gently put the phone down and pretend it didn't happen. This feeling may well help you find your right therapist.
Step three - Make several initial consultations
This is really important and even if you feel that the first therapist you meet seems good enough, go and spend some time with others. Psychotherapists come in many shapes and sizes, with all sorts of interests and specialisms and it can be helpful to have a sense of the world you and your family are walking into. That is to say, how you feel when you are in the room with a therapist matters and its important to have some experience and some time to think about your meetings. How therapists work and how they are when you talk with them matters. If you take some time to meet with different therapists, then you will be better prepared to make a good decision about who you want to work with.
Step Four - Meet with your preferred therapist a second time
This is also helpful, especially if you hope to engage in long-term therapy or of course encourage your child to regularly meet with a therapist. On the second meeting ask more questions and then questions about those questions and if you can't ask them directly then ask the therapist to provide you with a copy of their personal therapy details, which should include information about payment, how they manage holidays, cancellation policy, personal information and email contact for any concerns etc. This is a time to make a contract together, to perhaps set the agenda and think about your hopes for you or your child. If your child is going to start working with the therapist then as a parent or carer you will likely meet with the therapist regularly too. The therapist will discuss how your child is using the time whilst maintaining your child's confidence and confidentiality.
Some good questions to ask might be:
How long have you been practicing?
Who are you registered with?
Where did you train?
What are your interests as a therapist?
What happens if I can't make an appointment?
Step Five - Keep Going
I think this might mean that you've found a good enough therapist and if after several weeks you find yourself talking to someone about something challenging and likely extremely personal, remember to sigh a big sigh of relief that it actually, probably, maybe isn't as terrible as you might have originally thought. The Golden Rule in therapy is to say as much as you can about what you really think and feel in the moment, even if it is about the therapist! and remember to breathe!
What to expect if you are a teenager:
* The same time and place each week for 50 minutes
* Confidentiality unless you or someone else is in harms way
(If your therapist is worried they will talk with you first)
* Space to explore feelings and thoughts openly
* Openness and friendliness
* Discretion if you were to see your therapist away from the session
* Lots of discussions regarding the therapeutic process
What to expect if you are a parent bring your child:
* The same time and place each week for your child, usually 50 minutes
* Regular meetings with the therapist to discuss home life and therapy
* Confidentiality for your child unless their is a concern/disclosure
* Space to explore your relationship with your child
* openness and friendliness
* Regular reviews regarding the therapeutic process
Tips from personal experience:
* Remember your appointments and try to get there each week.
* Remember its okay to feel anxious and unsure.
* Remember to talk about these things with your therapist.
* Remember why you want to be there and keep that in mind.
* If you notice that you can't see the time in the room and you'd like to, ask to see the time.
* If you notice that your therapist often seems to arrive late, mention it to them.
* If you notice that your therapist often looks tired, mention it to them.
* If they only make noises like 'ummm' and 'Ohhh' mention it to them.
I wish you well and I hope you find what you are looking for. Therapy is a very rewarding and enriching experience and something that can make a big difference to every day people, every day.