How to pick a therapist
Picking a therapist can feel overwhelming for a number of reasons. However, I want to lead with some encouraging information: you can’t make the wrong decision. The diversity in practitioners is a gift to our community - different styles appeal to different people. You might have to try out a couple welcome session to see what style feels the best for you, but that is normal and encouraged.
Okay, an important point straight out of the gate: considerable research has been done to assess which of the therapeutic styles was the best one. They ended up finding that all styles performed the EXACT same. This blew everyone's minds. How do they perform the same when we’re talking sandals and rainboots? Flip flops and hiking shoes? Basically, there is a concept in psychotherapy called the “common factors”. Common factors are the concepts that every counsellor is aiming to achieve. Every counsellor wants to be sure you feel safe, there are just different philosophies on how that is cultivated. Every counsellor wants to be sure you feel a bond with them, there are just different ways of believing how that is developed. So, what I hope you take from this is that it doesn't really matter which shoes you pick, just make sure that they fit you well.
Getting into the nitty gritty: there is a wide range of educational backgrounds and guiding disciplines that fall under the counselling category, which can make it seem like a major task finding which style would fit for you. But, this variety is actually a strength; just as there is diversity in the individuals looking for support, there is diversity in the services that are offered. Let’s look at some important things for you to consider to narrow down a therapeutic practitioner.
Please note that in this article, we are going to simply cover the most conventionally common therapy styles. There are so so many more styles and approaches to healing that we just can’t address them all.
First, there is a wide range of educational backgrounds, reflected in the suitable association where they meet the requirements to be registered as a member. The analogy of transportation methods might help with conceptualising this concept.
PCC, Professional Certified Coach (International Coaching Federation)
Metaphor: a bicycle (Life Coach Certificate)
The requirements for this credential are typically from a private organization, specializing in Life Coaching
The analogy of the bicycle feels appropriate because a huge amount of the value brought to this field is personally experiential from the life-coach themselves. Often, life coaches will share their own life experiences to be able to empower their client to make choices that similarly improve their lives. It’s as if they’re on their own bike, encouragingly right beside you, to help show the way and guide you through the process. The personal experience in this field can feel empoweringly authentic, as often times the mantra is “if I could do it, so can you”.
RTC, Registered Therapeutic Counsellor (Association of Cooperative Counselling Therapists)
Metaphor: a car (Counselling Certificate)
The requirements for this credential are typically from a college or university that offers counselling certifications, the length of education is typically less than 2 years
The analogy of the car feels appropriate because it is enclosed, paralleling the experience of holding space. With the therapist in the driver's seat, there is likely going to be more structure that aligns with the modalities that the therapist is skilled in. In the car, the therapist empowers the client to check out the map and make positive change that align with their route. An immense value from this field is that it typically encompasses holistic and Eastern medicine disciplines. The decolonial modalities that this field contributes to the therapeutic database is immensely valuable.
RCC, Registered Clinical Counsellor (BC Association of Clinical Counsellors)
Metaphore: an RV (Graduate Degree) as well as CCC, Canadian Certified Counsellor (Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association) – an RV (Graduate Degree, RCC equivalent but typically used in other provinces)
The requirements for these credentials are a Master’s degree from an accredited university; typically obtained in 6-7 years of education.
Relative to a bike or a car, an RV is gigantic. The RV analogy feels suitable for the RCC or CCC because they have a huge amount of education to support them. A RCC or CCC will be heavily educated in counselling skills, cultural considerations, ethical decision making, and have a deep theoretical understanding of the art of psychotherapy. They are equipped to work with challenging mental health concerns, and will stay devoted to leading an evidence-based practice. While their skills prepare them for working with all kinds of individuals they are not only suited for high-challenge cases, and could be an appropriate fit for “milder” cases, such as self-esteem, life-transitions, or family dynamic situations as well.
While there are many other forms of therapeutic approaches that hold respectable merit in the wide field of counselling and therapy, it is highly recommended that you find a therapeutic practitioner that is supported by an association. This ensures that they can be held accountable should their practices defy their associations’ Code of Ethics.
Your gut knows; your gut knows when you’re comfortable, when a person is safe, and when you are in the right place. This is an important indicator when picking a therapist. If you don’t feel comfortable, regardless of the amount of education or the therapeutic modality that your practitioner is relying on, it is less likely that you will see success. Comfort in your body and the freedom to be yourself is the essential context that will allow for authenticity, this is where we can find the vulnerable root, the foundation for change.