When it comes to mental health and looking after your own wellbeing or that of those you're close to, seeking help can be intimidating and confusing. Talking therapy, such as counselling or psychotherapy, is a common approach to improving your mental health, but it can be challenging to know where to start. This article hopes to explain what therapy is, the different types of therapy available, how to choose the right one for you, and what to consider when choosing a therapist.
What is talking therapy?
Talking therapy is a form of treatment aimed at improving a person's mental health and wellbeing. It involves working with a trained professional to explore and address the emotional and psychological issues that may be causing distress or hindering your ability to function in everyday life. Therapy sessions can take place in various settings, such as individual or group sessions, face-to-face or online.
Choosing the right therapy
Choosing the right type of therapy can be challenging, but there are some essential things to consider when making your decision. Firstly, it's essential to consider the outcomes you hope to achieve through therapy. Different types of therapy may be more effective for specific mental health conditions or issues, or if you're looking for personal development, or working through relationship or sexual issues.
We've included some information about the most common types of therapy below, and there's a link below that where you can find out more about a number of other types of therapy.
Secondly, it's important to consider the length of time you can commit to therapy. Some types of therapy will need much more of a time commitment than others - there are more brief, solution-focused ways of working, or alternatively you might be interested in a more transformative, long-term way of working.
You'll also want to think about whether you would be more comfortable working online via video conferencing software, or if face-to-face would work better for you. Some therapists also offer alternative ways of working such as telephone counselling, email counselling, bibliotherapy etc. There may also be an option to attend group therapy in your local area.
Types of therapy
There are many types of therapy available, and each approach has its unique features and benefits. Some of the most common types of therapy include:
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT): This approach focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviours that contribute to mental health issues. It seeks to change distressing behaviour relatively quickly by challenging unhelpful thoughts and beliefs and teaching the client to use coping strategies in the future.
- Psychodynamic Therapy: This approach focuses on the unconscious mind and past experiences, and explores their influence on current behaviour. You will be encouraged to talk about childhood relationships with parents and other significant people. As part of the therapy you may transfer, or pass on, deep feelings about yourself, parents and others to the therapist. Although psychodynamic counselling can be practised in a short series of sessions, it is more usual for it to be a relatively lengthy process. It is likely to appeal to people who are interested in exploring their own unconscious processes and who can accept that the changes they are seeking may take time to achieve.
- Person Centred Counselling: This approach is based on the idea that there are certain therapeutic conditions which are the key to successful personal growth. Most counsellors will have learnt about the ideas of Carl Rogers, who emphasised the importance of the counsellor being warm, empathic, non-judgmental and non-directive. A client in ‘pure’ person-centred counselling is particularly likely to feel accepted, supported and encouraged.
Person-centred counselling is an important part of what is often referred to as Person-Centred Experiential Therapy (PCET).
- Solution-focused Brief Therapy: This kind of therapy focuses on a particular issue and promotes positive change, rather than dwelling on the issue or past problems. You are encouraged to focus positively on what you do well, your strengths and resources and to set goals to achieve the changes you want to make. It is likely to appeal to people who prefer a highly practical, goal-oriented approach to problem-solving.
- Family Therapy: Family therapy explores family relationships. It works by looking at the family as a whole, rather than working with a single person in the family unit. The focus is on how families interact together and the therapist's aim is to involve the whole family in finding positive solutions.
You can find a more comprehensive (but not exhaustive!) list here: https://nationalcounsellingsociety.org/counselling-directory/types-of-therapy
Things to consider when choosing a therapist
It's important to make sure that your therapist is on a Register that has been Accredited by the Professional Standards Authority. There are a number of professional bodies in the UK that hold Accredited Registers for counselling and psychotherapy. If you're considering working with an Art Therapist or a Practitioner Psychologist, you'll need to check their statutory register: the Health and Care Professions Council. Information about your therapist's Registration status can usually be found online or by contacting their professional body directly.
It's also important to consider the therapist's experience and qualifications in the chosen therapeutic approach. We would encourage you to ask any therapist that you're considering working with what training or experience they have; any good therapist would be more than happy to share this information with you.
Your therapist's availability and location are other important factors to take into account. You will want to choose a therapist who is convenient to access, whether that be face-to-face or online, and has a schedule that suits your needs. Some therapists will only offer sessions during the standard working week, or some may offer evening and weekend appointments.
Another factor to keep in mind is the therapist's communication style and personality. You want to feel comfortable and supported by your therapist, so it's essential to find someone who is empathetic, non-judgmental, and easy to talk to. This will sometimes require you to see a number of therapists until you find the right one; this is the reason many therapists will offer a free or lower-cost assessment session, so that you can both make sure you're a good fit with each other before embarking on your therapeutic journey together. It's not unheard of for people to try three, four, or five different therapists before they find someone they feel that they can work with. Everyone is different, so a therapist that might appeal to you may not appeal to someone else.
Finally, consider the cost of therapy, and any waiting lists. NHS Talking Therapies offer free-at-the-point-of-use therapy, but there are long waiting lists for most people, depending on your circumstances. Some private therapists offer sliding scale fees or accept health insurance, so it's worth exploring these options to find a therapist that fits within your budget.