I am a strong advocate for quality psychotherapy as part of the transformational journey – not just for ‘clinical’ level of problems such as anxiety or depression. Anyone who wants to better themselves, to become the best human being they can be, will benefit from psychotherapy.
Most, if not all, of us cannot access our ‘unresolved material’ alone – it is the very nature of the unconscious mind to protect/defend us from this. Not only is it necessary for that, but it is also essential to our spiritual maturation. Repressed emotions, inner conflicts – habits that we cannot stop doing but are ashamed of or annoyed with – are gifts. We can think of them as ‘unactualised spiritual lessons’ (Jeff Brown). But we have to face our challenges, our fears, our most negative emotions in order to work through them and become ‘bigger’.
At the same time, we have to be careful who we choose as our therapist, particularly if we have early issues such as trauma or abuse. The best psychotherapy does not take us back into these regressed, primal states, it allows us to re-experience the feeling experience, safely, little by little so that we can resolve and let go of the issues. I often use the metaphor of taking out the dandelion root of the problem, not just picking at the leaves to make the garden look pretty.
So to achieve that we have to be sure that our practitioner has the capacity to hold us safe. We want to be sure they have developed the tools to see us through to the other side integrated and intact. I have known too many people who went deep with an ill-equipped therapist and ended up stumbling through life without an intact adult consciousness. Yes they touched into the wounds, but they also drowned in them. ‘There is a significant difference between therapists who can swim in the deep end, and those that cannot.’ (Jeff Brown). Spend a lot of time researching and talking to therapists before you dive in and choose one, and, if at any point in the process your instincts tell you that your therapist cannot facilitate your healing, sever the cord. Healing is no game. If we jump into the pool of pain, we want to work with someone who can keep us afloat until we get to the other side.
Credentials to look for
One of the most important things to look for in a psychotherapist is accreditation and UKCP registration (UKCP is more stringent than BACP). This is the kite mark of a high quality psychotherapist, and puts them on a par with other registered health professionals such as doctors. UKCP registration means that they have had 400-500 hours of face to face training to masters level, at least 30 hours of personal psychotherapy, and high levels of supervision (UKCP requirement is 1 hour of supervision for 3 hours of client work). It also requires ongoing professional development amounting to 50 hours per year.
You will also need to ask them about their past and current/ ongoing professional training (at what level, how many hours?), their qualifications, and their ongoing investment in supervision (frequency of supervision, ratio of hours). Also enquire about whether they have had an in-depth clinical placement as part of their training The psychotherapists own personal commitment to their own ongoing psychotherapy is important (how many hours, is it ongoing). Interview them, ask as many questions as is feasibly possible. If they tell you these things don’t matter – you will, of course, know that this is NOT the person for you.
It’s about personal qualities too
Remember that AT LEAST 50% of the work in psychotherapy is down to the personality and personal traits of the person who is the psychotherapist and on the relationship created between client and psychotherapist. This depends on how much the client can trust the therapist and feel that the therapist has deep empathy and unconditional positive regard for them (whatever the client reveals about what they feel, think, say or do). Someone once told me the ‘fruits of the spirit’ of such a person are one who is shows love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility and self-control.
Perhaps the most important thing to take away from this article is that once you have fully checked out the recommended credentials and qualifications to look for in a psychotherapist, you need to test a few out. Many have a free initial session, where you can get a feel for how you feel with this person. It is most important that you feel safe, seen, valued and that you feel this is a person with whom you can dive into the depths and know that he or she will be there to guide you on the most important journey of your life.