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I Need Some Help But Where Do I Turn? A Practical Guide to Choosing a Therapist or Coach

11/06/2015 16:47 BST | Updated 11/06/2016 10:59 BST

Navigating your way through the myriad of options available for talking therapies or coaching can be difficult and knowing you need help but not knowing where to turn can make a difficult situation seem even worse.

For what its worth, there is no 'right' therapist for you. That being said, your chances of experiencing positive change through a therapeutic intervention can be greatly enhanced by working with a therapist who is more right for you than more wrong!

So below is some wisdom and practical advice I have accrued over a decade of working as a therapist and coach. I hope it helps.

1. Change Is Your Responsibility

When looking for a talking therapist or coach, know that there are some well trained, highly skilled and usually very nice people who can provide a platform for you to talk openly about your feelings and where you may garner a little wisdom, motivation and practical advice to help you change.

But here's the thing - change is your responsibility. I know that sounds really simplistic, but every day I find myself explaining this to prospective clients who assume that I'll be doing something to them that will make them 'better'. This assumption could not be further from the truth and in my opinion, is one of the primary reasons behind failed therapeutic interventions.

Consider the following driving metaphor. All of my clients have been, are and will continue to be driving their cars through their territories, or their lives. The reason they have come to me is because they are unhappy with where they are parked or how they are driving or both. They want help to start driving in a more enjoyable and balanced way towards a new destination that they believe will bring them more happiness.

In this metaphor, it is clear that my client is the driver and as such, they alone can control their car and their journey. I am their passenger, in the car at their behest for a short period of time tom provide some help and guidance. I cannot drive for them and as such I cannot change for them. If I did try and lean over and do some of the driving, one could only imagine the mess I could make.

A good therapist will create an environment for new learning, enhanced motivation and genuine change but ultimately change is your responsibility - it's your intent, your commitment and your action alone that will make the difference.

2. Know What You Want To Achieve

As my old man used to tell me; if you don't know where you want to go, how are you ever going to get there? It's the same with talking therapy. Before you decide to make contact with any potential therapists, it is wise to spend some time thinking about and even committing to paper what specific changes you want and what you consider to be realistic in terms of timescales and costs.

Now trust me when I tell you that its all too easy to start writing a long list of what you don't' want: I don't want to drink so much, eat so much, work so much, be so anxious, so angry, etc. but that's not helpful - that's like trying to steer your car using your rear view mirror!

Be clear about what you want from your therapy and your future and make sure you communicate this to your potential therapist; and, make sure your potential therapist is comfortable with the destination you describe and in their ability to help you get there.

Note: Be aware of the therapist who wants to reframe what you want into what you don't want - in my experience therapists often help clients maintain their problems by having them endlessly talk about them. The more we focus on something, the more we amplify it so find a therapist who will ultimately help you focus on your future and not your past.

Also, do not allow yourself to increase your stress levels by entering into an open-ended relationship with no real sense of what progress would look like. Make sure you agree the expectations with your therapist around the length of the program, the costs and what tangible evidence of change actually looks like.

3. Choose The Type Of Therapy You Believe Will Suit You Best

Going back to the driving metaphor, I certainly do not know all the different routes my clients could take to get to their desired destinations. In this regard I am limited by my own training, knowledge and experiences. So the routes I will be advocating are more about me than they are the preferences of my driver, i.e. the client who is seeking my help.

Research the different types of therapies and before making a choice of who to work with, make a decision as the kind of journey you think would be best suited to you and your individual needs.

In reality, there may be no right or wrong type of therapy for you, but when you describe your preferred destination to your potential therapist, make sure they can describe the route they intend to take you on, in terms that you both understand and feel confident in.

Taking a navigator onboard who only knows Spanish and prefers long windy roads with big inclines may not be all that helpful for you.

4. Before You Commit, Make Sure You Feel Good About Your Therapist

From my own experience of finding a therapist or coach, choosing a therapist that you actually like and feel confident in is extremely important.

I know this sounds like common sense but I am amazed at how many times clients tell me they worked with a therapist for a number of weeks or even months / years, but did not particularly like them. Crazy when you think about - why would you invite a passenger into your own car when you don't particularly like them?

A professional therapist or coach should have no problem meeting you free of charge for a non-obligation chat before you starting working with you. If they are not happy to meet you, I would suggest you walk away.

When you meet them or in your first session, ask yourself if you like them; if you feel confident with them and in their ability to help you change?

Given you are investing your time, money and most importantly, your intent to change, do not compromise on the answers. If you do not feel comfortable, trust your instincts and walk away.

5. If You At First You Don't Succeed...

Therapy, like life, is a journey (sorry!). Unfortunately the relationship between you investing in your psychological and emotional health and the progress you make towards happiness isn't always linear.

For most of us this means that at a time of need, one form of therapeutic intervention with one therapist won't always guarantee the results we desire. All too often we have to make a number of attempts at therapy before we find what we were looking for.

So don't give up and know that working with a therapist might help you create some positive momentum; it might help make some small but genuine changes; it might even help you change in just the way you desire; or it may take you nowhere at all but that's okay (!) because whatever the outcome of one course of talking therapy or coaching, that decision to truly commit to change is at least 90% of the equation - your intent to change and your choice to seek help will get you there, even if you have a few bumpy therapist / coach experiences along the way!

For more information, head to Steve's site here - thetherapylounge.com