so, how in the name of mary, joseph and the wee donkey do you choose a therapist?

I would like to say that 'word of mouth' can be a really good way but honestly I am not convinced that it is!  The trouble is, it may be that the person recommending the counsellor hasn't had that much experience of being counselled themselves, and may have 'got on ok' with their therapist but... most therapists are easy to get along with, and it is perhaps more important that they know a bit about what they are doing in the counselling room - in relation to what you are there for!  
That said, all the evidence points to a good strong relationship with the therapist being the most important factor linked to positive outcome.  So it's a MUST that you do get along from the off.
I hope that reading the below will help you understand a bit more about how counselling models can sometimes be 'horses for courses'.  Some models are simply not recommended for some troubles, whilst others absolutely are.  So if you really like your therapist but they are not used to working in an identified appropriate and helpful model for your particular issue, then you may be spending a lot of money when you might not have needed to.
The NHS NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) have produced guidelines that offer helpful information about what types of therapy are appropriate for certain types of disorder. See
An example would be that a client led, gentle talking therapy would perhaps not be the first choice necessarily for someone coming to counselling with a phobia.  
For instance, I could sit in the opposite chair to someone with a dental phobia for ten years of therapy understanding how difficult things for them are and convincing them how dentistry has come on and how skilled dentists are now, and how that injection is really not painful in the scheme of things, and how dentists are really kind old gentlemen.... but after ten years they would still have to get up and walk into the surgery and sit in that dentist's chair!  
Perhaps a different approach that helped them to challenge some of the reasons they were frightened in the first place and moved them into the chair in a supported but much quicker way would be helpful so the agony was not prolonged and they got the choice to be brave in the doing of it!  They'd discover quicker all that stuff about dentists!
Likewise, it might be no help offering someone with a deep rooted and long standing psychological problem a short term therapy that doesn't address the deeper issues concerned. 
 Am I explaining this ok?
Well we all have a lot of qualifications and letters after our names so how can you start to sort out the appropriate qualifications when choosing a therapist?
The snag is that some of the extremely good and well run counselling courses out there that are aimed at offering a quicker route to qualification (so no personal therapy for the counsellor as part of the training requirement, no personal development groups and the whole training run over many weekends - rather than a typical University qualification with a requirement for hundreds of hours of personal therapy, a weekly personal development group and a much longer time spent studying) some of these quicker route courses have qualification names as impressive as longer University diplomas.  
Be clear, I am in no way critical of these courses or the students undertaking them, as they are extremely hard work, and any student achieving a credible counselling qualification is to be congratulated. 
But perhaps more demanding still are University Degrees and Post Graduate qualifications.  
A typical route through University is a year of basic skills followed by a year of counselling skills, followed by a year or two of Diploma followed by a year of Degree followed by a year of PG certificate followed by a year of PG Diploma followed by a further dissertation for a Masters Degree.
And then hundreds of hours of personal therapy, hundreds of hours of 'apprenticeship' often working for nothing for voluntary agencies... 
Then long and arduous routes to Accreditation with the BACP or UKCP.  
It is perhaps then for you to meet some potential therapists and simply enquire about the depth of their training - especially in addressing issues such as yours, and just as long as feel safe with them, well...  

TOP TIP! in summary...

So what do you do?  You'd be well advised to find a therapist - who you like, trust and get along with -  with a University Diploma, BSc or BA Degree or Post Graduate Diploma actually in counselling or psychotherapy; be accredited to at least one of the main credible professional organisations and maybe even have years of experience
So ask if they've completed an accredited University course that included their own personal therapy as this can make a vital difference to your therapy journey.

There are many different models of therapy.  Some counsellors train in one core model and believe that this will work for everyone.

Others have experience and training in many and can tailor their therapeutic interventions to suit not only the person, but as we started to consider above, the problem itself.

Be advised, the NHS National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommend certain evidence based therapies for certain problems or disorders and do not recommend others. You may be well advised to check out what you're worried about and see what approach they advise. Don't forget that website:

Meanwhile... Back to how you choose a therapist!  I think all I might have done is confuse you further!

POSSIBLE QUESTIONS TO ASK WHEN YOU ARE INTERROGATING A POTENTIAL THERAPIST! (Warning - if they are not sure about their answers, try someone else!)

  • What kind of therapy do you offer and what is it trying to achieve?
  • Have you had your own personal therapy as part of your training?
  • How long are sessions and how often are they held?
  • How long might therapy last for and how does it end - is there a set number with regular reviews?
  • How long before I should expect to feel some benefit from therapy?
  • Can I contact you between sessions if I need to?
  • What training have you had, and how many years have you been practising?
  • What professional organisations are you accredited with?
  • Have you had experience of working with people with similar problems to mine?
  • Is therapy confidential and when might confidentiality be broken?
  • Might you refer me to, or contact other health professionals involved in my care - and is this something you are experienced in? Can you discuss my medication needs for example?
  • How much do I pay per session, and is there a missed session fee?
  • Do you work from home or from a professional office or rooms?
  • Do you keep notes about me and are they kept confidentially? What will happen to them if you drop dead!? How will I know?
  • What if we don't get on?
That said, I will remind you again, research shows that generally, the most important influencing factor linked to therapeutic 'success' is the strength of the relationship you have with him or her. So choose someone you like and trust!

If at any time you experience any difficulty with any therapist, if it cannot be resolved once you have discussed it with them, I would encourage you to contact their registering body for information and support. The BACP being my primary registration, at

If at any time you feel pressured into doing something you don't want to by your therapist, the chances are it is not right. Your therapist should be very much 'on your team' and as such NEVER tell you off or be judgemental about what you tell them! If they do, contact their professional body for advice.

If you have a long standing problem it is not automatically the case that it will take ages to address - but beware the 'magic' or 'quick fix' for any upset as it is unlikely to be an effective intervention. (EMDR is sometimes an exception to this as it can work really quickly on simple trauma).
If you are interested, have a look at my sketchy guide 'a bit about counselling organisations'.  It might help with the letters after the name thing.