I recently faced the realisation that, after six years of taking antidepressants, I should probably try and find a therapist. It wasn't like I have ever been adverse to the idea. It was more that the antidepressants were so effective at alleviating the symptoms of my debilitating anxiety, OCD and panic disorder that they negated any need for professional help.
Of course, they didn't really. They masked my symptoms, rather than treating the underlying causes. And after an exploratory article in the Autumn Winter print issue of GLAMOUR into the potential long-term side effects of antidepressants, as well as an investigation into what actually constitutes adequate mental health treatment, I resolved to find a therapist - pronto.
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But what I soon found was that the world of therapy is a murky one. There's psychologists, psychotherapists, psychoanalysts, psychiatrists, counsellors, therapists. Life coaches. Healers. Then there's the type of therapy. Cognitive behavioural therapy, talking therapy, exposure therapy, humanistic therapy, art therapy, eye movement desensitisation... Put bluntly, it's a total mind f*ck. And that's before you've even sat down on the couch.
But this wasn't my first venture into therapy. On the contrary, I've had a grand total of four therapists at various periods of my life. The first, Sue, lasted two sessions - and I only went to the second session to tell her we wouldn't be having any more. Sue's approach was to "put things in a box, and then open that box each week at therapy." Snore. Then, there was Dave, or "call me Uncle Dave". Thank you, next. Then there was the guy that favoured exposure therapy (in my case, exposure to germs and ill people). Needless to say, that lasted about 5 seconds.
Then, I tried cognitive behavioural therapy, CBT, for a good few months on the NHS. I'm still not really sure whether it worked or not - I can't actually remember any of the coping mechanisms I learnt in the sessions, which suggests it very much didn't work. All I do remember is filling in endless forms to the essence of "On a scale of 1-10, how anxious do you feel today?" followed by futile, incessant exercises that I didn't connect with. All in all, not the best adverts of what therapy has to offer.
These are the indispensable tools that help me cope with my anxiety and panic attacks
My new quest has conjured up a series of criteria that I believe will only assist me - and anyone else in my situation - in finding the right therapist:
Make sure they are registered with the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). This is a fundamental filter when considering whether or not to trust someone with the inner-most workings of your mind. It basically helps to ensure they are legit on a basic level - they have qualifications from a real educational establishment and have some experience. The BACP has a , and you can filter through by your particular concern and location.
Check out the type of therapy on offer. You may be inclined to try something like CBT or talking therapy, which are the most widely practiced and available on the NHS. CBT focuses on changing the way you think about something, therefore changing how you react, and looks at the present moment rather than dissecting the past. It's pragmatic and practical. Talking therapy is a blanket term for any kind of therapy that uses prompted discussions to explore how you really feel, or to pinpoint historical root causes for your behaviours. There's also eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR), which is a relatively new but promising area of therapy that uses specific eye movements to retrain the brain and is proving particularly helpful in treating trauma or post-traumatic stress.
Otherwise, you may like the sound of something a little more niche like art therapy. To be honest, it is simply a matter of what you're drawn to - you can then work with your therapist to figure out the specifics of what's going to help.
One more thing - think about the person you'd feel most at ease, and least judged by. For me, I knew I wanted a women, who was older than me but not too much older. I wanted someone professional, but not clinical. Authoritative but not distant. Obviously, it's hard to get all that from one headshot but you can put the pieces of the puzzle together pretty well when taking into account their experience and approach.
I've used these tools to hone in on one therapist and feel relatively optimistic about our compatibility (I'm not exactly the most embracing person, so this is still TBC). But one thing is for sure; it was possible to decode the psycho-babble of therapy, after all.