how to choose your psychologist

7 factors to consider when choosing your psychologist

Deciding to see a psychologist can be an empowering as well as daunting and/or overwhelming experience. No matter what your situation, a minor or major concern is worth talking about with a supportive therapist.

We are passionate about de-stigmatising the idea of seeing a psychologist. 1 in 6 people in Australia experience depression and 1 in 4 people experience anxiety at some time in their lives. Seeing a psychologist can be a normal and healthy way to care for your mental health. Just as we may see a naturopath, GP, or physiotherapist for a physical health concern, it is just as important to seek support for an emotional health concern.

Research has shown us that talking to another person (most specifically a professional therapist) helps us to clarify our thoughts, feel heard and understood, changes our brains (creates positive and new neural pathways), and assists us to take the vital steps to feel well. In some western cultures, seeing a psychologist is common and spoken about openly with no shame or guilt. Seeing a psychologist can be an enriching and wonderful way to take care of your well-being and improve your quality of life.

Research has also shown that the relationship with your psychologist is one of the most important determinants of a positive outcome in therapy. That means that if you have a good working relationship with your psychologist, you are more likely to be able to feel connected, listened to, and be assisted to address your concerns effectively. Below we share some tips on what to look out for in your relationship with your therapist.

Here are seven factors to consider when choosing your psychologist:

1. Do you feel comfortable and safe with your psychologist? It is important to take the time that you need to decide whether this person is the right psychologist for you. For a positive outcome in therapy, it is essential that you feel your psychologist is non-judgmental, takes time and effort to understand your concerns, and treats you with unconditional positive regard. You may need to see one or two psychologists in order to decide, or you may wish to see your psychologist for a few sessions before deciding. It is OKAY to change your psychologist and work with someone else at any time if you do not feel that that person is the right fit for you. Listen to your gut instinct too. If you feel like something is not quite right when you spend time with your psychologist, tune in and listen. Your intuition is usually spot on and is trying to guide you in the right direction.

2. What works for someone else may not work for you. A psychologist’s style and technique may suit someone you know, however may not be the best fit for you. Choosing a psychologist is a personal and individual process; it comes down to your decision and what you believe will be best for you. Just as you might click well with some people and not others in your personal life, you might feel more at ease and connected with a particular psychologist more than others. You may also want to find out what approach or style your psychologist prefers to use when working with people, and chat to your psychologist about what feels most comfortable for you. Depending on the nature of your concerns, certain approaches may more be suitable for you.

3. Is the therapy space one that supports you to feel comfortable? How does the counselling room make you feel? Research tells us: counselling environments that have natural lighting, pleasant decor, warm colours, soft flooring, view of a garden outside, and less formality can help to elicit feelings of comfort, confidence and safety for individuals, and this then results in more positive therapy outcomes. Lamps, instead non-fluorescent lights have also been shown to create feelings of inner quiet and calmness.

4. Can you afford the counselling sessions? You may find that you might like to continue your ongoing sessions further down the track. You may want to check if your psychologist offers a Medicare rebate or a discounted rate where you could save some money. Read more about how you can access the Medicare rebate here.

5. Is your psychologist accessible to you in terms of location and contact? Can you access your counsellor online if you prefer online counselling, or is the location where your counsellor practices convenient for you? Therapy can take time and conscious commitment, particularly during challenging moments in your life. That is why location is important. You want to pick a place that you prefer, and is as easy for you as possible to get to.

6. Are you feeling ready to prioritise you, and dedicate time and energy to work towards healing and feeling better? Remember that you are your biggest and most powerful resource to getting through the challenges in your life. Therapy is most effective when you are willing to put yourself first. Therapy is also a commitment that requires time, resources and energy. Take a moment to consider whether you feel ready to make this commitment to yourself and to the process, being mindful that counselling is not a ‘quick fix’.

7. Be open to enjoying the process. Although it is a courageous venture, therapy is not always tough. You may have sessions where you feel calm, inspired, motivated, positive, and uplifted. If you also have a trusting, positive relationship with your psychologist, you will be more likely to feel safely supported and unconditionally accepted through the process. Therapy is there to help guide you and assist you to develop your own tools and helpful strategies in order to improve your mental health and overall wellbeing. You may also find that the benefits of seeking support in one area of your life flow into other areas of your life, assisting you to feel more resilient and empowered. 

© Christina Leggett, Psychologist