How to choose the ‘right’ therapist


I’m a very happy bunny these days. When it comes to seeking support, there is a real sense of ‘normal’ taking hold in Ireland and this is incredibly heartening! We are finally “getting” that not feeling OK is OK, that asking for help is OK. We are fostering  a ‘knowing’ that we have worth and that change is possible.

Shame-free, guilt-free change.

Where to go?!
Where to go?!

Part of this welcome change is that more of us are choosing therapy. What seems to perplex a lot of people though is how to choose a therapist. And so it is important that this ‘how to’ is openly and transparently discussed.

Here are some guidelines if you have decided to consult a therapist, psychologist or counsellor (there are some important differences and I posted this piece a while back outlining just some of them).

So, you’re thinking therapy – but where, and with whom?

You are about to embark on an intimate journey of healing and self-discovery with someone you’ve never even met. Your safety is paramount. Allow yourself to consciously put that first before you do anything.

Does this person tick my boxes?

1 Your first port of call might be to ask your GP for a referral. Most, although not all, therapists and counsellors will make themselves known to the GPs in their catchment area. If you have a good relationship with your GP they may be able to match you with a suitable person. Bear in mind that your GP may not ever have met the therapist in question and so a referral from a GP is not a guarantee of a fit (nothing is really, you can only decided that yourself).

2 Ask your friends and family if they can recommend someone to you. I’ve noticed that I get personal referrals more and more these days from people who discuss their therapists with their friends. I’m by no means alone in this experience! A friend’s recommendation is very useful because, well, they’re your friend. So they may have an idea of who and what will suit you. Again though I think it’s important to remember that individuals vary, and what worked for you friend may not work for you and vice versa. Think of it as a guide, a good one – but not a guarantee.

3 Shop around. You might get several referrals! If this is the case then please do feel OK about calling a few and seeing how you feel when you speak to them on the phone. It’s a big decision and your comfort is important. I would recommend speaking to them on the phone if you feel up to making that contact. Email doesn’t always give us an accurate sense of a person. Therapists are accustomed to speaking with people who are nervous – there’ll be no judgement. Check out their profile on LinkedIn, their Facebook, Twitter, website and so on.

Bear in mind that not all therapists have an online presence. This is a reflection of their choice, not their competence. #MHAW #mentalhealthawarenessweek #therapy #selfcare Click To Tweet

Regardless of that choice, they should be listed on their licensing body’s website – more on that below. Another way to shop in Ireland is through those licensing bodies. The largest are IAHIP, IACP, ICP and the PSI. They will be happy to give you a list of suitable qualified therapists in your area.

4 Interview your therapist. I know this might sound odd but in essence you are about to employ this person – for a really important job. It is a deeply personal piece of work, but it is also a professional arrangement and there are some things you are entitled to know.


  • Where did this person train? Was it part-time? Full-time? Online? Was it a certificate? A degree? A postgrad? There are many different levels and types of training.
  • Is the person accredited with a reputable organisation? For example are they an accredited member of IAHIP, IACP, ICP or the PSI? Are they listed on the websites of these organisations? (It’s important to check – the letters will be MIAHIP, SIAHIP (supervisor with), MIACP, MICP, PSIReg.  Assoc MIAHIP and/or Assoc MIACP are not real things and should be avoided). Also, someone might tell you they are a Clinical Psychotherapist, Clinical Counselor or Psychological Counsellor – to my knowledge these are not real titles, in Ireland at least. I’m open to correction! Pay attention to what they call themselves, they may be trying to sound more qualified than they are.

Some therapists will say they are working towards accreditation – make sure you are clear as to which it is.

If they say they are “affiliated with” or “abide by” the Ethics of ‘X’ association that does not mean they are an accredited member of that association. Nor does being a member necessarily mean they are an accredited or working towards being accredited. It’s OK to ask, and important to clarify. If they are not willing to clarify or if you sense a hesitation, consider hanging up and moving onto the next number on your list. If your therapist qualified abroad, what I’m saying here may not apply. It’s OK to ask. Again, a therapist who is confident of their experience and training will not object to your asking.

  • What does this person do for CPD? (Continuous professional development  – it’s a requirement for re-accreditation, a process that we must engage in every one to five years, depending on the licensing body.)
  • Is the person in supervision? It is not considered ethical or safe to work without supervision, but it is not illegal as such. And so if the person doesn’t volunteer this information, it’s important to ask. Be careful of making assumptions – and know that we are more likely to make assumptions when we are in a rush to make a decision.
  • Has the person been in therapy? Most modern trainings will insist that the student be a client. It is crucial that your therapist is familiar with self-care and takes steps to look after their own mental health. I’m aware that this might feel like an intrusive question to ask, particularly if you are feeling vulnerable right now yourself. But again, a therapist with integrity will not mind you asking.
  • Has the person worked with your particular issue before? What is their area of expertise? Are they comfortable doing professional witness work in court? Have they worked with teens? Children? Are they open to seeing you with you your teen? Have they worked with elderly people?  Chronically ill people? What is their fee? Is that negotiable? What is their cancellation policy? These are questions that might apply to you and again, it’s OK to ask.
  • What is the person’s professional orientation? For example – you may be looking for someone who does couples therapy, or family work. You can read about the various ‘styles’ of therapy online and the styles you will come across most often in Ireland will be  Humanistic and Integrative, Psychodynamic, Psychoanalytical, CBT, DBT, Gestalt, Reality Therapy to name just a few. The latter four will often be skills or trainings that are incorporated into ‘bigger’ trainings, usually Masters to PhD level. So the therapist may not ‘identify’ as a Gestalt therapist but may have Gestalt training. I know it can be confusing…

5 Know that you can change your mind. Your new therapist may suggest a trial of 5-7 sessions to begin with, but this is your choice. If you feel pressured into attending more often or more frequently than is comfortable or affordable, perhaps go back to your list of phone numbers.

6 Listen to your gut when you meet your therapist. You might be particularly vulnerable right now and may not trust your judgement. But ask yourself how often you’ve been wrong about people? Your new therapist is just a person too, and he/she may not be a fit for you. For example If their cancellation policy feels unreasonable, it probably is. Being asked to pay in advance for therapy is a no-no in my opinion (rare but it happens!), as is being required to book several sessions in advance.

Watch for potential “Boundary Issues” and other red flags

If you feel coerced, directed, pressured, manipulated, sexually compromised or that the boundaries just feel 'off', move on. It's OK. #therapyshopping #MHAW #mentalhealthawarenessweek #mentalhealth #selfcare Click To Tweet
  • If your therapist is engaged in a ‘dual relationship’ with you it is not advisable to continue. For example, if they are a relative, an old school friend, your beautician – you see where I’m going… Healthy boundaries are essential for the process to be safe and to work. Therapists must refer onwards if there is any sense that the work is inappropriate. A refusal to refer is red flag.
  • If your therapist tries to sell you a product or directs you to a friend of theirs for extra ‘work’ that you haven’t expressed interest in beware. This is another red flag for boundary issues on the part of your therapist.
  • If your therapist attempts to engage in a sexual relationship with you, even if you are attracted to them,  this is a giant red flag . A slightly smaller but none the less bright fire engine red flag is if your therapist engages with you as a friend.

Therapists are people too:

Even with years and years of training and/or experience, a therapist will bring their own personality to their work.  If you find that despite a pile of education and experience you do not feel comfortable with your therapist for ANY reason (their sense of humour bothers you, the scent they wear makes you feel nauseous) – instead of judging yourself or discounting your feelings listen to your own gut.  Address minor issues with your therapist (or support your teen in doing so) if you feel comfortable, but major personality conflicts will just get in the way of making progress in therapy. It’s really okay to look for someone that feels like a better fit.

These are some of the things I have learned to look out for myself along the way. My hope is that they will help you come to as informed a decision as possible so that you can proceed knowing that you are safe. If I have left anything out please do feel free to add in the comment section below!

Good luck on your onward journey!


Sally O'Reilly Counselling & Psychotherapy

4 thoughts on “How to choose the ‘right’ therapist

  1. An excellent set of guidelines! I would say ‘Humanistic and Integrative’ instead of not ‘Humanistic/Integrative.

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