If you've read the advice on how to choose a therapist, you will read things like "one you feel comfortable talking to, " or you might even be urged "to trust your instinct!" None of this sounds particularly scientific, so I thought it might be helpful to explain why trusting your instinct or finding someone comfortable to talk to really is the best way to choose the right counsellor.
The science of decision making
In 1929, a psychologist by the name of Ergon Brunswik proposed that we can't see reality directly, rather we have to deduce reality from the cues we can see. So if we want to test an apple for ripeness, we deduce its ripeness from cues like colour, smell, and texture.
This idea became known as the Brunswik Lens model. Scientists later used his model to work out how people weighed different cues to make decisions, and also how good their decisions were.
A surprising discovery
First the good news. Human judgement is pretty good. Given optimum conditions, we make good decisions about 80% of the time.
Our decision making skills are made worse by noise, by using irrelevant cues, and surprisingly using more than one cue. That's right, our decision making skills get worse if we try to use two cues instead of relying on just one.
One of the things people often do when faced with a difficult decision is to get lots of information about it. They might well look through lots of counsellors, carefully reading through their training, experience, trying to get a visual impression from their photo, which the science tells us makes them less likely to make a good decision.
More highly qualified counsellors are better right?
Not necessarily. Most studies conclude that therapist effectiveness is related to their ability to form a rapport with their clients, such as this one and this one, but a therapist's ability to form a good rapport with you is not entirely down to training.
What is important is for your counsellor to be adequately trained, and so you should check they have a suitable qualification. Courses of level 5 and above also require your counsellor to acquire a minimum level of counselling experience before they can qualify. The GOV.UK website has listings of qualifications and their various levels.
It's also important your counsellor has the right experience. If you are not sure from their listing, ask them, or find one that does.
And the most important factor...
In Mick Cooper's article The facts are friendly, about 70% of the outcome of therapy is decided by what are called client factors. The single biggest factor in deciding how effective therapy will be, is how actively you take part in your therapy.
In order to take this active part, it's vital you feel comfortable with your counsellor. It is this feeling comfortable that allows you to fully explore what has brought you to counselling.
Some of this feeling of rapport will be down to your counsellor. However, like any relationship, the 'fit' between you and your counsellor, will also be down personal preferences and personality. This is why counsellors offer an initial session. To check out this 'fit'.
A few years ago when I needed some therapy, this is what I did to choose. I asked someone I knew if they could recommend anyone. The chances are if they found them good, I would too. I then picked another counsellor from a directory who I thought I would like, based mostly on how they looked. I then went to see each of them for a consultation, and went back to the one I felt most comfortable talking to. I have never looked back nor regretted the choice I made, and the way I chose to make it.
title image by Jean Scheijen