At the moment there is no statutory registration of psychotherapists, although one is planned. This means that currently it is possible for anyone to say they are a psychotherapist. However there are registers of accredited psychotherapists, such as the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy, the British Psychoanalytic Council, and British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies . If your potential therapist is registered with one of these, they will have completed a training, have malpractice insurance and a robust complaints procedure.

Try to find out as much about your potential psychotherapist's training and experience as you can before you go and see them. Any psychotherapist who does not want to tell you what their training has been is worthy of suspicion, in our view.

The only real reason why someone might want to keep it secret is because they either have not had any training, or have not had very much.

Ask them what kind of psychotherapy they have been trained in, what course they did, at which institution, and what qualifications they gained as a result.  Also ask if their training has led to any accreditation or registration with any professional bodies, and if so, which ones.  If your therapist’s explanation has not included all the detail, then use that basic information to look it up yourself – how long was their training, full-time or part-time, does the organisation they trained with look reputable, and, most importantly of all, are they on one of the main registers of trained psychotherapists in their field?  Most psychotherapists’ training lasts between 2 and 7 years, part-time, depending on the type of psychotherapy. This is in addition to other relevant mental health training and qualifications.

If you are asking one psychotherapist about the training or expertise of another psychotherapist, then most psychotherapists will be professional in their response, that is, respectful of the other professional.  One question that is useful in such circumstances is “Would you send a member of your family or close friend to see that person?”.  All psychotherapists, unfortunately, know of colleagues who are well trained and can have accrued many years experience but whom we personally would not send anyone we care about to.  There may be various reasons for that of course, not all of them professional, so the answer to the suggested question needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, but nevertheless it can be a useful piece of information it would be virtually impossible to get otherwise.

Having checked as far as possible that your prospective psychotherapist is suitably trained, and preferably has at least a reasonable amount of experience, then by far the most important factor is how well you feel you gel with the therapist.  A good psychotherapist should be someone you feel comfortable with – not that psychotherapy is always comfortable (it is often the opposite) – and someone you feel you can trust.  Your psychotherapist should be someone you can imagine coping with you (and simultaneously with themselves) while you are upset, distressed, angry, and even rebellious.  Is this someone you can cry in the company of?  Someone you can complain to, including about them?  A good psychotherapist should also be someone who maintains good boundaries – they should not intrude on you or take advantage of you in any way (emotionally, financially, sexually), nor allow you to take advantage of them either.  They may or may not display a good sense of humour, but they should clearly take their craft seriously and professionally.  

It may be wise to ‘shop around’ and meet 2 or 3 prospective psychotherapists before deciding on one.  This will be more important the more longer term or intense the psychotherapy you are seeking.  For example, a therapy of 3 or 4 times a week over several years is a deeply intimate relationship, as well as being very expensive and hence a big investment.  You therefore owe it to yourself to make sure you choose the best person for you.

websites to check registrations:

www.ukcp.org.uk

www.psychotherapy.org.uk

www.psychoanalytic-council.org

www.babcp.com

Most of what we have written is applicable to evaluating therapists in the private sector. If you are offered psychotherapy in the NHS, you may find that job titles, previous training, experience and therapy descriptions vary according to the service you are in. A therapist in the NHS will have met certain standards, and he or she would be covered by the complaints procedures and malpractice insurance of the NHS.