Finding a good therapist

I broke up with my therapist yesterday. Actually, it was the first time we’d met – a first date, if you will – but it rapidly turned into an argument. This is the latest in a series of failed attempts to find a therapist. I struggle with therapeutic relationships. I should get some therapy for it.

I’ve had the idea of going to see a therapist in the back of my mind for some time. Occasionally, I feel I want more intimacy in my life – better friendships and a long-term relationship with someone. I got through my emotional problems as a 20-year-old by becoming a Stoic citadel of self-reliance. But at a certain point I realized I need to lower the drawbridge somewhat and let other people in.

I thought that Christianity would help: it’s all about being vulnerable and accepting you need God and other people. Jesus would clean all those difficult-to-reach stains on my heart. But, having plunged into the warm bubble bath of Christian community, I still came up against the old issues of distrust and rejection. I do feel it’s deepened my relationship to God, but, in the words of Kim Jong-Il, I was still ‘so roneree’.

Therapy! The great hope of western civilization. Therapy will bind up your wounds and bring abundance to your life. But where to go? Who to see? You can get free CBT on the NHS for clinical emotional disorders like social anxiety or depression, but this was not clinical, this was basic life-grumblings. And I felt I’d gone as far as I could with Stoic therapy (‘you don’t need anybody, just you and the Logos’).

A friend recommended a therapist they had seen, he said she did somatic body-work and was basically a witch. This sounded good to me – I felt like I needed to go beyond or beneath the cognitive. I needed some magic.

So I went along yesterday for a free consultation, to a place that she works from in the City – a massage room with statues of the Buddha everywhere. She greeted me at the top of the stairs and gave me a firm handshake. She didn’t look much like a witch, more like a middle-aged French teacher, with a thin smile and a rather severe haircut.

We sat down and I launched into a 20-minute monologue about my life-history and my continuing issues with intimacy and relationships. Get it all out there, I thought. Leave no stone unturned. I finished and looked at her expectantly. ‘And can you…help with that?’ Eye of newt? Toe of frog?

‘Wow’, she said. She sort of leaned back in her chair, like I’d just given the locations of 15 buried bodies. ‘So what I’m getting from you’ – ah, I thought, she’s picking up my chakra – ‘what I’m getting is massive sensitivity and massive introspection.’ Really? Massive sensitivity, maybe, sure, why not, that sounds good. Massive introspection? I’m not the most introspective person…am I?

‘So let me describe how I work. I do somatic therapy, have you heard of that? I studied under Richard Strozzi-Heckler.’ Ah, the Great Heckler. ‘This method works at the embodied level, with how we carry ourselves. You know how some people walk into a room and they just establish their presence as a strong person. For example…’

I bet she says Bill Clinton, I thought.

‘For example Barach Obama. Or Bill Clinton. And then other people come in and they’re much more turned in on themselves, and nobody pays them any attention. So we work with how people carry themselves…but it’s not body language.’

Definitely not.

‘So let me give you a practical example.’ She stood up. ‘I was quite similar to you. Before I started the training, I used to stand like…it’s quite difficult for me to do it…sort of like this.’ Her head slouched forward, her shoulders hunched in. ‘And now I’m like this.’ She stood up straight, shoulders back, feet apart. ‘And I have the confidence to walk into a room and establish myself, to give public talks and so on. You see?’

I see.

She sat down again. ‘One of the words that came up with your story was ‘shame’. Now I’ve read a lot about shame, I’m actually writing an article on it. Shame is something you feel in the presence of the Other. And it can only be healed in relationship with an other. So that’s what the therapeutic relationship is. A truly non-judgmental relationship.’

‘Yes but it’s not non-judgmental, is it?’

This is where it kicked off a bit. Or rather I did.

‘You’ve just made a judgement of me, very quickly. You said I was massively introspective, and that you used to be like me, all hunched up and turned in on yourself, but now you’re better and you stand with incredible confidence. So you’re setting up a hierarchy – I’m down here, not well, and you’re up there, all better. And, you know, who are you? I do more public speaking than you.’

I genuinely said this. I think the old Stoic drawbridge had come up.

‘And frankly, why would everyone want to be like Bill Clinton, that’s one type of personality. What kind of a therapeutic goal is that?’

I was surprisingly angry. I realized I had shared a lot with her, quickly, and was then disappointed and defensive about her reaction – first of all the snap judgement about me being massively introspective. If Bill Clinton is the goal, massive introspection is probably a bad thing. Why do therapists make snap judgements in the first session? Perhaps they think it will showcase their intuitiveness, like a palm-reader guessing your dog’s name, but it’s dangerous and even rude.

And secondly, I was disappointed by the crapness of her therapy, which just sounded like a body language course for executives. I was hoping for…I don’t know…the magic sponge of therapy, which washeth all sins away.

‘I’m sorry if you feel I’ve judged you’, she said. We got back on track, more or less. She said the therapeutic relationship was all important, I should trust my gut. My gut was telling me to leave. Then she explained ‘the logistics’ – she held sessions in two locations – Mayfair and the City – and her rate was £170 an hour.

Good God, £170 an hour, for a therapy which, as far as I’m aware, has no clinical evidence for it. ‘It’s cutting edge – we’re about ten years behind California’, she said. ‘Ten years behind California’ are words no therapist should ever utter.

So off I went, dragging my baggage behind me down Liverpool Street, feeling very self-conscious about my massively introspective posture. I got on a bus, and nobody paid any attention. Non-judgmental indeed, I muttered to myself. Who was it that said ‘therapy is the sickness for which it promises the cure’?

This was, alas, the latest in a series of attempts to find a therapist I could bond with. I often come up against the same issues – therapists seem more attached to the precious theoretical schema they’ve spent so much on learning, rather than seeing the person sitting in front of them. And I do often feel judged by them and then feel ‘who are you with your mickey-mouse credentials to sit in judgement of me?’  How many really smart therapists are there out there? And what do they cost??

I’m also aware that many therapists are nuts. They often have a huge amount of baggage themselves. A friend of mine went to see a therapist regularly, and decided to end the therapy – the therapist threw a huge hissy fit, shouting ‘you’re just like my husband, you only think about yourself!’

If there’s a tussle about who is right in the analysis, the odds are always stacked against you – if you disagree with their analysis, you’re in denial, or being defensive. This is even more the case if you’re a psychiatric in-patient, by the way. Then you never have a chance. Whatever you say is mad, whatever they say is science.

I guess I don’t particularly trust the wisdom of most therapists. But I do see the point in therapy, and do think a good therapeutic relationship would be an amazing thing to have in one’s life. So…can anyone recommend a good therapist for me to fall out with next?

Comments:

  • Alex says:

    I was thinking about hiring a therapist but now after reading this I wonder whether I may waste my money and time trying to find a good one – I don’t have the knoedge of Jules in this area and more likely to be led down the garden path – at least here in USA it’s cheaper

    how can one sort the good ones out from the not so good ones?

  • Jules Evans says:

    I dont want to put anyone off! I think word of mouth is best, as well as looking at the therapist’s approach and the evidence for it. This particular therapist offered a first consultation for free, which was good of her. A friend said you probably need to have a look around and meet two or three or four therapists until you find one with whom there is a good bond.

    • Kate says:

      I’d really recommend Cognitive Analytic Therapy (see http://www.acat.me.uk/page/home). Look for someone who has worked in the NHS, so you know they’ve had to reach a certain professional standard where they will have been rigorously supervised. Also suggest looking for one who offers the fee on a sliding scale according to earnings.

  • Eckart says:

    I know a good therapist. He has a really wide scope, knows many schools of thought, is remarkably innovative and yet is open to admit imperfection. He wrote a book and has a blog, both of which I find therapeutic. His name is Jules Evans.

    • ctburcham says:

      I was thinking the same thing. Maybe you (Jules) should become a therapist and establish the relationships you are discussing. After watching some of your speeches on youtube, it seems that you are helping a lot of people out there. That one ted talk is essentially a therapy session for those with anxiety issues.

  • Jules says:

    Aw thanks!

    Just to repeat – it was good of the therapist to offer a free one hour consultation. And my friend found her very helpful! I am a prickly defensive person.

  • Cathy HB says:

    Hello,
    Have a look at The Bowlby Centre: based near to Spitalfields Market, east London, they train and supervise therapists who specialise in psychotherapy which uses attachment theory: the well-founded theory that early attachment relationships (ie with our main carers) have a lasting effect on the nature and quality of our adult relationships. Key to this school of thought is the idea that separation and loss in childhood have a profound and long-term impact on how we function through life. I have personal experience of one of their therapists, who was kind, non-judgemental, and a great example of someone you could experience a secure relationship with. Reasonably priced, and UKCP accredited.
    Regards, CHB

  • It can be hard to find a good therapist. Word of mouth only gets you so far because we are all different, clients & therapists. In Brighton there is a clinic (The Rock Clinic) that offers an assessment & matching service to their pool of therapists. This takes some of the lottery aspect out of the process. I think this is a brilliant idea and there may be places in London that do the same.
    If intimacy is the nut you want to crack, my hunch is that a therapist who is your intellectual equal might not be the best choice. You may have to risk opening the door in the wall of the intellectual/knowledge divide to find what you are looking for. No one therapist ‘knows’ everything.
    A good therapist who works in a relational way will help you get there.
    If you are working on intimacy your learning ground will be in the room in relationship with your therapist so you do need to trust them.
    I met 4 or 5 before I chose my current therapist. In the end I went with my gut reaction to them.
    Good luck, it is worth the work to get there. All best,
    Karen

  • Cathy HB says:

    Woops, I’m out of date- The Bowlby Centre seems to have moved to Highbury- north London…

  • Steven says:

    I’ve seen three therapists before I found the right one (through referral by a family member). She’s a clinical psychotherapist who works client-orientated. Guess I’m lucky she crossed my path.

  • Cate says:

    I’m working my way through this book, I got it from my library. In it she talks about ‘linking’ (how we bond with others) and ‘ranking’ (comparing ourselves with others, competing with others). You need both, but they have to be in balance. It sounds like there was more ranking going on in your therapy session than linking. The book helps identify what defense mechanisms you’re using, etc. I am finding it to be very helpful so far. At least it wouldn’t cost you anything if you could find it in a library.
    Here’s the site for it: http://www.undervaluedself.com/index.html

    Best of luck.

  • Cate says:

    Oh, and the most empathetic therapist I had was a from a Christian group of therapists. I’m not a Christian, but my therapist didn’t play the ranking game. Also, they had a sliding scale. Anyway, maybe there is something like that where you are if it interests you.

  • Liam McGrath says:

    I unfortunately deleted your latest newsletter after reading the main article and before I was able to click on the links attached.I have been unsuccessful in trying retrieve it.
    Is it possible for you to resend the newsletter to me.
    Regards
    Liam McGrath

  • J. Doe says:

    In the pricelessly wise words of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles,

    “You better shop around,
    (shop, shop)
    Oh yeah, you better shop around.
    (shop, shop around)”

  • Bob says:

    I gotta say, diving in with a somatic-based therapy is brave (but it was a free consultation).

    40 years of research shows that the most important things affecting therapy outcomes are 1. resources the client already has (intelligence, quality of social networks, financial resources etc – the list is endless) and 2. the quality of the client-therapist relationship. If you both get on and the therapist’s rationales and techniques make sense to the client then a successful outcome is far more likely.

    The amazing thing the research shows is that it matters not a jot what type/modality of therapy is used!
    Deep/shallow, past focused/solution focused, … no difference for outcome across hundreds of studies involving thousands of clients.

    Find someone you like and whose explanations and approaches make sense to you.

    (For research sources see the book ‘Escape from Babel’)

  • Paula Susan says:

    I actually read your complaint from two different perspectives. One, you deserve my empathy. It takes courage to admit that someone outside of yourself and your friends, might have some insight and skills to relieve you of your pain. To be confronted with that therapist had to be discouraging. On the other hand, your account was quite funny.
    I am a therapist in my 32nd year. I train with all the outstanding masters in my field and at this point in my life, I have accumulated wisdom and knowledge which I integrate for each of my clients and their individual issues. I am in love with EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and integrate it into all the other modalities in which I have had training. It really is a magical and has been validated by research through the years. So, yes, I do have a “fav” and I have all the training that allows me to be creative and successful with my clients.

    So, do not dismiss a therapist because their experience tells them a particular approach is a good one. As long as they are trained in many ways of working, they may be a good choice for you.

    Anyway, good luck. I’m in the states so I can’t help, unless you are willing to fly over each week.

    Paula Susan

  • joey townsend says:

    Thought of trying a shaman? In Devon?
    murray.preece@virgin.net
    This is from the plant spirit medicine dot org website. Ez pz, and you will get what you want from it.

  • […] Finding a Good TherapistJules Evans’ (writer of Philosophy for Life and Different Harmful Conditions) current encounter with a “somatic therapist” did not go too properly. […]

  • SteveDave says:

    It’s very tricky isn’t it. Sometimes I feel that giving it a few sessions for the client and therapist to learn each other to some extent might be a good idea, although at £40 or more per session, this is not always feasible. Trusting your gut can be helpful and also acknowledging a tendency to feel judged. Aren’t we all judging all the time though? I’d say it’s what we do with these judgements that makes a difference.

    The other difficulty is that there is definitely no magic sponge. Furthermore, looking for this kind of therapy and hoping to find clinical evidence is going to be difficult.

    Good luck and keep looking!

  • Charles O'Malley says:

    If you’re looking for something that goes beyond the cognitive, a good place to look would be Family Constellations. You can attend a one or two day workshop to try it out. I recommend Judith Hemming but there are quite a large number of practitioners out there now.

  • Phil says:

    Great blog Jules, I admire your honesty. This is just my two cents (or pence) and I am a counsellor just to get that out the way…I can understand you feeling judged, I think to tell your story and get the reaction you did its hard to see it other than a judgement even if it was unintentional. It is a minefield finding someone that fits. Maybe its worth considering which you have more faith in, the model of therapy and any evidence or the felt sense of it fitting when you meet a therapist. Both have their own merits depending on what you’re more comfortable with. (Ideally you might get both) Either way it is unfortunately often a case of try a few before you find one that fits.

  • Peter says:

    Thank you Jules for everything you write, always very insightful. Not a therapist, and you are probably already familiar with him, but C.S. Lewis, his writing hits home so close it is like he is with you. On the third read of say ‘The Four Loves’, ‘The Screwtape letters’ and ‘Mere Christianity’ I find myself seeing things in myself that I never noticed before. I am not close in intellect to Lewis, but I identify with his writing very much, he is the most humble of therapists! Although he would never call himself that!

  • Laura Marcus says:

    I used to be a Relate counsellor. (I left when too many bereavements made it impossible for me to be available for my clients). One of the things I like about Relate’s approach is that they give you a “bag of tools” to work with rather that one approach.

    So you work with “what’s in the room” in the parlance; you fit in with the client’s needs. Go with how they want to work. For example, we were told that people with depression tend not to benefit from the psychodynamic approach, ie going into family background. It can make people feel worse and ruminate. So you try to stay in the present.

    However I strongly believe that neither approach/ideology of the therapist nor their qualifications, if any, are what matter most. It’s all about the fit. You don’t have to like your counsellor or therapist. But you do have to feel you can work with them. And you must trust them. And feel heard – seen by them.

    This doesn’t sound like a good encounter to me at all and you did the right thing. It’s a cliche, I know, but you have to shop around till you find the right fit. Good luck.

  • Teigr says:

    As an NHS Clinical Psychologist, I read your blog with at least half an eye on my own clinical practice and I agree wholeheartedly with Laura’s previous post about fit. My admittedly sketchy recollection of various outcome studies suggests it’s often less what is done (ie theoretical model) and more how it’s done (ie therapeutic relationship stuff) that makes the difference for people. I can also see how potentially draining , exhausting and ultimately off-putting it might be to contemplate telling your story to numerous therapists/ shamen/ witches before you find that fit. I hope you do. I’m enjoying your book and your blog, thanks for both.

  • Laura Marcus says:

    Many thanks Teigr. Nice to be endorsed by a clinical psychologist.

    Yes the search can be long and hard but it is, in the end, worth it I think.

  • Kaiti says:

    The first time I ever went to therapy, I was too vulnerable to see the signs that this woman was not well and was telling me about my life (and her life!) rather than listening to what I had to say. I just wanted to feel better. When I eventually figured it out and left (2 years later and co-dependant as hell), she flipped out. Fortunately, my co-dependancy helped me find a better, more qualified therapist. I don’t know what the trick is, but if I had to offer advice, I would say try to find someone who talks alot less than you do in the session.

  • Kaiti says:

    Also, as a psychology student myself, I find it so easy to get carried away with terminology. Friends ask me basic questions, and I go all psycho-babble on them. This is probably common in all people studying something they are passionate about, and somewhat immature ammo. I want to believe that recognizing this will mean I will be able to address it in practice and training, as I mature into the kind of professional I want to be. I think therapists that can’t speak to someone in plain English have quite a bit of training to do.

  • city of san says:

    Yes! Ϝinally something about defense mechanisms.

  • […] Ive had the idea of going to see a therapist in the back of my mind for some time. Occasionally, I feel I want more intimacy in my life better friendships and a long-term relationship with someone. I got through my emotional problems as a 20-year-old by becoming a Stoic citadel of self-reliance. Finding a good therapist […]

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