Finding the Right Psychologist

Image, me at the end of 2019, just before the launch of My Family Psychologist.

This page describes the process of finding the right psychologist and also outlines about me and how I work.

Image from istockphoto

Importance of the Therapeutic Relationship

The therapeutic relationship is a fundamental factor in both prognosis and treatment success. Significant research has consistently demonstrated its critical importance. On average the most important common factor is the therapeutic alliance (Stamoulos et al, 2016). Over half of the benefit of therapy is linked to the quality of the relationship and it is one of the strongest predictors of successful treatment outcome (Knobloch-Fedders, 2008).

Good psychological therapy should be;

  • Collaborative
  • Flexible
  • Responsive
  • Tailored
  • Validating

So how do we know who is the right therapist for us?

Barriers to Accessing a Psychologist

One of the most significant factors preventing us from seeking psychological therapy is shame. For more information on this and other barriers, see here

For as much as we have improved in our approach to mental health; encouraging talking about it, validating feelings, and supporting others, we still are not really tackling it. 61% of adults affected do not seek treatment and a staggering 98% believe mental illness is still stigmatised. “Mental Health Statistics.” 2023).

First Impressions

We tend to make up our minds about someone within a short period of time; estimates vary from a tenth of a second to seven seconds. Regardless, that is very quick!

Recent research has advanced our understanding of a second brain, located in the gut. The brain in your gut exerts a powerful influence over the one in our heads (Carpenter, 2012).

Why do we do this? A variety of reasons. We often make unconscious biased choices about how someone looks or sounds. We can look for similarity in facial shape and other factors that is similar to our own. Biased or not, it will affect how we initially relate to the other person.

Another factor in first impressions is the concept of meta-perception (how we interpret other people’s perceptions of us). So, if you feel the therapist is validating, understanding, and just ‘gets you,’ that is a valuable cue.

It is important to note however that these initial perceptions change over time. The longer we spend interacting with another there occurs a natural sense of closeness. Research demonstrates that longer interaction times increased confidence in judgement, with trustworthiness being the most important factor (Wargo, 2006).

So, whilst being mindful of first impressions and what they may mean, we also need to allow for some time to consider whether these are accurate and valid and ultimately whether they will aid your therapeutic connection.

Always do your research before enlisting a psychologist, as you would any other professional.

There are many resources to find psychologists; The British Psychological Society (BPS) Psychology Today, and The British Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapists (BACP) are just a few.

Specialism

Whilst the importance of the therapeutic relationship is key, you need someone who has experience in treating what you are experiencing. If you are experiencing trauma for example it is vital you select someone who is skillful in treating this. The same applies for anger management, obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, and neurodiversity (such as autistic spectrum disorder ASD), to name but a few.

You would not call a plumber to fix your roof and neither would you call an estate agent to fix your car. The same applies to therapy. Research your potential therapists well, examine their experience and expertise. Create a list of questions you want to ask. Then request an initial consultation. Recommendations from friends who have experienced the therapist’s work are also a good way to make the right choice.

How I Work

There are three areas which define me and how I work, as follows:

  • What I refer to as ‘evidence-based optimism’
  • Forensic background and experience in complexity and risk
  • Personal experience of psychological difficulties

Evidence-Based Optimism

I work logically and scientifically. We start with the most pressing issues, and we set aims. Tangible, measurable, and objective aims. My practice is evidence-based, it relies on established research of ‘what works’ in therapy. What works is based on significant data; clinical trials, longitudinal follow-up data (tracking progress over time), and meta-analyses (large scale studies which draw on substantial numbers of other studies to prove an overall picture of success). We review progress by means of recap and learning points at the beginning of each session, and at agreed given time scales, for example after six or ten sessions. Positive change is reflected by, for example, psychometric evaluation, by discussion of improvement, which may include, for example, an increased use of social skills such as assertiveness, changes in routine, or in relationship patterns.

This level of change is often enough but sometimes we may want to excavate deeper. This further journey involves discovering the deeper traits and adaptations you formed, usually in childhood. There is a timely quote here;everything you think is ‘wrong’ you as an adult, is a coping mechanism you developed as a child in order to get your needs met. Whilst there are evidentially neurobiological factors underpinning our personality and behaviours, The pertinent question here is it not what is wrong with you, but rather, what happened to you.

I practice a, method of compassionate enquiry of ‘function’ in mind. If we have an unhelpful pattern of thinking, feeling, or behaving, then what is its purpose, what function is that pattern serving. A part of you may believe that this serves a protective factor for example. An obvious case may involve avoiding interpersonal relationships because you fear rejection or abandonment. Or you have formed a belief that you cannot cope without alcohol. Whilst these mechanisms may have once been safeguards in the past, they are no longer necessary and only serve to keep us trapped.

I am a trauma informed practitioner, recognised by several organisations to work in a way that recognises the impact of traumatic experiences in a safe and containing way. Initially, we soothe and stabilise the traumatic symptoms, such as nightmares or intrusive thoughts using a variety of techniques. Then, where appropriate, we redefine and re-frame the trauma into functional ways of understanding ourselves. Trauma need not define us. We can assimilate these experiences into a newly forged self-identity and focus on post trauma growth.

At the very heart of my practice is an optimism which I translate into a pragmatic and hopeful philosophical approach to human existence. Considerable advances in brain research demonstrate hope given the incredible ability of the brain to adapt, change, and grow, namely ‘neuroplasticity.’

A level of resilience exists in all of us. This robustness and a capacity to withstand adversity and the ability to spring back into shape aids in our recovery and improvement in psychological wellbeing.

We all have protective factors; those positive aspects of our core personalities and our environment which serve to shrink problems and increase psychological wellness. Since we do not live in a culture which promotes self-praise, this can be a challenging journey. However, with my guidance we will identify your protective factors in non-arrogant yet beneficial and self-compassionate style into your newfound sense of wellness.

Some people have spent a lifetime in and out of various forms of therapy only to find their problems remain unresolved. This includes me. Not only does this compound our difficulties it can leave us with a sense of feeling ‘broken’ or unable to change. This is categorically untrue.

Thoughts can change, distressing emotions can be reduced, and unhelpful behavioural patterns can, and do, become a thing of the past. If we couple this with the right therapeutic relationship and specialism, then there is undoubtedly scope for enthusiastic optimism and a healthy prognosis.

 

Forensic Background & Complexity

I started my career in forensic practice working into prisons and special hospitals in the late 90’s. I worked with high-risk individuals who were not only dangerous but also highly treatment resistant. An extension of therapeutic support was often met with verbal or physical abuse. Where engagement was possible it would involve a lengthy process therapeutic rapport building. Such individuals with very difficult childhoods have rarely had any positive, meaningful, or trustworthy relationships and as such this was often the greatest initial hurdle. Beyond this, the work would continue to be challenging due a nature of denial and acute sensitivity to any perceived challenging.

Those with antisocial personalities (which compromise the majority of repeat offenders), were often abused, or neglected in childhood and had little scope for developing trusting relationships in childhood. As adults therefore they have a tendency towards experiencing perceived slights or wrongs and view the world and the ‘system’ (of which I was inevitably a part), as a hostile environment. As such I had to work hard at developing an interpersonal and therapeutic style tailored to each challenging and complex case. As such, working with more frequent presentations, such as worry or low mood are a pleasure for me to assist with.

In forensic psychology, the word forensics comes from the Latin ‘forensis’ meaning ‘before the court.’ As such, forensic psychology works with the same difficulties that can be found in in the general population, such as anxiety, depression, and trauma for example, yet simply in a different arena. I continue to pride myself however on the ability to relate to and forge relationships with the most difficult to engage clients. Therefore, if you believe the journey into therapeutic alliance may be challenging, you can be confident that the initial process will be tailored, sensitive, and at pace at which you are comfortable with.

In sum, my experience in forensics and complex cases means that;

  • I can engage the hardest to reach clients according to their individual needs
  • I can provide a more specialised and in-depth service where other services have experienced challenge
  • There is nothing I have not heard that shocks, disgusts, or perturbs me
  • I can provide an explanation and formulation of all behaviours, no matter how complex
  • I am highly experienced safeguarding; your welfare is my utmost responsibility
  • I remain completely calm and stable, and I can ‘hold’ and steady you in times of crisis

Personal Experience of Mental Health

I have a lived experience of mental health issues. These became apparent when I was 14 years of age. I had an emotional intensity, my difficulties could be conceptualised as; emotional dysregulation, obsessions, rapid shifts in moods, fast or racing thoughts, and shifting from topic to topic within a fleeting period of time, often with no apparent linkage between my conversational topics. I have also experienced many losses, including my sister and two close friends to suicide as well as trauma in the form of domestic and sexual assault.

My mental health challenges enable me to combine my professional expertise with a personally informed approach. Having overcome adversity, my perspective is one of fundamental optimism and hope. I am also what we now know to be an ‘empath’; someone who gets how you feel so much it is almost on a cellular level. This is both a blessing and a curse. It means that it not just enables me to empathise but to genuinely feel what you are feeling. I am on your journey with you. This depth can be draining. So I hope that you will empathise in turn that sometimes I just need to lie in a dark room with some lavender!

I offer a free initial consultation. If I cannot help I will signpost you to other originations and services that can help. Call 07801 079 555 or email luisa@myfamilypsychologist.com

References

Carpenter, S., That Gut Feeling. American Psychological Association. 2012.

Knobloch-Fedders, L. The Importance of the Relationship With the Therapist. Clinical Science Insights, Knowledge Families Rely On. (2008).

“Mental Health Statistics.” (2023). Retrieved from https://www.priorygroup.com/mental-health/mental-health-statistics

Stamoulos, C. et al Psychologists’ perceptions of the importance of common factors in psychotherapy for successful treatment outcomes. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 26(3), 300–317. 2016.

Wargo, E., How Many Seconds to a First Impression? Association of Psychological Science. 2006.

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