What do you think of when you think of a therapist?
If I'm honest, when I think of a traditional therapist I get a image of the original therapy poster boy Freud - a tweedy older man in authority who looks, frankly, terrifying!
(Sorry Freud fans!)
Or there's the middle aged, middle class white woman who's looking for something to do now the kids have flown the nest.
Is that what the public perception of counselling is, that we are all tweedy busy-bodies looking down our noses at people and observing them?
Thankfully no, that perception is changing, but according to a recent survey I did, there's still plenty of work for us to do.
I've been a therapist since 2005, I ran the Lincoln Counsellors Network group for 4 years and now I work with therapists helping them to grow their private practice, so I've been around counsellors for a long time and I can tell you the therapists I know are warm, kind, compassionate people that are passionate about helping people. And yes, I know the word 'passionate' is bandied around a lot, but most counsellors are vastly over qualified and have far more CPD training than is required because they want the be the best they can be in order to help their clients.
They are all ages, all genders, all shapes and sizes and from all walks of life.
I'm on a mission to change the public perception for the benefit of all - clients, potential clients, ourselves and the profession, because I think therapy needs a rebrand, which I first started talking about in 2017 in 'Does therapy need a rebrand?' #TherapyRebrand
I recently hosted a FREE webinar looking at the results of my recent survey, and sharing some ways we can make simple, effective and positive changes.
Click the button below and watch the replay
So what is the modern face of the professional therapist?
This could be via journaling, supervision, personal therapy or conversations with trusted friends or peers.
Self-reflection enables us to:
By allowing people to get a sense of you, it will make you relatable, approachable and human and this is so important, as the therapeutic relationship is central to what counselling is all about.
There are many ways we can share something about ourselves that don’t cross any lines - things like:
Using simple language in order to communicate with potential clients creates a connection, and counselling is all about the connection.
Confusing terms and psychobabble create blocks which can alienate clients and make them feel stupid, leading to anxiety around getting help. The best blog I've ever seen about this from Kat Love (who was a guest expert in the Grow Your Private Practice club and presented a workshop 'Drop the psychobabble to connect with clients') who wrote 'Psychobabble you need to stop using on your therapy website'. Check it out, you'll be glad you did.
For example, I often see on websites people proudly stating what type of therapist they are, like ‘integrative’ or ‘person centred’ etc. But clients' don’t know what that means, which in Transactional Analysis (TA) terms can put the counsellor in the ‘Parent’ role and the client in ‘Child’, and of course, that's the last thing we want - we want equality.
Writers who use long words needlessly and choose complicated font styles are seen as less intelligent than those who stick with basic vocabulary and plain text, according to research from the Princeton University in New Jersey.
And Simon Raybould, an expert in presentations and guest expert in the Grow Your Private Practice club with his workshop 'Talking Confidence' wrote this great blog 'How to sound smart in presentations' and says:
...you should generally be using the simplest form of words and the simplest ways of communicating things that you can, not just to help your audience understand, but also, actually, to make yourself sound smarter
So keep it simple if you want to:
a. Look clever, and
b. Connect with people.
So should you explain what being an integrative counsellor means?
I’d say no. Clients just need to know that you can help them, and they generally aren’t interested in how we do it.
If I went to an acupuncturist I wouldn’t need to know which methods they use, I trust that as the professional they will know what is best for me.
So the only place I’d talk about my modality (or my qualifications) is on the ‘about me’ page of the website, so people that are interested can find it. Leave the homepage as a place you can start forming relationships with visitors.
A modern professional therapist knows there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to counselling and different approaches work with different people.
We finish our training knowing how things should be done and we know all about the theory of counselling. But the practice of counselling is different.
For example, for some clients silence in the therapy room can feel calm, peaceful and reflective. For others, that silence fills them with anxiety and makes them feel intimidated. If you have someone that responds to silence by becoming anxious, then it’s not a useful tool to use (apart from learning that silence makes them anxious).
I remember with my first therapist, I laid on a bed and they sat just out of eyesight. I would regularly lay in silence for 20, 25, 30 minutes because I just didn't know what to say. My therapy took a long time, and was expensive, and I carried on going because I just thought that was what counselling was and, of course, blamed myself for being stupid for not talking. How different would it have been if I'd had some gentle encouragement.
Counselling used to be 2 people sitting in a room talking, but now we can work with whatever is better for the client, so maybe therapy dogs, or walk and talk therapy, or online therapy.
So what other ways can you help them? Can you work in a more creative way to help them open up?
Now to be clear, I'm not saying that we should throw away the theory books and go rogue. Not at all.
What I am saying is that if we can trust ourselves, trust the client and trust the process, we can make it easier for clients to get to where they want to be.
So I've shared 4 things I think a modern professional therapist possesses. Do you agree with this? What did I forget to add?
Please comment below, or come join in the conversation in the free Facebook group.
Jane lives in beautiful Lincoln with her 2 boys and rescue dog. When she's not talking about herself in the third person, she's usually found with her feet up and eating Maltesers. Sometimes she even shares them with friends.