Safe Psychotherapy: How to Access Effective Psychologists
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Safe Psychotherapy: A Guide to Accessing Effective Help


Safe Psychotherapy: A Guide to Accessing Effective Help

When you need help with a painful tooth you go to a dentist; a broken leg, an orthopaedic surgeon. It’s very clear where to go for effective help, so why is it that when we come to non-physiological trouble the situation may not be so clear? Simple: our software as humans is terribly complex and so much is unknown; it is still an evolving field of science and only fairly recently regulated.

We know little about how our brain works; same is true for our soul and mind. In year’s gone by the village seer, tarot reader, vicar or witch would deal with most people’s problems of the mind. Freud, only just over a hundred years ago, found an alternative to drilling holes in people’s skulls to cure anxiety (thank goodness). As our field of help has developed so has the training and professional bodies. Today we have pastoral carers, counsellors, therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists, but which of these should you choose if you have an issue that is software and not mechanical?

From Psychiatrists to Psychologists: What do the Experts Do?

Psychiatrists are medically trained as general doctors and then decide to specialise in software and how the brain and bodily chemicals impact our thoughts and emotions. It is not a precise science and pharmaceuticals are largely hit and miss; placebos (fake drugs) sometimes fare better than chemical drugs. Pharmaceuticals have their place in helping people but are increasingly wrongly prescribed and poorly managed. Psychiatrists tend to work predominantly with severe issues such as bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia.

Psychologists are practitioners who work in evidence-based practice which means they use different tools and skills, that have all been scientifically proven, to help and assist people with specific issues (as an adjunct to pharmaceuticals if necessary). Psychiatrists and psychologists are trained in pathology and both reference the DSM 5 and ICD10 to understand people’s issues and problems in a general sense so that there is a common language and understanding when working with other team members in managing a person’s case.
Psychologists have first to achieve a degree in psychology that focuses on developmental, social and cognitive processes in humans and then go onto a further three to five years of post-degree work to learn about pathology, diagnosis, aetiology (why people get into states), prognosis, formulation and effective treatment plans. Psychologists formulate the map of the person seeking help to better understand where they are and what will work best to get them out of trouble. Psychologists are trained in a minimum of three skill sets which are usually CBT, Psychodynamic and Rogerian therapy. Many go on to further train in couple and family therapy. Psychologists are guided by and are members of the BPS (British Psychological Society).
People known as therapists and counsellors can be trained anywhere from two weeks to five years plus, and these are terms that are largely interchangeable. The field of therapists is regulated by two main bodies: the UKCP (United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy) and BACP (British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy). Anybody working with affiliation to these bodies has fulfilled a training that is generally two years plus and safety checks are carried out as to the efficacy and safety of their practice. Therapists/counsellors usually train in a specific method of analysing and understanding what is happening to people; they specialise as analysts, person-centred therapists, psychodynamic therapists, etc., etc. All practitioners, whether psychiatrist, psychologist or counsellor/therapist, are required to have regular peer supervision to make sure they are working in an effective way with their clients/patients and are OK themselves, as sometimes the going gets tough working with people’s issues.

Pastoral carers are also qualified and will generally be placed in a school, church, hospital or another place where they will be able to work with psychologists and caregivers to maximise people’s safety and care provision.

The Dangers of Good Intention

There are people who, with good intention, fulfil a course for counselling or therapy which may not be safe or effective. This can lead to danger or the worsening of a person’s wellbeing by broaching issues and situations that the person does not know how to manage or develop safely and effectively. Be aware! If you or a loved one is seeking help, make certain that you are accessing an appropriate and safe service. A way to check this is to ask if the person you are considering working with is a member of the above-mentioned professional bodies (I am a member of both the BPS and BACP). A failsafe way is to ask to see their Professional Indemnity Insurance for Practice: no-one should practice without this and no one can get this insurance without being appropriately qualified. I run a monthly group supervision and individual supervision for appropriately qualified practitioners. If you have any questions about becoming part of this supervision please email If you have any questions about approaching a suitable and effective professional I would be glad to assist you with any questions you may have.

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