Being someone who works within mental health, I tend to know the majority of abbreviations and lingo when it comes to other therapists talking about how they work. However, after a few people reached out asking how to understand what therapists were offering, and I started looking on websites, I quickly realised how confusing it is. Therefore, I’ve done a very reductionist guide below on the most common things I came across when searching therapy websites.
There are a few really important things to consider – one of them being that they are qualified and registered within their field. But also – you feel you have a connection with them, someone you can trust and speak openly with. If that isn’t there, then try to not feel “bad” about not continuing with them. A good therapist will have your best interests at heart and appreciate if the connection isn’t there. Some therapists offer free phone calls or brief meeting sessions to get a sense if they are the right person for you and your needs - you can reach out and ask. There are SO many therapists around, you should hopefully be able to find one who fits with you.
1. So first thing is first, what do the Job Titles mean?
- A mental health practitioner who is from a medical background, this also means they can prescribe medication if required. Some psychiatrists provide therapy, or have done additional training in therapy, whereas others focus more on diagnosis and on-going management of risk (such as self-harm) whilst outsource the therapy. This can vary between practitioners and good to ask about. Due to their extensive training, they tend to be the most expensive of private practitioners.
Psychologist (sometimes looks like: Dclinpsy, DcounsPsych)
- Clinical Psychologist and Counselling Psychologist are trained very similar at doctorate level. From what I understand there used to be more of a contrast in their training, with clinical having more of a focus on research and “medical”, whilst counselling being more focused on therapy, but now both courses are more holistic in their approaches. Due to their extensive training, they tend to be the more expensive of private practitioners.
- This term can sometimes be thrown around so it is important to check their professional registration. They are essentially “a person trained to give guidance on psychological problems”, but as this is very vague, it’s important to look at the other details.
- A psychotherapist is a very broad term, it can be someone who has a background as psychiatrist, psychologist or other mental health professional. However, some people do not have the above background but have undertaken in-depth training specifically in an area. Therefore, it is important to look at their treatment approach, professional body registration and area of speciality. For example, an integrative counsellor is a psychotherapist who is trained to use a combined approach of therapies (i.e. integrate multiple therapies).
2. Next, there are so many types of therapy or treatment approaches, what does it all mean?
[These are just the most common I found after scoping out a few professional websites]
- Psychodynamic or Psychoanalytic: Primary focus is to reveal the unconscious content in
your mind. Heard of Freud or Jung? These are from the psychodynamic school of thought. This type of therapy tends to have more sessions that are focusing on talking and interpreting, rather than concrete steps or practical tips.
- CBT: Cognitive-behavioural therapy is focused on challenging and changing unhelpful cognitive thoughts and behaviours, improving emotional regulation and targeting current problems. It is a very structured therapy, usually 6-12 sessions, very common in the NHS – especially IAPT, with a focus on between-session tasks. There is a lot of evidence for this being a suitable therapy for phobias, trauma or panic. Also if you’ve read self-help books, there is a chance it was based on a CBT approach.
“Third-wave CBT” is a movement away from the focus of what we think and feel, and towards a focus on how we relate to what we think and feel.
- CFT (compassion focused therapy) - focuses on helping people to be compassionate towards themselves and others.
- ACT (Acceptance and commitment therapy) – based on learning to accept what you can’t control and then recognising and taking (committing) to the actions that will improve your life. Heavily relies on mindfulness.
- DBT (Dialectical behavioural therapy) - originally developed for individuals with borderline personality disorder. Dialetical means to hold 2 differing points in mind, neither is true or false.
- Play therapy/sand play/art therapy: this therapy requires psychotherapists to have additional training specific to this area. The word before “therapy” describes the vehicle in which the therapy is provided, so it takes away the pressure of talking therapy. It is probably obvious, but play therapy and sand therapy are for children. Art therapy is for individuals of all ages.
- Relational therapy: an approach that can help individuals recognise the role relationships play in the shaping of daily experiences, attempts to help people understand patterns appearing in the thought and feelings they have toward themselves. It is based upon the theory that emotional well-being can only be fully accomplished when we have mutually satisfying relationships with those around us.
- Humanistic therapy: This type of therapy focuses on self-development, growth and responsibilities. It is based on the belief that we naturally gravitate towards goodness. They seek to help us recognise our strengths, creativity and focus on the here and now. This approach covers several areas:
o Existential therapy – tends to be a philosophical approach
o Gestalt therapy – aims to develop self-awareness of here and now and focus on the person as a whole.
o Person-centred therapy/Client-centred counselling – focus on individual self-worth and values.
o Psychosynthesis – aim to discover a higher, spiritual level of consciousness.
o Reality therapy – believes distress is based on not having basic human needs met.
o Solution-focused (brief) therapy – focus on uncovering own strengths and resources whilst looking at what the person wants to achieve.
- Trauma therapies
o Trauma-focused CBT – uses cognitive-behavioural principles and exposure techniques to prevent and treat PTSD, depression and behavioural difficulties.
o EMDR – Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing. It is predominantly used to treat trauma and requires additional training.
3. What about if I want to see a therapist who specialises in a certain client group?
Part of finding a therapist you feel comfortable and safe with can include finding one who works with a client group that you identify with. Some websites have a section called "communities" where therapists can specify what client groups they specialise in, sometimes people are really vague like "adults", other times they are more specific such as "open-relationship non-monogamy" communities. There are also some websites dedicated to certain client groups.
For example, my lovely friend Maria brought https://pinktherapy.com/ to my attention, they are the UK's largest independent therapy organisation working with gender and sexual diversity clients.
Or https://www.baatn.org.uk/ - the largest community of Counsellors and Psychotherapists of Black, African, Asian and Caribbean Heritage in the UK
4. And finally, what about these Professional bodies you keep mentioning?
MUKCP --> UK Council for Psychotherapy
MBACP--> Member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy
HCPC (their area) --> Health and Care Professionals Council
COSRT --> College of sexual and relationship therapists
5. Where to look?
Find a Therapist
And that's it, a very short and reductionist guide to understanding what therapists are offering, that will hopefully help you find the right therapist for you!
I'd love if you could provide feedback on this article! Anything I missed?