World Mental Health Day on the 10th October 2020 aimed to raise mental health awareness and to make a contribution to ensure that those living with mental illness can lead better lives. It aimed to raise awareness about not only our mental health, but also how poor mental health can impact those around us too. On this day, many people took to social media to raise awareness of their own struggles, or to change their Facebook profile picture to the World Mental Health Day Logo.
This has to all be a good thing, right? But the problem is, awareness does not necessarily equal change. Historically mental health services have been underfunded and extremely difficult to access. The Covid19 pandemic has seen health budgets stretched and many frontline support services for mental health suspended. This reduction in services has inevitably caused an impact on the ability of those suffering poor mental health and affected their ability to access immediate and appropriate mental health services.
Celebrities and members of Royalty have recently been promoting mental health awareness, urging those who suffer to speak to someone, or talk to their GP. But the reality is that if you are suffering mental health issues, the services that you are referred on to are frequently overwhelmed and have limited capacity to take on new clients. Incoming patients are often placed on extremely long waiting lists within which time their mental health deteriorates further. This leads people to seek private provision to support their mental health, such as ours at Teenage Mental Health, Ipswich.
However, the private practice field of counselling is notoriously unregulated. We have seen many patients arrive at our centre who have visited counsellors that they have found through a quick Google search, or been referred to by a friend of a friend. Some of our clients have experienced very dubious practice and it has been a potentially damaging experience for them. Here we offer some things to look for when searching for a counsellor or mental health provisions within the private sector.
Free first appointment
Any ethical and responsible counsellor will always be happy to see a client for free at their first appointment. Anyone who charges upfront and non-refundable fees should be avoided. Here at Teenage Mental Health, we never charge for a first appointment. We feel it is really important that you can come and see us and take that brave step through our doors without having to part with any money at that stage. Sometimes we book a first appointment and the person does not show up on the day. This can be frustrating, but we recognise that they are not ready to take that step just yet. By keeping our doors open, they may come back when they feel more ready.
Signing up to a service
Some counsellors will expect a patient to sign up to their services after this first appoint or even during it. We are very against this practice, as we believe that when you are entering into a counselling relationship you need to make sure that it is right for you. When meeting your therapist for the first time it is important to think – Do you connect with them? Do you feel comfortable with their approach? What experience do they have in dealing with problems similar to the one you are presenting them with? You should be able to make an informed decision and should not be pressurised to sign up on the spot.
It is a brave step to go to counselling, especially for the first time, or for the first time with a new therapist. The experience can leave you feeling emotionally vulnerable and you may need time to process the session. This is why we always insist that prospective patients go away and think about whether it is right for them before we will book them any further sessions.
Where to find a therapist
Anyone can advertise their services as a counsellor or therapist and to work in private practice the individual doesn't even need to be qualified. A good place to start looking for a counsellor is through regulatory organisations such as the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) or the National Counselling Society (NCS).
These organisations have registers of qualified therapists so this can be a good place to start your search. These organisations are regulatory bodies for the counselling profession and a counsellor cannot be a member of them without the right accredited qualifications. You know that when you search their databases of counsellors that anyone who is listed as a member is a legitimate counsellor. When researching who to use as a counsellor it is a good idea to ask for further details about who their regulatory body is and if they have a membership number that you can check their credentials on their organisation’s page. These organisations also have ethical frameworks and professional conduct regulations which their members have to adhere to. Should you experience any malpractice with a counsellor you can report them to the organisation.
There are lots of different counselling qualifications and all of them have their merits, however there is a big difference between someone who has attended a 6-week online course and someone with a master’s degree in counselling. We as an organisation only employ staff who have at least a master’s degree in child and adolescent counselling or equivalent counselling qualification. Any genuine and qualified counsellor will be very happy to show you their qualification certificates and organisational membership details, so please don't be afraid to ask to see these.
Enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service – EDBS - (Criminal Records Check)
It is essential when looking for a counsellor that you check that they are safe to work with you or your child. All counsellors working with vulnerable people and children should hold a current Enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service check (EDBS) and preferably be on the electronic update service so that their certificate is always up-to-date, and any indiscretions can quickly be seen.
Always ask to see a counsellors EDBS when you meet them for the first time. Check that their certificate is still in date, and if they are unable to provide it be very wary of working with them. All staff at Teenage Mental Health have current EDBS certificates and are on the electronic register. This includes not just the therapists but also the administrative staff too. This ensures that any child in our centre is safe and that all our staff are safe to be around.
It is extremely important that you also check that your counsellor is insured. Counsellors are unable to get professional insurance if they do not have the right qualifications to work in their field. All reputable counsellors will have professional insurance to practice and will be happy to show you their certificate on request. We as a practice make sure all our staff have personal professional insurance as well being covered by a group practice insurance policy.
Finally, all counsellors should be in regular professional clinical supervision and be happy to share the details of their clinical supervisor with you. At Teenage Mental Health all staff have regular clinical supervision as a group as well as their own clinical supervisor who they would meet on a regular basis. This practice of supervision ensures that your counsellor is practicing within industry recommended standards and is regularly scrutinising how they work and making sure that they are always working in the best interests of their patients.