The BBC recently released a short and helpful documentary about the prevalence on social media of self-declared counsellors or therapists, who promise to cure depression, anxiety, OCD or other disorders. The promises are tantalising – a cure within weeks or, reportedly, within several hours. They often require the vulnerable seeker to pay large sums and don't deliver their promises.
The initial problem, that is largely not in public awareness, is that the terms ‘counsellor’, ‘therapist’ or ‘psychotherapist’, are not protected terms. Anyone can build a website, create a certificate and call themselves any of the above titles. Legally.
Social media has a huge and useful role to play in providing a platform for promoting ways in which to support physical and mental health. There is plenty of great advice, tools, practices and community available to support you, however, for meeting some of the challenges mentioned above, nothing sufficiently replaces or is equivalent to regular therapy in a confidential relationship with a qualified therapist.
So how do you know whether you are approaching a trained, responsible, ethical therapist or a charlatan?
A really solid indicator is that they are a member of one or more governing bodies, and should be happy to show their membership certificate if you ask them. The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) is the largest, oldest, and most respected body in the UK. To become a member of this organisation the therapist has to have trained at a BACP accredited college, usually for at least three years, and agree to adhere to the BACP ethical framework which keeps the client’s well-being firmly and safely at the centre of the therapeutic work. It includes structures around finance, confidentiality, the therapists continued CPD and supervision (their work is held, and even ‘checked-on’ by another, practising, qualified, registered therapist and supervisor). Other trustworthy bodies include UK Counsel for Psychotherapy (UKCP) and Health and Care Professions Counsel (HCP). A person cannot legally display the logos of any of these bodies on their websites without officially being a member, ie, having done the required training.
Another good indicator is that on initial contact, or in the content of their website or profile, the therapist is not flippant about the weight of your problems, or the speed with which they might be met. They don’t promise to ‘cure’ or ‘heal’ you. A properly trained therapist knows that debilitating problems like depression, anxiety, OCD or loneliness, have often taken a life-time to establish themselves, and are not going to be ‘solved’ in a handful of sessions. Therapy takes hard work both on the part of the client and the therapist, and it takes time.
A qualified therapist has put years of effort, money and work into training. They work both academically in studying theory, neuroscience and human development, and personally in their own therapy. It takes years of work to learn how to provide the right relational environment that can facilitate another person’s growth.
Painful things won't be healed easily. Problems deep in the human self, to do with our sense of identity, with feelings of isolation, or low self-worth have usually been created in our earliest relationships with our caregivers and compounded over years of repeated patterns. To be fully felt, met and resolved, these feelings need to be visited within the safety of a confidential, empathic, non-judgemental relationship with another human being, who has put in the time, effort and work on themselves in order to be able to provide conditions for change. And it takes time. And it is worth it.