You’re in the waiting room, flipping through a meaningless magazine and feeling anxious about who is going to call you in. You may have been referred by your GP or a friend has let you know of someone who had helped them in the past.
No matter the circumstance, it can feel intimidating to meet a stranger to talk about some of your challenges in life.
As a practitioner working with children and families, I find it really interesting to discuss what actually helps people to change their lives. If you imagine a pie chart, here are the factors that researchers have shown to be the most important:
- 40% - Your strengths and capabilities
- 30% - The relationship you create with the therapist
- 15% - Your levels of hope and expectations
- 15% - The therapist’s model and philosophies
Lets start with the first 40%.
Everybody has strengths, resilience and things they do well. A good thing to do during difficult times in life is to look for exceptions to our problem story.
Our problem story is usually the reason we have looked into seeing someone for help. If we can find things that are going well, in exception to the problem story, we may be able to find ways to make these strengths overshadow the issues that are troubling us. The better we know our strengths, the better we know how to put them to use.
Secondly comes the relationship we have with the person who is helping us.
When asking people why certain counsellors have helped while others may have not, people, more than anything else, report the relationship they have with the counsellor to be the most important. Also, when people decide to stop attending sessions or decide to stop, it is most often because of relationship factors. When we visit our psychologist we should feel welcomed, safe and listened to.
Without forgetting the importance of the relationship, let’s look at the next 15%, which is your level of hope and expectations.
As a clinician myself, I view that my job is to elicit your levels of hope and optimism to give each person I see a service that is valued and effective. If you feel that your levels of hope or expectations about the process are not changing, you may be with someone who is not a good match for you. This often has little to do with the skillset of the professional but the fact that some people are a better fit for your unique character than others.
The final 15% makes up the philosophy or techniques the therapist uses during the session.
You may have heard of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) or Narrative Therapy etc. Each of these models have very strong support from solid research and each have their strengths and weaknesses.
The reason this makes up only 15% of effectiveness is due to a really important research occurring in the last decade. The study found that two therapists, providing the same service, in the same work setting, for the same company, had different results. When asking the clients the leading reasons for this result, they related it back to their perceptions of their relationship with the clinician.
So what can you do?
Because seeing a psychologist or counsellor is often perceived with an irrational stigma, I think it’s important for everyone to know these factors leading to success.
You are actually more important to the process than the person sitting across from you! It is just their job to help you know that.
So go therapy shopping. Many therapists and psychologists offer free initial consultations. Take this up and ask them difficult questions. If you feel like this is someone who will evoke your strengths and your levels of hope and optimism, you may have found the right person.
And remember - a therapist’s greatest strength is uncovering your greatest strengths.