Reaching out to find a counsellor or psychotherapist may represent the most important, and perhaps the hardest decision you've ever had to make. We are here to support you in this endeavour.
At Good Therapy, we believe that seeking support when you need it, or wanting to fully participate in your personal development is a positive affirmation of life, a creative undertaking that requires courage and curiosity.
Why see a counsellor or psychotherapist?
As humans, we all experience difficulty navigating life's storms and droughts. There is no shame in that. Some would say that feeling lost, overwhelmed or plain scared is proof that you are human.
Therapy is designed to help humans get a bigger picture on life. It can help us find our way again, to make sense of what we feel, heal old wounds, and it can help us learn new ways of being in the world. If you know this already and the idea of therapy still makes you feel uncomfortable, remember: your feelings are the sort of thing you can talk to your therapist about. Or maybe you are concerned that therapy could not help for that very reason: it is just a “bunch of talk”. Please be assured that many people can and do attest to the benefits of psychotherapy and counselling.
So what is it that makes therapy truly effective and worth our while? The answer to this question has something to do with the therapeutic relationship between you as the client and your therapist: Human beings have an uncanny ability to intuit another person's capacity for understanding and genuine connection.
How will I know if a therapist is right for me?
Like many important relationships in life, finding the right therapist can take some experimentation. For those fortunate enough to find a suitable therapist the first time, the question “how do I know a therapist is right for me?” may not even arise. For others it can be quite a different story. Think about how long it took you to find the right GP, hairdresser or architect. You don’t trust just anyone with your health, hair or home!
When you engage with a therapist, you’re entering into a mutual relationship based on a shared understanding of what brings you to therapy, what emerges during the course of therapy - what happens in a session and between sessions, and eventually, what leads you to feel or know it is time to take a break from therapy.
You may not have complete confidence in your therapist, but a reasonable amount is always a good start.
Be discerning. And be prepared for the possibility that you may not "click" with your therapist. A good therapist understands there are many factors at play in the client/therapist relationship, and won’t be defensive or offended if you decide to opt out. In fact, you may find them unexpectedly supportive. It is quite acceptable to keep looking until you find a therapist to accompany you on your journey - someone with whom you feel a reasonable amount of confidence.
You may like to visit our new Dear Therapist page where you can read open letters written to therapists and hear what others have to say on the subject of finding a therapist, and what the experience of therapy was like for them.
Factors that influence the client-therapist relationship
There is no universal fail-proof formula for choosing a therapist. However, we identified ten factors we think are key to therapeutic outcomes, and have included them here for you to consider.
Therapists' rooms vary a great deal. We may not be equally sensitive to our surroundings, but we are all affected; just differently. One person going into marriage counselling might find a small room cosy and inviting; her partner might feel constricted in the same space. Brightly coloured walls may be intimidating to some and preferred by others.
While the physical environment will provide a context for your overall impression, ultimately it is the quality of presence engendered by the therapist that sets the scene. Do they project a calm, relaxed presence … or an energetic, enthusiastic one? Which style resonates with you?
Gender will be an important consideration for some people but not others, depending on their life experience and reasons for seeking therapy. Some of us will just feel more comfortable talking to someone of a particular gender. If it matters to you whether you work with a male or female therapist, this is something to take into consideration when choosing a practitioner.
Though birth dates are part of the therapeutic equation, they need not play a big role in a relationship dynamic.
Good therapy is built on good relationships. Some people may welcome an age difference bringing the fresh perspective of a younger therapist, or new insights yielded by a counsellor with maturity and life experience. Others will gravitate more to a practitioner of a similar age. There are no rules … just preferences!
4. Cultural background
Therapists are trained in culturally competent approaches for working with people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. If it’s important for you to work with someone from a similar ethnic or cultural background, this is something for you to consider. However, all good therapists will be mindful of how a person’s racial, ethnic, cultural and religious identities and views influence their thoughts and actions. They will reflect on and be aware of their own cultural background, identity and assumptions; and integrate these in their practice.
Although I try to be universal in thought, I am European by instinct and inclination. -Albert Einstein
5. Philosophical orientation
No two people share exactly the same views and values, we are all unique. This truth doesn't seem to prevent us from carrying around the belief that others are or should be just like us. Many of our assumptions operate underground; this lack of awareness makes it difficult to see our biases 'at work'. Do you want your therapist to be a kindred spirit? In what way might this impact on your expectations around how therapy should proceed?
If you’re uncomfortable at the idea of being challenged by someone who has a different worldview, this might lead to “shopping around” until you find a therapist whose ideas feel compatible with yours.
6. Personal attitude
Research indicates that personality has a significant sway on how we evaluate therapy. If we don't like the person we perceive a therapist to be, there is little chance we will want to engage this person on a meaningful level; especially if the aversion is particularly strong. This response may be tempered however, by a belief that the therapist can help. Does the therapist instill a genuine sense of hope?
7. Physical appearance, manner and voice
Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, the judgements we make about another person are influenced by how we perceive his or her appearance, body language, and voice quality. When you are greeted by your therapist in person for the first time, do you find yourself being drawn forward or wanting to pull back?
As we get to know someone, it is not uncommon for our perceptions to change. Someone who appears quite ordinary in the beginning may become beautiful in our eyes once we've spent time in their company. Of course, this can also happen the other way around. Distance tests the endurance of a horse; time reveals a man's character.
8. Therapeutic approach
There are many schools of thought in therapy, and the myriad possibilities can be daunting. Still, most of us find that certain modalities and methods appeal more than others. Whether we are motivated by strong feelings, a hankering to make sense of our experience, or swayed by the pragmatism of what works, we tend to lean towards a particular style. This may change from time to time; what appealed to us before may not be what we want now.
The objectives of therapy: Self-realisation, self awareness, self development, self-actualisation, and self-compassion, have been researched and widely written about. However, the processes of learning, healing, integration and individuation may never be fully understood. Insights and shifts often occur when we least expect them, and in ways that defy explanation. See Good Therapy’s Types of Therapy for a comprehensive overview of the different therapeutic approaches.
Be sure to ask a therapist about their academic and training qualifications, their registration with relevant government bodies and level of membership with professional associations. For more information about the different types of therapists practicing in Australia, see Good Therapy's Types of Therapists page.
In our busy lives, practical matters, like location, finding a mutually convenient appointment time, and negotiating an acceptable fee are important concerns. Over the long term, proximity, flexibility and/or affordability have the potential to become major deterrents for continuing in therapy.
If geography or mobility are getting in the way, you can always use telehealth or teletherapy to connect with a therapist. At the present time there are more than 360 therapists listed in Good Therapy's directory who offer phone consultations and/or online counselling and psychotherapy. This is especially helpful to know if you live in a rural area of Australia - or if for any reason, you are unable to attend a therapy session in person.
The wrap up ...
'Good therapy' as a concept is meaningful because sometimes, despite everyone's best intentions, therapy is not so good. Exactly how each person determines where on the Good - Not So Good continuum a moment in therapy falls continues to baffle even the keenest of minds. This doesn't mean we should dismiss our yearning to understand. Quite the contrary: may we persevere in kindness and in truth, with ourselves and with others ... may we travel with intention in the direction of Understanding.
Asked about the difference between a well-made work and a masterpiece, Nadia Boulanger (a French composer, conductor, and teacher who taught many of the leading composers and musicians of the 20th century) replied,
"I can tell whether a piece is well-made or not, and I believe that there are conditions without which masterpieces cannot be achieved, but I also believe that what defines a masterpiece cannot be pinned down. I won't say that the criterion for a masterpiece does not exist, but I don't know what it is."
Looking for a therapist? Please read this before you use Good Therapy's Directory
Just because a practitioner has a profile on Good Therapy's website, doesn't mean they are recommended or endorsed by Good Therapy Australia. While we do screen the applications of practitioners who register with Good Therapy, we cannot and do not vouch for the qualifications, services or competency of individual practitioners.
When a Therapist applies to add their profile to Good Therapy's Directory, we do basic checks
If a practitioner is a Psychologist, Mental Health Occupational Therapist, or Medical Practitioner, we check that they are listed with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency. Anyone can search for a particular practitioner, by surname or registration number on the AHPRA website.
If a practitioner is a Mental Health Social Worker, we check that they are registered with the Australian Association of Social Workers. The AASW website provides a search page that enables anyone to search for a social worker by name.
If a practitioner is a Counsellor or Psychotherapist, we require that they are a member of at least one of the Professional Associations on our list. There are a number of Australian and international psychotherapy and counselling associations, operating independently of each other.
The purpose of a Professional Association is to set professional standards for training and practice, and to take steps to ensure that their members meet these standards. Associations provide a framework within which member practitioners are required to continue their education, undertake supervision, keep up to date with developments within the field, as well as follow guidelines and regulations relating to ethics, professional indemnity insurance, and other important matters.
Besides checking professional eligibility, Good Therapy looks at a Practitioner's website to make sure that stated practice locations, phone numbers, qualifications, their photo, and general information are all consistent with their application. We may also call them for a chat about their credentials, experience and to ask any questions we might have.
Although we have checks in place to safeguard who gets to be profiled in Good Therapy's Directory, we strongly recommend that you carry out your own checks.
What if a Therapist's circumstances change and they forget to update their Good Therapy profile?
It makes good sense not to base important decisions on assumptions. When you first speak to a practitioner,
-- Ask about their qualifications, experience and areas of interest
-- Ask which professional associations they are a member of and whether they have professional indemnity insurance
-- Ask for confirmation of their practice address, and their fees.
Details such as these are especially relevant if you are making an appointment to see them.
Should you discover a discrepancy between the information on a practitioner's profile and what the practitioner says, be sure to tell them. And if you have the time and inclination, tell us too. We can then follow up to ensure that any necessary changes are made. You can write to us via our contact page.
Use Good Therapy's Find a Therapist page to look for a suitable psychotherapist, relationship therapist, mental health counsellor, social worker or occupational therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist in Australia - Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, and Canberra.
Do you need help right now?
The mental health practitioners listed on Good Therapy Australia may not be able to speak with you immediately.
IN AN EMERGENCY - CALL 000
The following telephone counselling services are free and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Lifeline - 13 11 14
Kids Helpline - 1800 55 1800
Suicide Call Back Service - 1300 659 467