What do I look for in a psychologist/therapist?

So you have decided you need to see a psychologist but are uncertain regarding how to go about finding someone you would feel comfortable enough with. This is the experience of pretty much anyone looking to start therapy and it is quite daunting!


Exactly what should you be considering when looking for a potential therapist?

I have found that most people these days simply google psychologists in the geographical areas that are convenient for them. The days of being referred by a medical doctor seems to have passed and of course asking anyone you know about psychologists potentially opens you up to all sorts of questions and/or assumptions about why you are wanting to start seeing someone. So off you go ad search for psychologists only to encounter multiple websites and perhaps feeling even more lost with all of the options available to you.

Some factors that might be helpful to consider include:

  • practicalities:
    • is the therapist’s location convenient for you in terms of your home and/or workplace?
    • is it a cash only practice? Some psychologists only accept cash from clients. Some however do claim from medical aids on behalf of clients. This is particular helpful should paying for sessions and then claiming back from your medical aid result in cash-flow difficulties for yourself. Therapy is difficult to sustain financially for most South Africans and even if you are covered by medical aid, the inconvenience and financial juggling of first settling with the therapist and then claiming back from the medical aid is a big deterrent for many. I understand this and so I am a therapist who offers my clients the service of claiming directly from the medical aid on their behalf.
  • demographics of the therapist:
    • This includes gender – it may feel important in some cases to see a female therapist if one has experienced sexual abuse or assault at the hands of a male. Age – one might feel that much of their difficulties stem from their relationship with their mother and might want someone of similar age to their mom for this reason or might want someone their age for exactly this reason! Many clients also feel that much of who they are and the way in which they see and understand the world is based on their cultural background. In this case, you may feel a therapist who appears to have the markers indicating that she/he comes from a similar  background to you might be important to you. It may feel that they will have an implicit understanding of your experiences and relationships.

Having said this, however, it is often the case that what we think may be the best fit for us in terms of the demographic and other features of the therapist are in fact based on assumptions that are either not the case or that the personality of the therapist is just not the correct fit for you.


Fit between a client and therapist

The single most important factor to look for between yourself and a therapist is the “fit” between the two of you. This is how it feels when you are in the room with that person. Does it feel like you are able to warm up sufficiently to this individual to open up to them? Do you have an automatic liking to them? Do their subtle body and facial signals put you at ease? Only you will know this and only you can determine this for yourself.


How does one know this before the first session though, you might ask? Well, you don’t. You do have to take a chance on a therapist. Go with your gut though and when having a look at various psychologist’s websites look our for aspects about what they say, the way they say it or the pictures on their site that speak to you. You will know after the first session however whether you would like to give the therapy a go with the psychologist or not. If it doesn’t feel right, try someone else. Concluding that therapy isn’t for you after one not great experience with therapy is like concluding you might be of a different sexual orientation after one bad date with someone!


I wish you all of the best in finding the right therapist for you. The fit is vital to the therapeutic process. And when it is a good fit, the results can truly be magical…


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Do I really need to come to therapy though? Can’t I just talk to a friend?

Do I really need to come to therapy though?  Can’t I just talk to a friend, etc?

Our friends and family and other loved ones are a vital part of our lives and well-being. It is a reasonable thought therefore to wonder whether it isn’t sufficient to turn to them when things in our life become overwhelming.
So what can a therapist help you figure out? Life sometimes gets overwhelming and we need a place and space within which to thrash out our feelings and begin to understand: 1) what exactly those feelings are, 2) what  the factor causing the feelings are; 3) how much of these feelings emanate from our past and how much is being provoked or triggered by our present situation, 4) which of the factors that are causing our feelings are the primary causes and which are more periphery.
In addition to the above, we might feel that there is something wrong in our lives, or perhaps within us, and we need to understand and get to the bottom of what it is. Perhaps everything seems to be going well in your life but you cannot shake a nagging feeling of unhappiness. This is causing immense feelings of guilt and shame that you are “not being grateful” for all you have. Or perhaps you have a sense of what is causing your lack of happiness but you feel they are “champagne problems” as was said once by one of my clients. That is, that your unhappy feelings are not justified given the “small” or “silly” issue that is causing it and that you just need to “get over yourself”.
Perhaps however there are factors present in your life that are glaringly and obviously the cause (e.g. an abusive partner, past traumatic events, etc) and you are needing help with managing the impact of these things on you and your life. You might also be ready but in need of support to make the changes that will stop these things from hurting you.
Thrashing out and making sense of all of these feelings and factors require a particular kind of relationship setting in which to understand and emotionally process… No matter how much someone loves or care for you, the distance, objectivity and professional knowledge and expertise will unfortunately not be part of what they can offer. I have often had clients tell me that while their friends and family are very supportive, they feel they are not able to provide them with the objective perspectives needed to tackle the issues at hand.
In addition, as a psychologist I am specifically trained to gain an understanding of clients’ inner emotional world and gain a sense of what is lying within your less conscious emotional and psychological processes that is hindering your ability to gain more of what it is you are needing in your life.
Having said all that I have, there is a definite and vital role to be played by all the sources of support in our lives – be it spiritual avenues, through friends and family, though a rewarding exercise programme or through our careers. These are indispensable to our well-being. These do however also unfortunately have a limit on how they can help us when things feel too much and overwhelming or impossible.
At any given time, you are one step away from a different life. Consider giving therapy a try. What do you have to lose?
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Caring for ourselves: Psychological self-care in women


What exactly is self-care? Self-care is the process of tuning into yourself, determining what it is that you are needing and providing exactly that for yourself. Basically the stuff we are all generally notoriously bad at!


Why women?

Of course, self-care is necessary for all individuals of any age but in this post I will be focusing on women. Women are often the worst at self-care, neglecting themselves as though there was a medal for self-sacrifice up for grabs J Are we entirely to blame however when society seems to teach us to be the carers and nurturers, often to our own detriment, from the time they can stick a baby doll in our arms? Of course not. BUT we do need to take responsibility for what we do and don’t allow in our lives and you can start today with these self-care tips.


What is self-care?

Let’s first start with fleshing out this self-care concept a bit more. Self-care:= is essentially whatever replenishes you, fills you up, or restores you. This does not have to be the stereotypical idea of “me-time”, such as going to a spa or shopping, especially as these kinds of activities are often not what appeals to many or might be inaccessible due to tie and/or money constraints. In fact, self-care activities can be small things like a 10 minute rest with a cup of tea, listening to your favourite inspirational or spiritual speaker, tending to your little garden, or a 15 minute chat with a friend who uplifts you. Self-care, most of all, however an approach to yourself, an approach of self-compassion, patience, and tenderness.


Lastly, self-care is the constant act of staying attuned to your physical, emotional and mental needs, the same way you might to your child. For example noticing irritability in a young child especially, you might do a little mental check-list and realise, “Goodness, he hasn’t eaten in a while. His blood sugar levels are probably making him grumpy.” Or, “oh, that’s right, my baby hasn’t slept yet today and that is why she is so crabby…” Although we often like to dismiss ourselves and our needs w=once we become adults and take of the caring functions in our families, we are human beings too! And all of the usual stuff applies to us too.


Self-care is often mistaken as selfishness, unnecessary, indulgent, frivolous and is therefore often the first thing to be cut out, compromised on or perhaps never even considered.


Why is self-care important?

So, why exactly is self-care important other than everything I have just mentioned? Well, often women will state they simply don’t have the time and/or energy because they are so busy looking after everyone else. My argument always is though that even if you care far more for your loved ones and feel that caring for yourself is selfishness, know that it is the ultimate act of caring for your loved ones to care for yourself. One cannot pour from an empty cup after all. An analogy often used to explain this concept is the one of the oxygen mask. When you are on an aeroplane flight, the flight attendants will always tell you that, in the evet of an emergency, you are first to secure your own oxygen mask before helping others. The reason for this is that, in the process of trying to help dependents with their masks, you will most likely pass out from lack of oxygen yourself. This oft-used analogy powerfully explains the concept of not being able to help anyone else unless you help yourself first.


It is therefore the ultimate act of caring for others to ensure you have enough of what it is you need in your life in order to be able to give of your time, energy, care and love to them. You will be a more loving, patient, and kind mother, wife, daughter, friend, etc. if you have filled your tank first.


How to know when you are in need of self-care

The first signs that you need to be paying attention to your needs more are that you are feeling irritable and unloving, impatient, fatigued, and generally low in mood. More concerning warning signs include regular tearfulness, deep sadness, having difficulty concentrating and focusing, fits of rage or constant arguing with loved ones.


Stop everything, begin to see the wood for the trees and do something to look after yourself today.

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“I want to go to therapy but I am scared of what will be uncovered”

I have often heard from people that while a part of them feels they probably do need to see a clinical psychologist, another part holds them back. What are the reasons fear something that is touted as an experience that will be good for them?

Well, very often individuals feel that they are only functioning as well as they are in the world because they are keeping a lid on the scary or overwhelming feelings or memories or experiences. The fear is that if they were to come to therapy a “can of worms” or “Pandora’s box” will be opened up that they will not be able to control.

This is a commonly held misconception and is in fact exactly the opposite of what is in fact true. It is the not dealing with the “can of worms” or feelings or memories or thoughts that you are avoiding that is keeping you stuck in a life or a mind you are not happy with. Our feelings are strange things in that what you resist persists and so the very thing you are avoiding dealing with, will begin dealing with you! By this I mean that our past will begin to haunt us like lost ghosts unable to find their rest because you have not acknowledged them, and tried to understand them (what they are, why they are here and what the message is they are trying to give to you).

Until and unless we look them in the eye and address them head on, we will never be free of the things we are spending our lives running from.

Of course addressing our difficulties in an environment, context of a relationship or in a state of mind that is not supportive of and conducive to healthy processing can do more harm than good. The right therapist can provide you with the supportive holding environment needed in order to allow you to unpack and explore the difficult feelings in a constructive way and at the pace that is good for you.

Lastly, remember that the healing happens through the FEELING.

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Join me at 11:05am on Tuesdays on local radio station Voice of the Cape I will be discussing various topics and engaging with listeners.

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Who should see a clinical psychologist?


It is tricky question and one you may be facing right now if you found your way to this article or to my site. Many people struggle with feeling unhappy about an area of their lives or as though everything has just gotten a bit too much but not quite knowing when or if they should see a clinical psychologist.

There are all sorts of things to consider and there are many factors that often hold people back: what others may think if they knew you were seeing one, what you might be acknowledging about what is happening at your life, whether it would mean you are SERIOUSLY messed up, the reality of the costs involved, work commitments or simply not wanting the very peculiar situation of opening up to a stranger.

So who does need to see a clinical psychologist? Well, anyone from someone who finds themselves at a time in their life where they feel as though they’re struggling to cope to someone who has been diagnosed with a serious psychological condition, such as bipolar mood disorder. Then there are those who are in much pain due to a particular relationship/s, those undergoing a major life transition (moving to another city, divorce, becoming a parent, ageing, being diagnosed with an illness) or those finding themselves stuck in a romantic relationship that seems to yield more pain than anything else.

There are also times when parents feel stuck in a conflict with their children or are concerned about their children as individuals. Couples may feel they need an intervention to move their relationship in the direction they would like or things may have deteriorated to such an extent that therapy is among the last attempts at trying to heal an ailing relationship.

The short answer really would be, anyone who finds themselves at a point in their lives that they are not happy with is at a pivotal point to receive therapy from a clinical psychologist.

And no, it does not mean you’re crazy, poorly adjusted, on the verge of a nervous breakdown or have too little spiritual faith if you do.

I would encourage you to be still with yourself, though and pose the question to no one else but yourself. I know what you need will come to you…

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